National Museum of singapore - a responsive web experience that is usable
It all started when...
The National Museum of Singapore (NMS) is without doubt, an elegant building. This building was built in 1887 by Colonel Sir Henry Edward McCallum as the former Raffles library and museum. Today it houses exhibitions telling the story of Singapore, its past, present and future.
The grandeur of the NMS building that draws international visitors as well as local visitors.
As a visitor to this museum, you may visit the museum’s website to find out more information. For a tourist or first time visitor, the information found on the website may be the deciding factor whether the museum is worth visiting. As a returning visitor, you want to know if the exhibitions or events have changed since the last visit or if the upcoming exhibitions are of any interest to you.
In this information age, we turn to online sources of information as part of our research process. The discovery process no longer happens when the visitor walks through the physical front entrance of the museum, instead the digital front door (i.e. the museum’s website) is where the visitor starts his or her journey.
With that in mind, my team and I set out with a simple goal — to ensure that this digital experience is one worthy of the National Museum of Singapore and to leverage on the website to bring international interest to the museum propelling NMS to the global stage.
(Not forgetting the business goals of the museum which is to increase overall website engagement on both the desktop and mobile version — by:
- Increasing number of visits to the website
- Increasing the length of duration of each visit)
What’s special about NMS?
Starting off this project, my team and I felt the need to visit the museum to understand its character. We wanted the digital experience to match the onsite experience to ensure cohesiveness and consistent messaging.
The museum is famous for their permanent exhibit — Singapore History Gallery. It is the de-facto exhibition that tourists and visitors would view when they visit the museum.
My team and I went through the exhibition, noting down how the curators made use of the space to tell a story. The exhibit was very well laid out. There was a main flow, one that you could follow without much thought or navigation prompts, and smaller rooms off to the side that you may pop into to learn more about the exhibits. The curators made creative use of sound, light, multi-media and even scent to capture the visitors’ attention and imagination. Information was presented clearly and visitors can go through the exhibit at their own pace, even rest along the way on the chairs provided.
I thought this would translate well to an online experience, representing a visitor’s journey as he or she explores the various content laid out on the website.
Overall, the museum experience was pleasant and it greatly influenced our final website design.
Designing the overall experience begins with the user’s journey
While at the museum, we assumed the role of visitors and took note of the various interactions we came across. The interactions are in the form of museum staff or inanimate objects such as posters, navigation signboards and brochures. We wanted to personally experience what a typical visitor experiences throughout his or her entire journey — from obtaining an admission ticket to deciding which exhibition to visit to snacking at the cafe.
We also took the chance to speak with the security guard — Mr Chew. He was a rich source of information and shared stories about his daily interaction with museum visitors. It gave us an insider’s viewpoint and a greater understanding of the backstage happenings at the museum.
After the museum visit, we wanted to learn more about visitors’ behaviour. We planned interviews with other museum visitors, interviewing them about their search for information as well as understanding why they would choose to visit the museum. We spoke to a parent with young school-going children and two earnest working professional who visit the museum fairly regularly, asking them to share any difficulty or dissatisfaction they might have faced on the website as well as in the museum.
With the insights, we created a series of documents that guided us in the redesign of the NMS website.
First we did an affinity mapping of the interview responses to unearth relations between the behaviours of the interviewees. The resulting “I statements” helped us identify the visitors’ pain points and needs.
Affinity mapping — making sense of the interview responses
With the affinity mapping done, we start to see behaviours that seemed to belong together. This is the part where personas are being created. For this project, we have 2 personas — Patricia and Lydia.
You may get to know them better by viewing the profiles and stories that we have built around them. You can also follow along their journey and thought processes by viewing the customer journey maps too.
Patricia is the active seeker of information regarding museum events and she is also willing to attend paid events if they pique her interest.
Patricia: “I can’t make bookings for events or exhibition on the museum’s website”
Lydia is a parent who wants to find an activity that is educational and would also interest her children. She prefers free exhibitions and finds out about museum information via third-party sites.
Lydia: “I find a lack of detailed information on events on the museum’s website”
You would notice that I have identified the main pain points as well as the opportunities that can be explored for both Patricia and Lydia in the customer journey maps above. Along with these pain points and opportunities, I have also formulated some recommendations that would be helpful when considering features that we can then incorporate into the museum’s website that would be welcomed by them.
With the feature set generated from the customer journey map, the team plotted out the following feature prioritisation chart to understand the relationship of the suggested feature when both business needs and user needs are taken into consideration. We eventually chose to focus on findability of information on the website and crafted our final feature set to reflect that.
Feature prioritisation chart showing the feature set we should focus on grouped on the top right hand corner of the graph, where business needs and user needs are both of importance.
What does the redesigned NMS website look like?
Walkthrough of user flows for the final mockup of the reimagined responsive National Museum of Singapore website.
The design showed above is the design that my team has come up with. This is the version after iterations are done via usability tests with users. We made changes, taking their feedback into account.
Ideas are always great. With great ideas come great innovation but first, such ideas have to be validated.
I spoke with 2 different people for this feasibility study to understand the timeline as well as the estimate cost of building this website.
This is what I concluded after speaking with Bang Hui and Clarence.
- The timeline of 1 year is more than sufficient for a project of this scale.
- The cost is largely dependent on the calibre of the people brought onboard (including whether they are local resources or offshore resources).
- There are integration challenges for features such as a Content Management System (CMS) and the online retail shop. Training might be required for the end user and should be included in the timeline.
We have to consider the impact that implementing each feature would bring and prioritise them accordingly. The features should not be prioritised based on how much engineering resources are required but by the impact these features have on the business goals of the museum.
To give an example, redesigning the exhibitions’ numerous information pages might sound simple and require little engineering effort. However, it satisfies the main concern of a typical user who is an information seeker. This may result in higher conversion and count towards the museum’s business goal of increasing visitor numbers.
In comparison, implementing a transactional online retail shop is tedious and time consuming. While the online shop might bring about profits in merchandising sales, it might not translate as well to increasing footfall in the museum. The impact of building this online retail shop is less cost efficient and therefore should not be prioritised above redesigning the information pages.
Proposed project plan for the redesign of NMS website
The project will be done in an agile way with 2 week sprints during the development phase following the 2 months set aside for pre-planning. There will be extensive Quality Assurance done to ensure that all the errors and bugs are ironed out before training is done in-house to onboard the users who will be using the backend CMS system during the pre-launch phase.
Total estimated project cost was calculated to be SDG $3.3 million which is considered a high bid for such a project. Replacing some of the development staff with offshore resources, the cost can be reduced by 1 million. Depending on the eventual client requirements, the resources required might change or further adjustments might be done to fit client expectations and budget range within reason.
Where can we go from here?
This is not the end of the journey. I have considered various other features to implement. These were not within the scope of this project because we have chosen to focus primarily on the navigation experience of the user.
- Content Revamp
The content of the website can be very much improved. We did a content audit and found that the information on the site is disorganised and scattered.
Currently, events and exhibitions are listed on the website as and when they are available. However, I strongly feel that a clear content strategy, one that involves a planned content calendar, would be beneficial to the museum and possibly increase return visits from visitors. By curating content to coincide with these key dates, visitors can grow to expect specific content when the date or season comes around.
For example, we know that during the June school holiday season, the museum will specially curate exhibits that are children-friendly. If there is a planned content calendar, information about the specially curated exhibition can be surfaced on the website earlier to build hype and generate interest. Parents with children who have visited the current exhibition and enjoyed it will also be more inclined to check back during the same period next year for a similar exhibition. The museum can do this in-house or engage an external agency to manage this for them through the CMS (content management software) that should be integrated to the website.
2. Service Design
Some thought should also be given to the cross-over from the digital to the physical interaction at the museum. Currently there is an NMS app available for visitors to download for exhibit information as well as translation services. However, there is no mention of it on the current website and on-site at the museum. Visitors only find out about the app when they approach the museum staff for more information.
I think that systems like these should be better integrated to make the experience a better one for everyone. Signs should be placed at prominent locations to inform visitors of such an app. To make it even more convenient or delightful, the museum can also look to provide additional services such as free wifi and device charging stations. This makes sure that the app is made accessible to all, tourists and locals without data plans and they need not worry about their devices running low on battery.
There can also be more context specific features that can be built into the responsive website. If the website incorporates location services, visitors may visit the website to navigate to and within the museum. Exploration on beacon technology can also make it a powerful tool that aids in the exploration of the museum.
Besides working to incorporate technologies, some process changes can also be identified to make the operations of the museum smoother.
Currently the process is that all visitors, regardless of nationality, are given pink admission stickers. Singaporeans are by default given an exhibition ticket. This flow shows a differentiation between the nationality of the visitor and do without the extra exhibition ticket.
What happens when both Singaporeans and foreigns reach the exhibition hall. Notice that the Singaporean no longer have to fuss to produce the exhibition ticket required for admission.
I would like to explore how to incorporate learnings from data analytics and have quantitative data guide my future user experience research.