Aims and Objectives
The British Library has a large and fragmented website which has grown organically over the years and has spawned numerous micro sites and other legacy content mainly based around older exhibitions and seasons of events which had either been created in house or by other agencies. We were tasked with the job of firstly coming up with a robust Information architecture which could accommodate a migration of the existing content while also keeping an eye on future developments at the library as they move more and more into the digital realm.
My role on this project was working alongside another senior UX consultant and an ontology expert who was brought in to assist.
Information Architecture and Taxonomies
Our task was to focus on developing an IA to cope with the numerous exhibitions and seasons of events that the library holds. These are generally around periods or history, themes or events and should not only provide the visitor with key information about the exhibition (which could be represented online, offline or a combination) but also encourage onward exploration to other parts of the site and the various library catalogues. The British Library already has quite an extensive digitisation program underway so there is a rich source of content that could be used in the exhibitions with Library curators adding additional content to help tell the story.
We started the process by looking at the existing content and breaking it down to its constituent parts. Quite often the best way to tackle large site redesigns like this is to take everything apart and put it back together again, which is what we did here. The main content groupings we identified were:
- Themes – Content (articles, collection items, teaching resources and others) grouped around a central theme related to the main exhibition
- Articles – Collections of writings
- Collection Items – Items from the various Library collection catalogues related to the exhibition
- Teaching Resources – Related teaching resources and lesson plans
- About the project
Once we’d identified the groupings for an exhibition we started looking in more detail at those components each grouping contains. Being a library they already have a series of complex taxonomies in use. We took the main ones that would be relevant for our purposes (eg. books, people, subject) and looked to see how the taxonomies mapped to one another and how they could be included in our templates. There was a pattern forming around time, events, locations, people, books (and ephemera) which by using simple domain modelling techniques could be used to create rich pages within these exhibitions with minimal input from the curators who could focus on telling the story.
During this time we also looked at other sites from cultural institutions from around the world to see how they coped with similar challenges and how they represented them on screen which was helpful.
Once we had the outline of the IA worked out we were able to start thinking about how it could be represented on screen. We took a mobile first approach to developing the wireframes for the site. There were two reasons for this – firstly because its good practice and secondly because we wanted to make sure that the content was the focus of the template, not the interface.
We sketched out several iterations of the design. With each version we were looking to see how the interface mapped to the taxonomy and how it enabled engaging story telling from within the page.
We settled on a minimal set of 6 templates which were supported by 10 or so reusable modules which would make up the bulk of the content by using domain modelling techniques to draw in content from elsewhere in the site to encourage exploration by the user and to support the narrative of the page.
From this point on we switched to Omnigraffle wireframes to enable more detail to be added and to facilitate easier sharing of files amongst the team.
The final hurdle was testing the prototypes with users and also getting sign off from the curators which both went without a hitch.
Instead of the fragmented website that they used to have the British Library now have a flexible set of templates which they can use to help illustrate and tell the story of their online and in venue exhibitions. The plan is to use them for all future work and they’ve started this with the First World War exhibition