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The Website is Changing

Chris Owen, 11 December 2014

If you’ve been browsing our Visiting or Learning pages recently, you may have noticed a new look to those areas. From 9th December 2014, we are trialling parts of a new, updated Amgueddfa Cymru website with you.

Visit the Homepage

We need your feedback to help make these new pages as good as they can be. If there’s anything that didn’t work for you; anything that you found confusing or difficult to use; any information that you couldn’t find easily; or anything that you’d like to see improved, please let us know. Equally, if there are things that you really liked about the pages, we’d still love to hear from you!

Send Feedback

Why update the website?

During an extensive study of the existing website, we identified many areas where we think we can improve.

One of our core aims is to bring you the information you need more quickly and with less fuss. We are doing this by improving our content, simplifying our navigation and reducing the clutter on our pages.

With these new pages we want to bring you a fresh, modern web experience and one that works equally well on any device you may be using - be it a mobile, tablet, screen-reader or desktop computer. Visiting each of our seven museums is a unique experience and we also hope to bring a little more of that flavour of that to the web.

These are just a few of the ways we want to make the website better. We will be doing more work on all this in the coming weeks and months.

Coming in 2015

During the first half of 2015 you will see more and more areas of the website updated and improved. New Collections, Curatorial, Venue Hire and Blog pages will follow soon, as well as a new, updated Online Shop.

We will use any lessons learnt during this period to make sure that every area of the website is as good as we can possibly make it.

Your feedback and input to the new site will help us make that happen. And, of course, this is just the beginning.

Update 1 - 16 January 2015

Huge thanks to everyone who sent their feedback to us over the past few weeks. There are too many bug fixes and updates to list here, but here are a few of the changes we've made so far:

What's On:

  • The calendar feature has been restored - you can now view events on a chosen date.
  • Added the option to view events at all our museums.
  • Show 'List View' by default.
  • Added images, suitability and cost information to the List View.
  • View and date choices are now 'sticky', so they won't reset as you switch pages.

Blogs - this is the new, redesigned blog area. We hope you like it.

Website Search - A number of broken links were fixed. We also improved the display of search results on mobile phones.

Update Collections databases - Paleontology, Mineralogy of Wales, Mollusca, Vertebrate and Marine Invertebrates database all redesigned and updated.

Using the website
new beta homepage
Highlights page
St Fagans Homepgae

Is Content still King?

Graham Davies, 20 September 2014

Graham Davies, Digital Programmes Manager, Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales

"Content is King". The phrase is strong, infallible, sitting proud on his pedestal, a little like the Queen Mother, or the National Health Service. Sacrosanct. But has the time come to question some of our long held adages in the world of digital content and web design? Is content actually 'King' anymore?

Fresh back from an energising few days with the fab team at Culture24 at the Let's Get Real workshops and conference, I am determined not to let the enthusiasm and momentum get buried by the squillions of things in my inbox that greet me now that I am not 'Out of Office' anymore.

The discussions of the last few days have left me pondering over our constantly evolving digital landscape.

Which direction, and how high do we have to throw our digital content ball to get it successfully into the constantly moving net of engagement?

Jessica Riches, in her talk on 'Learning from Brands' seemed very surprised that she was the first of the day to mention the phrase ‘Content is King’

This made me think. And think again. About the shift in focus to be more about platforms, the importance of audiences and what channels those audiences use and reside in.

So has the time come to update or even rewrite the rulebook?

1. Content is King?

Surely it's not just raw content that is king anymore. Who your content is intended for significantly alters how it should be written and where it should be published. What is the intent of those people reading it? (as apposed to the intentions of those writing it). So I give you rule rewrite number 1:

Content, Intent and Purpose are the new King, Queen and Jack

By thinking of it this way, you are reminded that content on its own doesn't stand any more. It's equally important to also think of why you are writing it and where the people are who want to read it?

2. Build it and They Will Come?

This fell off its pedestal a long time ago, but if we were to prop it back in place the stonemasons would need to re-carve the plinth to read: 

Write it and take it to where they are. Or perhaps better still: Go pay them a visit and have a chat

This helps reinforce the idea that we can't be institutional broadcasters anymore, we should be working with our audience to help them answer what they want to know, rather than what we want to tell them.

To demonstrate this, Shelley Bernstein provided us with a superb keynote speech at the Let's Get Real conference on how the Brooklyn Museum are trusting the audience and developing a wholly user-centric approach to their new responsive museum.

3. Design Responsive Websites

Great, Yes, very good. Although a revision of this phrase can encompass web design by default whilst primarily focussing on content:

Optimise your content to be platform independent

4. Think Mobile First

Yes, we must, and we should make this behaviour ingrained. By turning this rule upside-down, our new banner proclaims (and by its very nature automatically assumes mobile first):

Remember to check the desktop

Think back to those good old days where everything had to be retrofitted to work in IE 6. Who now retrospectively checks that everything reads and works well on a desktop? Not many I'm guessing.

But beware. Herein lies the paradox: Remember, people looking to visit one of our venues are more likely to be looking us up through a mobile device. However, people looking at in-depth long-form curatorial and academic material are predominantly still using desktops.

This is where headline metrics can be misleading, if your website as a whole shows a rise in mobile, that doesn't mean that all the content on the site is being accessed through mobiles. This is why metric analysis is so crucial before we apply blanket statements based on overall trends.

This brings me onto to something bigger I have been mulling over recently...

"Can we put it on the website please"?

Quite frankly, I dislike the term "Website". I often ask what section or area people are actually referring to, for websites these days have come to contain many distinct areas and functions, serving completely separate and different audiences and requirements. Maybe this is the crux of the problem? At the moment we are all busy working on a 'one solution fits all approach'. Shouldn't we be thinking of applying separate templates and content strategies based on different audience requirements within our own websites?

Going back to our rewritten rule number one, and this should be applied within (and throughout) our own organisational websites too.

All this can help us ensure that we consistently put the users needs at the centre of our goals and ambitions. Just by thinking a little differently about our assumptions, we have the ability to take a quicker, more direct route to successful engagement.

The King of Hearts as represented in a deck of playing cards
The King of Hearts as represented in a deck of playing cards

Shells, Scorpions and Shopping Centres

Sara Huws, 20 August 2014

I started out writing a long meandering post about galleries, but what I came to say is this: I've really enjoyed the I Spy Nature exhibition at National Museum Cardiff, which runs until April 2015. Each time I've gone down to see it, the place has been full of families, conversations, and children dressed up as bugs and scientists, hopping from display to display.

I Spy Nature
I snapped the picture below at one of our interactive stations, only just avoiding the lunchtime rush (and sticking out my elbows to maintain our younger visitors' privacy!)

I Spy... Nature gives you a chance to see the world as seen through the eyes of a bat, a scientist, or a fly. Provided you're under 10, you can even to dress up like one as you explore the creepy-crawly specimens, 3D printed corals, interactive quizzes and activities. The giant, interactive microscope screen mentioned in David's post can be found in a beautiful cabinet of slides. For those of you who prefer 'the real thing', there's also a working laboratory microscope, with a spinning table of fascinating slides to choose from.

The I Spy... team have also been taking the show outside to different places, bringing their amazing collection with them. For example, here's @CardiffCurator with a curious object at the Eisteddfod:

 

The I Spy... pop-up museum will be, er, popping up, for one last time this summer. Catch them at the Capitol Centre in Cardiff between the 28th and 30th of August. In amongst the handbags, sandwiches and end-of-season sales, you'll find scorpions, creepy-crawlies and a seashell that's bigger then your head. Pop down to see them between 11am and 3pm to see what you can spy!

I-Spy Micrarium Touch Screen (VADU part II)

David Thorpe, 12 August 2014

There is an exhibition showing at National Museum Cardiff called: I-Spy…Nature (until April 2015). One of the touch screens (picture 1) focuses on a selection of diverse, interesting and beautiful biological and geological slides from the Museum’s Natural History Collections. This blog is about the small aspects of the touch screen that I was involved with; plain and simple. 

Resources & Outlines

  • One general overview image of 36 slides
  • 12 very high resolution images of some of those slides
  • 27 inch touch screen
  • Complement an actual Micrarium, which would be displayed neatly above the touch screen
  • Incorporate a Victoriana style
  • Target audience: young folk

Flourishes

The high resolution slide images were always the prize, therefore it seemed obvious to sort out the zoom features first. Using the Javascript version of Zoomify (other javascript frameworks are available) gave us a good foundation to work on. We just needed to tap into their Zoomify Javascript code a little, then add our own layer of Javascript and graphical flourishes to make the design fit in with the exhibition outlines.   

All the controls were laid out in plain sight, hopefully to reduce any learning curve when approaching the interactive; and since the touch screen is quite large (27 inches) we had the space.

Five additional features were added to the zoom screen (picture 4):

  • Zoom controls
  • Navigation controls
  • Home button
  • Information button
  • Change language (English/Welsh) 

n.b. where possible I tried to avoid using words to describe button functions, hence why the home button is only an image, but this idea fell down a little when it became clear you couldn’t avoid a word or two to help the visitor work out what specimen they were observing.

Into the Arms of a Microscope

Once or twice someone may have caught me saying things like: “Plagioclase Feldspar” or “Olivine”. Anyhow, part of the fun with looking at slides is the process of selecting a new slide, I thought so anyway - you were never sure what would be on the other side of the glass.

I wanted to avoid the conventional method of changing between images, which is usually to include a ‘next’ and ‘previous’ button; so tried to incorporate some of my vague science memories with a quick reconnaissance mission (picture 5) to see the microscope that was being prepped for the exhibition.

Since there were 36 lower resolution images on the home screen, but twelve high resolution images on the slide selection screen, it gave some space to move a simple microscope stand into view, which provided the excuse to animate the microscope arms and float the slides back and forth. The iris transition between the microscope slide view and the zoom view is loosely based on the idea of looking down a microscope eyepiece.   

Intermittent Contact

The interactive was built on HTML and Javascript with animations mainly driven by CSS. Due to the amount of images used in this interactive (up to 120MB), the project was exported from Amgueddfacms CMS into a standalone ZIP file then installed onto the exhibition PC - this improves the interactive response times, since it doesn’t have to wait for any image files to download over a network connection.

We’ve been using Firefox for a while as its platform independent and has neat little add-ons (R-Kiosk and Block Site). In this case, the operating system is Windows 7, with a locked down user account which only has access to Firefox and the touch screen drivers.

Usually we use Google Analytics to record button events, to give us an indication of how much the interactives are being used, but Google Analytics is designed to work with regular domain websites, which is not the case when running locally from simple hard drive files. Therefore the button events are recorded by the web server through AJAX calls.

Thinking about it again, it might be more efficient to store Javascript events in the browser’s HTML5 web storage throughout the day and only send it back to the web server when the computer boots up in the morning. Therefore, only bother the web server once a day, rather than hundreds of times a day.

Video Demo

I've included a short demo video for posterity:

In-situ photograph of the interactive within the gallery.
Picture 1: In-situ photograph of the interactive within the gallery (an actual Micrarium appears above the touchscreen).
Home screen, which compliments the actual Micrarium neatly displayed above the touchscreen. This screen only appears when the touchscreen hasn't been used for a while.
Picture 2: Home screen, which compliments the actual Micrarium neatly displayed above the touchscreen (36 slides in three rows). This screen only appears when the touchscreen hasn't been used for a while.
Microscope screen, where the visitor selects the slide they wish to view.
Picture 3: Microscope screen, where the visitor selects the slide they wish to view.
Picture 4: Zoom screen showing the zoom controls, navigation controls, home button, information button and change language button.
Picture 5: Reconnaissance missions to old microscopes.
Someone appears to have a thing with exaggerating movements though graphic pendulums. The left-hand side of the picture depicts the audio player from the Peter Blake iPad interactive (November 2013), while the right depends the zoom button in the I-Spy Mi
Picture 6: Someone appears to have a thing with exaggerating movements though graphic pendulums. The left-hand side of the picture depicts the audio player from the Peter Blake iPad interactive (November 2013), while the right depends the zoom button in the I-Spy Micrarium.
Graphic panels appear in many shapes and sizes. The picture shows a cow with information about the specimen down its flank.
Picture 7: Graphic panels appear in many shapes and sizes.

exciting developments afoot...

Graham Davies, 26 February 2014

After much discussion and background work, the digital team at Amguefdda Cymru today began on the exciting path of redesigning its website.

As well as being timely (it’s been almost 5 years since our last design iteration *gasp*), there are a number of important factors driving this project, including an ambitious digital strategy to help deliver the redevelopment of St. Fagans National History Museum, as well as a comprehensive review of our institutional structure as a result of the Museums Change Programme.

Areas for development in this project will include providing greater access to online collections, increasing digital participation and also integrating today's social networking activities to encourage participation and sharing.

With these drivers in mind, we’ve been busy beavering away in the background over the last few months, researching audiences, analysing metrics, workshoping stakeholders and talking to our users. Why? Quite simply, we want this project to be as ‘evidence led’ as possible - let’s act on what our users tell us, from how they get to our website, to what they do when they get there.

time to put the user at the centre

From all this background research, we have developed a specific list of objectives that our new redesigned website will seek to provide. In summary these are;

  • Reflect first and foremost, the needs and interests of our users
  • Be focused on individual museum sites and our knowledge, not our corporate brand
  • Remove barriers to our information, including language and structure
  • Present a clear and logical navigational structure
  • Remove redundant sections and pages
  • Present a simple, clean design
  • Ensure that there are no dead ends for users - always offer an alternative if no exact content matches their search
  • provide fresh and routinely updated material

We are now in a position to take stock of our whole online offer: microsites, domains, social media connections, visiting pages, collections pages, even our in-gallery interfaces, while at the same time rethinking our traditional ‘institutional’ view of what we present online.

Most of you in Museum digital circles will know just how easy it is for websites to evolve through a reflection of internal structures. This is our chance to turn that thinking around and apply fresh perspectives, new ideas and modern technology to a website that really works for those visiting our websites - all based on evidence driven research, of course...

Timescale for all this? 8 months, so check back for updates to how this journey unfolds…

Amgueddfa Cymru website homepgae
Audience first, or institution first? What really inspires our website visitors to explore further?
Dave working on the soundtrack to Under Milk Wood for the Peter Blake exhibition
Dave, our developer works on our in-gallery interactive soundtrack to Under Milk Wood for the Peter Blake exhibition, 2013.
new mugs
First things first... the digital team prepares itself for a very busy year...