Hello! My name’s Rachel and I’m a Heritage Lottery Fund Skills for the Future graduate trainee. I am usually based in Worcester as part of the Worcestershire’s Treasures project, with my traineeship focused on audience development and events. As part of the traineeship I’m able to do a week’s secondary placement at another museum or heritage venue, and this week I joined the Bristol Museums digital team to get an insight into what they do, and generally learn some new stuff. I got in touch with Zak and Fay as I knew I wanted to spend my week elsewhere learning more about museums and digital. I had seen both of them speak at conferences – Zak at the Museums Association’s annual conference in Cardiff, and Fay at Culture 24’s Digital Change: Seizing The Opportunity Online in Birmingham – and thought Bristol seemed like the place to be for museums and digital!
I’ve been involved with some really interesting and useful things since the start of the week. On Monday I did some content management on the development site in preparation for user testing later on in the week. On Tuesday I sat in on a meeting with fffunction, and then joined the museum’s new digital marketing intern, Olivia, in creating some content for social media. As the Shaun the Sheep trail started this week, we had fun coming up with some awful sheep-related puns – keep an eye out for these on @bristolmuseum! On Wednesday I visited The Georgian House Museum and The Red Lodge Museum, conducted some visitor surveys down at M Shed, and then yesterday I sat in on some user testing sessions with teachers, for the new learning pages of the website. They were given a number of scenarios to work through and it was really fascinating to see how users interact with the site and the different ways people navigate through it.
Some of the other useful things I’ve been introduced to this week are the organisation’s Audience Development Strategic Plan and their social media guidelines, and how data collected from users is collated and reported. I also sat in on a meeting with some of the team involved with the upcoming exhibition death: the human experience to discuss the digital engagement to go alongside the physical exhibition and programme. This is just one example of the collaborative nature of the digital offer, and it came across to me that it is viewed as an integrative part of the exhibition, as opposed to just an add-on, which is really positive.
It’s also been great seeing how a different museum works. The museum I work at is quite different, in terms of size, staffing, collection and audience, and so coming to a large local authority museums service with seven physical sites has been a valuable experience in itself.
Overall I have had a brilliant week, I think it’s been a good overview of the team’s work, with lots of variety and things to get involved with. I have felt really welcome and included, and everyone at the museum has been so friendly. Thanks so much to the team for hosting me this week, and especially to Fay for letting me follow her round for most of it. My traineeship comes to an end shortly, so hopefully you’ll see me on a digital team soon!
After workshops and testing we decided to go down the route of event types for venue hire – we have lots of interesting conferences at M Shed, really exciting evening events at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery and lovely weddings at Blaise Castle House Museum so can adapt these depending on what people need and what our offer is. People can find information on room spaces such as capacities, download our menus and contact us to book really easily.
Know anyone who wants to hire a pretty special venue in Bristol? Send ‘em our way!
Right now we’re in the middle of developing our ticketing functionality, which we’ll be using for our what’s on events (to replace third party sites such as eventbrite) and eventually for learning workshops. For this we’re using WordPress plugin Event Espresso; we’ve been really impressed with how this works and we’re pretty confident it’ll make the user experience so much nicer for people wanting to book with us. There’s a lot of work for us to do on fulfilment (we need to decide what to put on confirmation emails and tickets), setting up a new database and making sure people can navigate through registration easily.
Next up is user testing with teachers and learning people which will be at the beginning of July. We need to cover a number of things for learning: showing our offer (school workshops, gallery visits, teacher training etc), giving users the right information to be able to plan their visit (such as risk assessments) and then being able to book and take payments, so we’ll be testing all of this.
We’re aiming for learning sections to be in place before the new school year and what’s on updates to be in place before our next What’s On guide comes out in September.
Well it seems it’s March already. This means we’re now two milestones into project website phase two.
We’ve done a chunk of work on events filtering, which you can try out here: http://www.bristolmuseums.org.uk/whats-on/ Hopefully you’ll agree it’s pretty simple and useful. Of course we did a spot of user testing for it and got lots of positive noises from people – let us know what you think of it.
We also worked a bit on improving how our opening times are displayed. We added the option to add ‘notes’ to particular days, which is mainly for Bristol Record Office who have a range of opening times across any given week or month. We’re really trying to make it as clear as possible when our sites are open (and of course each of the six sites have different opening times across different seasons over any given year).
Other stuff for milestone one included nicer 404 pages, WordPress upgrade and some other bits and bobs from phase one.
So, onto milestone two. During February we held three workshops – for venue hire, what’s on and learning. In these we got a load of people from all over the service together to map out who our users are and what they need from us for each. Ben over at fffunction is going to talk more about how we get from the workshops to the prototypes in a future post, but for now I’ll leave you with a couple of images to show where we are with our venue hire section. At the moment we’re testing the prototype and putting together some visual designs for it. I’m sure it won’t be long until it’s live, and in the meantime we’re starting to think about how we show our learning offer and enabling users to book workshops online.
(Note: if you’d like to read about what we did for phase one, you’re in luck – we’ve lots of posts about it on this here blog.)
We’ll be working with the guys over at fffunction in three stages over the next three months. From an evaluation of user needs and developing on from phase one, we’re going to be focusing on things that generate revenue and make it easier for people to book with us; whether that’s improvements to the what’s on sections (which get the majority of visits), learning and venue hire.
Milestone 1 – January 2015
Updates and work carrying on from phase one on opening times, events filtering, navigation and what’s on sections.
Milestone 2 – February 2015
Workshops with the programming, learning and venue hire teams to really get to grips with what our users need from us online in these areas.
Milestone 3 – March 2015
Workshopping and implementing a ticketing solution for the above, making our online shop look a bit nicer and researching and implementing online donation functionality.
We’ll keep you posted with how it’s going and what we discover.
Eventually this will contain all the elements that will make up the website. We’ve already got some visual design going on, some core elements such as colour and typography and also wireframes in the form of screenshots from the prototyping work we’ve completed and tested.
We’ve broken the site into modules to work with to help with the BEMs orientated approach we’ll be building the site with. We’ve found it helps to start thinking in terms of modules rather than pages as early as possible in the design process in preparation for building using using BEMs.
For each of the modules we often have several variants, or different states that we have a clear definition for. We use different images for each state, and provide an explanation as to what can happen with each module.
So you can see in the left column of the pattern library that we’ve got the following groups:
Show full page visual designs, currently there’s a design for the homepage that is very much a work in progress.
Shows core brand elements that are defined from the various venue brands and over-arching service brand. This includes: Buttons, Colour, Links & Typography. You can see an example of the colour page below:
As visual designs come together we’re adding them here. Again, not too much to see aside from some initial thinking on some core elements.
As we’ve been moving our thinking into the prototype and testing on users we’ve edited to improve the design. Once we’re happy with each module or group of elements we’re moving it into this pattern library for reference. You can see an example of the Whats On modules below:
Let’s talk about the big little details that offered up some challenges.Basic information such as opening times are extremely valuable for visitors, despite being sometimes overlooked during the design process.
For our project, a common user journey would involve looking for something to do today, as the previous user research suggested. Visitors would like to know right away if the museum is open today and what activities or events are available.
A simple click or tap links to a page with the full opening times. This task gets more complicated when all our venues have a different system of timetables. They would all be displayed on the homepage of each venue but vary wildly in their arrangement. Who would have thought it could be such a challenge?
After some experimentation with the layout, we defined all of the user scenarios to solve. Some of the scenarios we found were, how do we show today’s time left before closing? How do all the modules connect together if the venue is closed for a few months? How do we deal with irregular times without displaying a list full of exceptions and difficult to digest information on the homepage?
Looking at all the scenarios started sketching out different layouts to solve each.
And once we’d sketched out and refined all the options we could display we moved all the ideas into a prototype.
Check out the rest by clicking on each venue on http://bmga-prototype.fffixture.co. We’ll be testing this with users next week to validate our thinking and see which ideas perform best.
Something we’re massively keen on is sketching. Its the quickest way to get ideas out of my head and onto a page, and whilst I’m doing it I’m debating and justifying the decisions I make along the way. Its an incredibly good exercise for honing ideas quickly.
So today I began sketching UI ideas for the various sections of the site, having first digested the IA and User Research work we’ve completed.
The images below show the sketching I’ve been doing whilst looking at the different display options for handling events. We need to give the user an initial snapshot of the day’s events, whilst enabling them to look at a week, a month or a custom time period. We also want to offer them the option to filter by type of event, or the venue.
So in this first image I’m looking at a mobile view, and how users can interact to view the events as they wish. There’s ideas coming out such as colour coding events by venue. I also started with thumbnail images for each event, and then thought about download overhead, and so made a note that we could use a date card device there instead.
The next step was to take the ideas to the desktop view, and see how we could configure and add to them there. So there’s two ideas on how to treat the elements from the mobile view. You can see I’m exploring the options for displaying the filter – whether in a horizontal configuration that closely resembles the mobile UI, or in a sidebar so its very visible for the user. I’ve considered whether there will be images for each event, and what to do if there is not one. And lastly, how to use the colour coded tabs to indicate the venue for each event.
All a work in progress, but worth sharing so you can see how I quickly generate, discard and progress ideas. The next step for us is to test these ideas with users, and see how they respond.
Since our initial review of user research, I’ve been busy developing information architecture and navigation ideas. We’ve worked up an initial information architecture and navigation which is geared towards getting museum visitors the information that they need but which will allow the site to expand to accommodate content for other users in later phases of the project.
We’re committed to testing our work with users throughout the project and for these early stages we’ll be using an interactive prototype built with HTML and CSS for this. Building and testing with a prototype in this way allows us to
work quickly and iteratively
experiment, keeping what works and throwing away what doesn’t
design and test across devices: everything we build must be fully responsive
quickly, easily and continuously share our designs with members of the team, stakeholders and everyone else who is interested (see the URL below)
More details of how we build our prototypes will come in a later post or, in case we forget(!), on request.
We’re working on setting up a development site to publish the prototype on Bristol Museum’s hosting but until that’s sorted, you can access it here:
Last week we ran the first tests with members of the public. We set ourselves up with a laptop and an iPad in the cafe at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery and invited users to test the IA and navigation. Volunteers who could spare us 10 – 15 minutes were asked to complete a theoretical task by navigating the prototype whilst talking through what they were thinking and doing.
We tested with a number of individuals or couples and gained some really helpful insights into our early stage designs. We’re incorporating changes to the navigation as a response to these insights at the same time as starting to populate the prototype with features and content for further user testing.
Here at fffunction, we always work with clients to try to incorporate at least some user research into our projects. Often this will take the form of interviewing users from user segments which we’ve identified with clients (typically based on motivations and tasks) to test our assumptions and gain new insights.
When we started working with the Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archive service, we quickly discovered that the service has a strong research and evaluation team with a wealth of data at its disposal. Furthermore, the museums and cultural institutions sector in the UK has an ethos of open sharing of research amongst organisations. So given that the budget for the design and development of the new BMGA website for this financial year is tight, we made a call to limit the amount of research we did ourselves but to review relevant research which was available to us.
The main piece of research we used is the report from the second phase of a multi-phase research project from Culture24 called Let’s Get Real. Culture24 have worked with organisations throughout the UK’s cultural sector to help them define and measure success online.
In the kickoff for the project, the team’s instinct was that the website should focus on content to help visitors plan a visit to the museums in the group. Our review of the Let’s Get Real 2 research along with other research supplied by the museum from visitor surveys and some informal interviews which we conducted with visitor services staff in the service have shown us that this instinct is a good one.
So for the first phase of the website project, we’ll focus on content which supports visitors in planning visits. We’ll be bearing other tasks and motivations in mind and these will get more attention in later phases of the project, with more user research around them very likely.