CLIENT: The Art Institute of Chicago
INTENDED AUDIENCE: museum visitors, museum members, educators, the general public
CREDITS: Studio Blue; Art Direction: Cheryl Towler Weese and Kathy Fredrickson; Design: Tammy Baird; Information architecture: Matt Simpson; Programming: Tiffany Farriss and George D. Demet, Palantir.net
After years of benignly neglecting its website, the Art Institute of Chicago contracted Studio Blue to develop a redesign that would accurately portray the museum as one of the world's finest. This initiative came about because of a change in museum leadership; therefore the timeline was compressed, and expectations were high.
Studio Blue sought to create a site that would communicate the diversity and uniqueness of the Art Institute of Chicago experience and convey the accessibility of the site and museum without sacrificing intelligence. In an effort to dispel the widely held belief that the museum was not family friendly, the designers needed to communicate that it was a destination point with many types of activities, including art appreciation. The site also needed to convey that there is always something new happening at the museum, of interest to everyone; while celebrating the richness of the museum's permanent collection, which includes many popular cultural icons.
Research Guides Mission
Although Studio Blue has a long relationship with the Institute, which helped them understand priorities and how to achieve consensus, they did a lot of research to bolster what they already knew about their client and its needs.
Studio Blue built a library of website examples that included major museums across the country, analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of those sites, then considered how to differentiate the AIC from the others to better represent a Midwestern museum with an internationally famous collection.
Studio Blue also did a series of small group interviews that helped more clearly define project requirements. Themes emerging from those interviews were: the museum was perceived as inaccessible to families; the other resources available to visitors, such as performances and children's activities, were not well known; and the museum's collections were not organized in a way that was easy for the general public to browse or reference online.
In addition to the research Studio Blue conducted, the museum had previously worked with a Web developer to do an evaluation of their website, including stakeholder interviews and in-depth comparisons of the site's content and structure with other museum sites. This additional perspective, though from an earlier point, helped the designers map the information architecture portion of the project.
Site Wins Fans
The research helped pinpoint key goals, which led to a design strategy that was a touchstone for the visual solution: the revolving art on the home page changes with repeat visits and uses simple interactive tools to engage the user. The word and image pairings evoke accessibility and convey the richness of the museum's collections, communicating that the museum is "a place for you," whoever you are. The user-friendly calendar can be searched by date, event, event type, museum program, or keyword.
Studio Blue is planning a detailed summative analysis of the site's effectiveness, but after just six months of use, the amount of time visitors spend on the site has increased enormously. The museum has also received a lot of mail (both digital and on paper) from happy users.