MuseumNext Part 3: Walker Art Center and its brilliant bees.

Having fun with web design and bees at the Walker Art Center

The opening keynote on day 2 was from Robin Dowden and Nate Solas, who presented the Walker Art Center’s new website, which to put it mildly is pretty awesome.

There’s been a lot of previous discussion about Rethinking the Museum Website, MCN had a brilliant panel about it last autumn, and Suse Cairns over at Museum Geek ponders about it a lot.  It was really great to see Nate and Robin talk about the actual process of designing, creating and overall flipping the concept of what is capable with a museum website on its head. A really nice way of summing this up is that the Walker is a safe place for unsafe ideas.

The objectives for the new website aren’t actually too dissimilar from most other museums’ to communicate the brand and mission, to promote programmes, and to facilitate physical visits.  But Walker’s implementation of those objectives is completely different.  The new website, which took more than two years to create, wanted to be an “idea hub”.  I really like classing and designing a museum website to be an ‘idea hub’.  It already sounds like a website you want to visit.

It also has content centred approach, or content based marketing, so in a way it looks and feels more like a magazine than a website, and, unlike many other websites who are designed to be the ultimate final destination, the Walker site sees itself as a node rather than an endpoint. In order to become a node museums need to start curating the web.  Their advice is that museums should concentrate on producing content that is unique to their institution, and that linking to someone else who knows more than them is a clear mark of confidence and authority. If that didn’t make sense here’s the tweet: “Curating the web gives @walkerartcenter authority online. Linking = authority.”

On top of that, there are lots and lots of gorgeous design and gorgeous content, which helps set the tone, and there are also some really nice user features, which play and bring fun to the site (bees, confetti, Cat Breaks and an awesome web comic).  What was really refreshing to hear, was the battle that they had to get the website to fruition.  You don’t normally hear about the difficulties of institutional buy in and departmental spats (even though we all know they happen, and are probably in the middle of one right now). So when they described what they called ‘user experience wars’  it all sounds so very very familiar, but something that is not often said outloud. From the Walker’s experience you should always focus on the user experience when demands from colleagues come in. Yes please. It would make my job easier.

I’m going to leave you with the Black Slide of the Keynote:

“People will engage with your organisation if you deliver content that adds value.”

Nuff said.

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