Inside the Design Museum’s new website

The Design Museum in London launched a new website last week, designed by Netherlands‐based agency Fabrique and build partner Q42. We spoke to Josephine Chanter, head of communications at the museum, and Fabrique strategist Martijn van der Heijden about the thinking behind the redesign…

The Design Museum in London launched a new website last week, designed by Netherlands‐based agency Fabrique and build partner Q42. We spoke to Josephine Chanter, head of communications at the museum, and Fabrique strategist Martijn van der Heijden about the thinking behind the redesign…

The Design Museums previous website was launched in 2006 and as Josephine Chanter, head of communications explains, it needed updating. “Eight years is a long time in digital ‐ our old CMS and website were barely supported, and we wanted to start afresh,“ she says.

The new site offers a more streamlined design, with a greater focus on photography and video. A scrolling homepage offers a glance at current and future shows and events, as well as listing essential information such as contact details and opening hours, while the Designs and Designers section explores objects in the museums collection and profiles leading names from Zaha Hadid to Barber Osgerby.

Chanter says the museum began work on the redesign around nine months ago. After developing a digital vision, staff identified a longlist of over 20 studios whose work they had been impressed by and contacted each to inform them of the project. Eight studios were given the brief, six put themselves forward and four were invited to pitch for the project.

“We selected Fabrique as they had done a lot of work for museums in the Netherlands [the agency has designed websites for the Van Gogh museum, Museum de Lakenhal, Central Museum in Utrecht and the Rijksmuseum],“ says Chanter. “They understood the particular mix of ticketing, membership, collections and exhibitions that is unique to museum websites, and their work was very strong in terms of design,“ she adds.

As Martijn van der Heijden, a strategist at Fabrique, explains, the brief was to create something “seamless, engaging and inspiring“.

“To realise that, we wanted to create a website with a strong character that functions as a platform for exhibitions and activities, showcases and practical information he says. We wanted to create physical room to present this great content  and link everything together: exhibitions to products in the webshop, biographies to Twitter assignments. We also wanted to give the Design Museum a toolbox for future development of the site,“ he says.

Before working on the design, Fabrique heldcustomer journey workshops with the museum to identity different types of users and their needs. The new layout is based around the idea that 80 per cent of people visit museum websites for information on ticketing, while 20 per cent visit for inspiration, explains van der Heijden.

“This percentage is actually the same in fashion e-commerce: only 20 per cent is interested in new collections and look-books. We also knew [this 20 per cent] also spends 20 per cent more in the online shop, so it is important to serve both types of visitors. We do that with the inspiring Design & Designers section next to the more practical Visit and Do and Exhibitions section, and by making those practical pages visually inspiring,“ he adds.

As well as a simplified layout, the new site features bold yellow backgrounds and colour washes with large headlines in industrial typeface DIN, a look van der Heijden describes as stronger and more outspoken.

“Besides the fact that it has a strong character and is very readable, we like the fact that DIN was specially used for industrial products, which of course are an essential part of the museum’s collection. The headlines have their own characteristic style but body text must be easy to read. That’s why we divided the text elements as much as possible,“ he explains.

While there’s still a lot of content still to be added, the new Design Museum site already offers a richer, more engaging user experience than the old. The bold design is much more contemporary and features some lovely touches, such as icons relaying key stats about each exhibition, while drop down menus make it easy to browse and navigate. As well as allowing the museum to better showcase its collection and digital content, the new site is a helpful resource for visitors who are keen to read up on design and designers.

At the moment, the site lacks some of the functions which proved successful in Fabrique’s work for the Central Museum and Rijksmuseum the Rijksmuseum website features over 125,000 images of items from its collection, while the Central Museum site allowed visitors to view and save images from the collection, creating their own selections but van der Heijden says it will continue to grow and evolve.

“We look forward to the website providing richer experiences as it grows. The homepage allows for more use of video and interaction. The Design and Designers section offers great possibilities to make research that’s done and content that’s created for exhibitions permanently available. Also, we’ve got some great ideas on how to present a collection online that we’re anxious to include. Interaction with the museum audience will be an essential part in this,“ he adds.

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Lecturer Design Management

Kingston University

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