We’re always delighted to host updates from the museum technology community. This guest post is by Ashley Beamer, Technical Project Manager/Product Owner, and Christopher Ganley, Content and Design Manager, at the National Galleries of Scotland.
Our transformation of the new National Galleries of Scotland website (www.nationalgalleries.org) began in early 2016 in response to the Digital Engagement Strategy which focuses on improved digital access to our collection and services. The previous website had limitations, with only 6% of our collections online, and a complete overhaul was required so our main digital platform was fit for our audiences.
Although this new website has been in development for over a year we’ve released new functionality often, as part of our user story based Agile approach.
New Content Management System (CMS) and Underlying Architecture
We were keen for our new systems architecture to be based on free open source technologies wherever possible giving us the flexibility to keep the technology up to date and ensuring a high degree of portability.
We wanted an architecture that included middleware to pull together the images from our digital asset management system and records from our collection management system, and feed this data through to the new CMS. We required a fast search interface that could handle the queries on our 92,000+ records as well as tailored faceted filtering queries as selected by the user.
We wanted a simple-to-use administrative interface with a high degree of frontend flexibility to allow us to create beautifully designed custom pages.
In the end we built the system using a Drupal install for our middleware, a separate Drupal install for the CMS, both on the Acquia platform, as well as Drupal Commerce, CiviCRM, Amazon S3 cloud storage for our dissemination images, and Apache Solr search.
New and Improved Design
We were very interested in focusing on colours in the new website and wanted to use them carefully while at the same time allowing the artwork to be in the forefront. The new design uses colours to complement the artwork pages by programatically identifying them from the images as they are processed. Colour extraction methods are also used in other areas of the site including on Feature pages, exhibitions and events.
For the new development we took a user and data driven approach to improve the interface, functionality and accessibility, and to provide an easy-to-use interface for the public. Focusing on user journeys and experience we considered analytics gathered from our old website as well as usage on any new developments.
We took a mobile first responsive design approach, reflecting the changing behaviour of users, to ensure that the website is performant and responsive on handheld devices.
Using an Agile method of software development, namely Scrum and Kanban, we ensured code releases that took place quickly and often. This methodology meant that we could respond quickly to newly gathered requirements and remain focused on high priority tasks.
We took requirements, prioritised them, and created user stories and acceptance criteria to discuss with the UX/design team and developers. We developed using two week sprints with sprint planning and refinement, daily standups, and retrospectives.
Starting in July 2016 we have had a series of both major and minor launches to include the following pieces of functionality:
The Collections (July 2016 launch)
Our main focus initially was to get the full national art collection published online to be enjoyed by the public.
A complimentary sister project at the Galleries focuses on the digitisation of our artworks. With this digitisation project underway in 2015 we were able to plan for the inclusion of the art collection online as well as a significant number of digital images. As artworks are photographed they are ingested into the digital asset management system where they can go through the rights clearance process and be flagged to go online.
Two years ago, before the digitisation project started, we had circa 6,000 artwork records from our collection online, where each record included an image. When we launched the new collections website in July we were able to publish over 92,000 records, exposing our permanent collection and long term loans. By that point in the digitisation schedule we were able to include images for 30,000 records. With the continuation of the project, this number continues to climb daily and currently we have over 50,000 images online.
The collections part of the website allows the user to free text search or search by tags such as artist, artwork, subject. We also included a browse facility to let users select a series of filters to hone in on particular artworks of interest.
On an individual artwork page you can access deeper contextual information like audio and video content, and explore different avenues through related information. Artwork images can be shared, downloaded, and favourited. Due to our high resolution imagery, users can also use a zoom tool to get a close up view of the images.
The July 2016 launch also included the option for users to order artworks as prints. This meant the development of a print selection tool which lets a customer select the artwork they want, the size, the print paper, and frame colour. It also meant the development of a simple to use basketing system and checkout process.
Features (October 2016 launch)
Next came Features. Features are longer form unique quality articles that focus on artworks, artists, projects, and themes. They include text, images and other media, providing a significant learning resource about the collection. The ‘story-telling’ nature of Features, with relationships to other types of content, attempts to create intuitive and enjoyable user journeys.
We developed Features to be have an element of flexibility when being administered by creating ‘lanes’ of content, allowing staff to customise pages for publication, incorporating different content types.
Online Shop (November 2016 launch)
Approaching the end of 2016 we decided to develop and release the online shop. With the checkout process already in place for prints purchase, the new gift shop simply slotted into the functionality as a new ‘product type’.
With the online shop fully integrated, we were able to move away from a separate shop microsite and provide an interface where the user can purchase multiple products types from different parts of the site. The new unified basketing system was an important building block to have in place for the upcoming development which included ticketing, membership, and donation purchasing.
Visit (December 2016 launch)
The new visit section is aimed at members of the public who want to physically visit one of the galleries. Our goal was to create a clean and simple interface where all relevant information could be found quickly and easily from any device.
Exhibitions and Events (March 2017 launch)
The inclusion of the exhibitions and events was one of the final pieces of the redevelopment.
We wanted to bring together all of the information and related content about a particular exhibition onto a single beautifully custom designed page.
Our exhibitions listing page aims to differentiate between short term temporary exhibitions and longer term permanent collection displays.
For paid temporary exhibitions we now offer online e-ticketing so members of the public can purchase tickets ahead of time and better plan their National Galleries of Scotland visit.
Events are now simple to navigate and allow the user to filter by audience, type of event, and gallery location, as well as date range. Event pages offer online booking for free stock controlled events as well as e-ticket purchasing for paid events.
Donations, Memberships (March 2017 launch)
Our new Support section of the website offers information on how to become more involved with the Galleries. This includes an online donation facility as well as a range of ‘Our Friends’ membership packages including student, solo, duo, and philanthropic memberships.
With a long list of further developments that we’d like to undertake in the coming year, we have three main priorities: introduce artist pages to provide a fantastic learning resource (due to launch in September/October 2017), undertake further usability testing to continually make improvements, and work to improve and standardise our data with a view to making collection information more open and accessible through our digital channels.
We are very excited about the new website and with the architecture now in place we are able to enter into a new phase of digital engagement at the Galleries.
Special thanks to the talented team at Cello Signal, Edinburgh (https://cellosignal.com), whose hard work helped to get us where we are now.