This post is the second of a series about the planning, design, and development of The National Museum of African American Music’s digital exhibit: Rivers of Rhythm. In this post, product strategist Tomiko Peirano discusses the concepting and planning of the application, as well as the user testing process. The first post in the series can be found here.

The idea for the Rivers of Rhythm application was grounded in the client’s desire to illustrate the breadth and depth of American music, and how African American artists drove and shaped that history through an engaging digital exhibit. NMAAM wanted to show the on-going genealogy of our nation’s musical heritage prior to the museum’s opening — a powerful and exciting concept to bring to life.

nmaam wireframesWe started with scribbles on the whiteboard — balancing big ideas with user persona needs, and the data we safely assumed we could get access to (keeping in mind what was plausible for the future product build). A user persona was crafted: the music lover. This user was a tech-savvy man or woman in their early 20’s who thrives on nuanced, obscure information, someone who may ask their friends, “Did you know that Aerosmith were actually big fans of Fats Waller…” (please don’t fact check me on that quip.) 

Working with this persona in mind, we determined what we thought this user needed to see and hear in the application in order to “rabbit-hole” the concept, making the app addicting and easy for a user to get lost in. We identified features such as the ability to go on to a favorite artist’s page and see his or her influencers, their influencees, and so on. We also wanted to create interactive experiences throughout the product, and thus identified opportunities to incorporate audio, video, and text in as many views as we felt made sense for the end users, further adding to the “rabbit-hole” nature of the application.

Once the proof of concept Invision prototype was complete, NMAAM was equipped with a powerful marketing tool to begin raising sponsorship funds — and we had what we needed to conduct user testing to validate our concept. We put the prototype in front of unaware users via We collected great objective user feedback, found out what people expected on certain key pages, what surprised them (for good and bad), and how much explanatory content the application needed. For example, did our concept of influencers/influencees land with people? We assumed a learning curve for any new app, but we needed to see how many great decisions and missteps we had made.

Simply put, the prototype was a success. NMAAM secured a sole sponsorship for the application built from Belmont University and we were armed with invaluable information heading into our technical planning and build. With a deep understanding of the business, marketing, and functional requirements, we went into the application build energized to get started.

This post is the first in an upcoming blog series about our planning, design, and development of the music discovery application, Rivers of Rhythm for The National Museum of African American Music. Follow our blog for additional posts and discussion of our product development process. 

Over two years ago, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Henry Hicks, the President and CEO of The National Museum of African American Music at the Red Bicycle in Germantown. The museum would be opening its doors in around four years, after years and years of planning and fundraising to get to this point. In the interim, the museum needed a way to engage and connect with music lovers around the globe, as well as generate buzz and interest in the museum. They decided that a digital experience was the direction they wanted to go. Walking away from that initial meeting, we both knew that by combining the superpowers of NMAAM and Centresource, we could make big things happen.

After months and months of brainstorming sessions and meetings, we all agreed that this application needed to be something you could get lost in. It also needed to be a resource to music lovers, providing them an outlet to get exposed to new music, but still feel like they are part of the larger story around American Music. The Rivers of Rhythm application was born from those conversations.


Once we had a plan, we had to decide what was the best first step. Our team recommended taking the path of creating a clickable prototype of the application. This tool would provide NMAAM the opportunity to let their board members, staff and potential donors experience the application without having to go straight into the build. For a fraction of their budget, Henry could take this prototype to potential sponsors to help them envision how their company could partner with the museum to get this digital experience in people’s hands.

NMAAM quickly saw their return on investment when Belmont University expressed interest in being part of this project, and donated the funds to bring it to life. In June, I had the pleasure of attending a press conference at Belmont University unveiling the Rivers of Rhythm Digital Experience. Our team was honored and proud to be part of that event as well as this two year long project. I literally cry every time I talk about it:) We look forward to a long standing partnership with NMAAM and Belmont University in seeing this revolutionary application change how music lovers discover music online.