Category Archives: Websites

Starting website phase two

In 2014 we launched in what we imaginatively called ‘phase one’ which not only gave us a service wide presence but allowed us to:

  • Follow the GDS service delivery approach for the first time – discovery, alpha, beta to live
  • identify real user needs through a discovery phase
  • plan to make the website a platform to help us delivery services for years to come
  • share publicly through a conference, blog, workshops and other events everything about the project
  • Keep my job – i half joke that i’d have quit if I wasn’t able to get the project done

We learned lots from doing this project and have done amazingly well with our key performance indicators.

With more than six months data under our belts as well as a ratified new service structure and direction for 2015-18 we are turning to starting phase two. Fay Curtis will be leading this project between January and April 2015. Check back regularly for updates.

Building a prototype and user testing

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.

Sketches for navigation for mobile and desktop views of the Bristol Museums website
Sketches for navigation for mobile and desktop views of the Bristol Museums website

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.

User testing at Bristol Museum with a laptop and an iPad
User testing at Bristol Museum with a laptop an iPad and a pot of tea

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.

Reviewing user research for museums and cultural institutions

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.

The cover of a research report from Culture24 titled 'Let's Get Real 2'
Let’s Get Real 2: a research report from Culture24

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.

A user research interview being conducted at Bristol Museum
Dan from fffunction conducting a user research interview at Bristol Museum

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.

New website project kick-off

affinity diagram made from our notes
Affinity diagram – the result of considering audience and business needs

We receive over one million unique visitors to our two primary websites, the Bristol museum and Art Gallery museum section hosted on the Bristol City Council website and our own M Shed website. In addition to these two sites, we also have at least twenty other websites and online channels such as brerc, trip advisor, Bristol Record Office and multiple wikipedia entries. Combined, these sites also bring healthy traffic to parts of our service.
Despite having healthy traffic, it was clear that the websites had plenty of room for improvement, both for our audiences and our business needs. For example our internal processes mean that making changes is slow and awkward at best. We also regularly receive public feedback that we are missing key information and that its difficult to understand across the board. Our analytics, which measures web visits (what pages get visited, for how long and much much more!) suggests that current content and/or design is largely ineffective.
I had to write a business case for the first phase which included:

We are seeking to build a phased service-wide website for Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives to address audience and business needs.
The website will cover all the museum sites and services and focus on evolving our currently unevenly distributed series of websites from a brochure website of static listings, and basic visitor information to a digital platform enabling audience focused tasks and service-wide digital engagement business  focused on addressing our needs beyond our current constraints.

Our website properties have become a destination in their own right for our audience.
During 2012-2013 online we attracted:

  • 1.1 Million unique page views (to the council section and M Shed but excludes our other sites and channels)
  • 20,000 Twitter followers
  • 6,500 Facebook likes
  • 4,500 Mailing list subscribers
  • 8% international audience

We seek to address the needs of both our existing and growing new user base by delivering digital services via the web in line with our strategic objectives. Our evaluation of our visitors through tracking, user surveys and staff feedback, identifies emerging usage trends which our current websites are failing to address to due to existing constraints.
Key performance indicators demonstrate that cost per transaction, user satisfaction, task completion rates and digital take-up must be addressed as a key business need.
The project will adhere to our 8 Digital Principles: Users at the heart, evaluation, digital services, build digital skills, experiment, partnerships, sustainability and open practices which is the start of a long-term commitment to digital delivery.

I met with a small group of recommended web agencies, mostly local, and chose fffunction. We agreed our approach should:

  • Be user focused
  • Be open not just internally but with the public too
  • Run the project in an agile way
  • Make use of the build, measure, learn feedback loop
  • Follow the GDS service  delivery approach oulined in the Service Manual of discovery, alpha, beta and finally live


The first part of the project is called the ‘project kick-off’ and was a day with four key internal stakeholders and fffunction.

We took a look at the biggest opportunities, ideas for direction and established obvious constraints such as time, budget and resource. We produced an affinity diagram (shown in this post) and put this into a public trello for everybody to see the ideas. This formally began the project ‘discovery phase‘ which GDS describe as “A short phase, in which you start researching the needs of your service’s users, find out what you should be measuring, and explore technological or policy-related constraints. will last for 3-4 weeks and cover.
We’ll be sharing more about the project in the coming weeks.