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A Creative Beacon Sets a New Path
The RISD Museum is the 20th largest art museum in the United States with over 100,000 objects in its collection, including Ancient art, costumes, textiles, painting, sculpture, contemporary art, furniture, photography, and more. The museum occupies more than 72,000 square feet in three historic and two contemporary buildings along Providence’s bustling South Main Street and riverfront.
We often say that a website redesign is more like a collective therapy session — it’s an opportunity to air grievances in a safe space, to think about the future untethered to the present situation, and make decisions that could change the course of the organization. Since many websites are more than just a marketing platform, a redesign can affect the entire organization and the way they communicate their value to their own team and the world.
At the heart of this project were large, existential questions:
- What does it mean to be a physical institution collecting physical objects in a digital world?
- What do viewers want out of a museum experience in an interactive space?
- Can a museum be more relaxed about how viewers will interpret the work?
Open Source the Museum’s Entire Collection
Behind the Museum’s initiative to re-platform the website from a closed system to an open source system like Drupal 8 was another, perhaps even larger, initiative: a plan to “open source” the museum’s entire collection. They will bring all 100,000 objects online (they have a little over 13,000 available prior to launch, a mere 13%) and use a Creative Commons license system that allows visitors to download and repurpose high-resolution images whenever the objects are in the public domain. This was the heart of the revolution upon which the RISD Museum was about to embark.
MuseumPlus & Drupal 8 equals Open Access
The heavy lift for our engineers was an integration with RISD’s museum software, MuseumPlus. MuseumPlus needed to continue to be the source of truth for any object, artist, or exhibition. The teams again collaborated extensively to work towards an API that could provide all the correct information between the two databases, and a system of daily jobs and manual overrides to start a synchronization process. As the online connection grows, these connections will be the critical link between the public-facing object data and the internal records.
Gray and white wireframes evolved into a black and white interface that kept information clear and clean while allowing the colors of the artwork to shine through. Language around the site’s architecture was simplified and tested for clarity. An element of time — words like Soon, Upcoming, Now, Ongoing, Past — keeps the visitor grounded around the idea of a physical visit, while open access to objects online serves a whole community of art lovers and historians that may never be able to visit in person.
A bold storytelling idea came out of our collective collaborative process — the homepage experience opens with four videos, a cinematic exterior shot and three interior videos that explore the three main sections of the navigation. The homepage becomes a gateway into the physical space. Choosing a path via the navigation takes the viewer inside to explore the spaces and the objects. Instead of a homepage that assumes a visitor wants to see everything and then choose something to explore deeper, this one introduces them to the content in a way that connects them to the physical space.
Site visit patterns have seen significant improvement — sessions per user and pages per session have increased while bounce rate has decreased. Thanks are due in part to the new hosting environment with Acquia, which has provided hefty speed increases and stability — page load times have decreased, server response time is significantly less, and page download time is far less as well.
An Evolving Partnership
As the RISD Museum grows their online collection even further, we have identified a backlog of ideas that we’d love to address, from a more fully featured search, an integrated audio guide, and a more open and collaborative way for users to share back what they have done with the museum’s assets. A new Drupal 8 implementation gives the museum plenty of room to grow virtually. The collaborative relationship between Oomph and the RISD Museum is only beginning.
Want to know a little more? — J. Hogue, Director of Design & UX at Oomph, and Jeremy Radtke, Assistant Director, Digital Initiatives, RISD Museum, gave a presentation at Design Week RI on September 20, 2018, all about the process of the redesign.
Awards & Recognition
- Webby — Nominee Best Visual Design — Function, 2019
- SCA Summit International — Gold Travel/Tourism/Nature, 2019
- W3 Awards — Silver, User Experience; Silver, Visual Appeal & Utility, 2019
- Communicator Awards — Distinction, User Interface; Excellence, Cultural Institutions, 2019
- Web Award — Outstanding Website, 2019
- Davey Awards — Silver Cultural Institutions; Silver Best use of Video/Moving Images, 2019