Can a website redesign drive organisational change?
The Natural History Museum is an iconic institution, famous for its landmark London building and dinosaur displays, but what happens behind the scenes is even more remarkable. The Museum has a collection of 80 million specimens spanning billions of years, and with more than 350 scientists onsite, is one of the foremost institutions of its kind. Blue State Digital was hired through a public tender to develop an integrated digital strategy and website experience that leverages the Museum’s collection and expertise as the building blocks for engagement with diverse audiences.
Early on, we pushed for a digital strategy that was a living, actionable plan, not a giant document that is delivered and never acted upon. The core output of the plan was the redesign of their website, which was over nine years old and contained over 10,000 pages. But the impact went beyond, helping the Museum usher in a ways of organizing and working so that they can be more responsive to audience engagement and iterative testing.
People powered design
We started with the Museum’s core asset (nope, not the collections)—it’s audience. We spoke with visitors, teachers, scientists, and internal staff. We went to their homes, their workplaces and met them in the Museum. We showed them the old website, new concepts or just let them talk, draw and write. The user-centric design process helped the team recognise the discrete needs of our different audiences and then create an entirely new information architecture and design around them.
The new site features a discrete area for a targeted science audience that provides rich information about the collections, direct access into the data portal, biographies of researchers, and the latest research news. Complementing this is a Discover area that provides visual, accessible, sharable content that explores the Museum’s research in a way that appeals to a wide public as well as Take Part, which helps visitors get involved in exploring and protecting the the natural world. The new visual design is clean and clear, illustrating the Museum’s scientific expertise, while remaining approachable for all audiences and meeting their strong accessibility standards.
Change through doing
Agile principles and processes were brought into design and development, with speed, not perfection, as a driving principle. As part of this organizational evolution, the Museum realised that its traditional way of managing content—through a central, closely controlled team—was not in line with its new approach. We helped draft a content strategy that brought the unique voices at the Museum to the forefront, and ran storytelling workshops to tie content ideas into unified narratives that connect to the collection and exhibitions. The result is new type of digital-first curation for the Museum.
Walking the walk
The website redesign was the perfect context to inject change into the organisation and introduce new ways of working based on the principles outlined in the digital strategy. Now comes the real work of analysing website data, gathering user feedback, and continuing to build on the foundation. But by involving its audiences and being able to work nimbly, the Natural History Museum is is poised to deliver digital experiences as awesome as their dinosaur exhibits.