UX/UI design for Brighton’s Museums websites, a network of five unique properties including The Royal Pavilion, Brighton Museum, Hove Museum and The Booth Museum of Natural History.
Museum design: access for all
Surface Impression invited me to lead the re-design of Brighton Council’s Royal Pavilion and Museums website, a network of five unique properties.
Having outgrown its initial framework long ago, the museum’s website was clearly in need of some design love. Over time a myriad of different urls, styles and approaches had made for an incoherent mass of frustratingly hard-to-find content. The five museums were served within a single domain by a CMS that had succumbed to the ever-increasing digital demands of both visitor and curator. Major action was required.
At the heart of the design brief lay accessibility;
- make it easier for visitors to find relevant information
- encourage exploration and user engagement
- surface more relevant content
- use simple English
- cater for all users and make accessibility a primary concern
- provide low and high contrast colour schemes
- support pre and post-visit content strategies for deeper engagement
- clear content signposting
- provide access to in depth articles for extended exploration
Designing with data
To understand current behaviour we looked at the analytics and a number of patterns emerged. A high bounce rate indicated folks were not finding what they wanted – indeed many of the keyword searches that drew visitors in were bouncing straight out again – the museum was hitting high for folks searching for the library! A poor search mechanism looked the likely culprit.
Another pattern was that of users bouncing between the same two or three pages – these were basic contact and visiting information pages which after investigation were poorly signposted and inexplicably distributed. Nice easy wins to fix in design.
Museum visitor profiles
Each of the five museums that make up B&H Museums has a distinct visual identity and role to play within the city. There are varied weightings across their audience profiles – for example, the Royal Pavilion attracts tourists and experience seekers while the Booth Museum attracts local families, professional hobbyists and researchers. Hove Museum is popular with young families (facilitators and rechargers) while Brighton Museum‘s eclectic mix of fashion, design and local history has the broadest appeal across all audiences.
How we apply these insights becomes clearer when we understand the needs of our audiences. What are they looking for?
- Our rechargers want to know when is the museum quiet, is there enough space to chill out, is there a decent cafe?
- Experience seekers want to know what are the top five things they should see, how long it will take to go round, are there guided tours in my language?
- Professional hobbyists want decent a search mechanism and full access to data and related data
- Facilitators want to know if it’s a good place to meet friends & family, to take the kids to
- Explorers want to know what’s happening, what’s new, to be shown something interesting and unusual
Clearly that’s not an exhaustive list, but you can start to see how we might use design to address these different audiences’ needs.
The following diagram shows the balance of visitors to Hove Museum.
1. Falk profiles are described in more detail on the Huguenot Museum project page.
Encouraging visits to museums
Brighton is not a big city, you can walk East to West, from Hove to Kemp Town in about an hour if you’re quick. Even so, getting folks from one side of town to the other is a lot to ask. For many, a trip to the museum forms only a small part of a larger itinerary. With average visit times for large museums at about two hours, the museum visit is perhaps only one destination of many. Recognising and working with this aspect is something that museums could do more effectively.
Seeing the bigger picture
Hove Museum is tucked away in West Hove. It’s a well-visited local museum that caters very well for parents with young children (facilitators) and is free to get in to.
With young children in tow, you’d happily get an hour out of it, maybe two if you stayed for a cup of tea and cake. If you didn’t live nearby, you may never know that it’s about 200m from the sea with loads of shops, cafes and lots of other activities nearby. The library is just down the road and they have a kids section and story telling going on. Yes it’s got a pram store, decent baby change and there’s regular busses stopping outside. You get the picture…
To help visitors orient themselves and plan their visit more effectively, I recommended we introduce visit times and age-suitability on exhibitions and editorial areas to highlight other things of interest nearby.
Early stage clickable prototypes.
To create a unique identity for each of the five museums I developed mood boards which picked up on the key aspects of each property. The Royal Pavilion for example, is an exuberant and highly textured environment filled with Chinese motifs (chinoiserie) and uses a very specific chrome yellow which was an expensive pigment to use at the time. These are unique and distinguishing attributes that I wanted to reflect in the design. The Booth Museum of Natural History however has a much earthier colour palette which reflects both the collection and the Victorian building.
With refined wireframes, a good understanding of each museum and a set of colour palettes, I started upon the visual design.
An organisation serving the public has be accessible and we paid special attention to ensure the museum followed best practice. The websites were thoroughly user tested with an accessibility group which included visually impaired users. Feedback from these sessions were incorporated in the designs. We made it easy to choose to have background images turned off and presented defaults for low-contrast, high contrast and black and white versions.
It’s the depth of engagement metrics that are most impressive; how many people come to the site depends on a lot of external factors, but users spending more time on the site and viewing more pages is clear testimony.Kevin Bacon, Digital Development Officer, The Royal Pavilion and Museums
In the 5 months following the launch of the site, the analytics showed really positive trends, with page views up 23%, pages per session increasing 17% and bounce rate down 15%.