GLAMi Nomination
Institution: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
Designer: NV Interactive
Tags: Accessibility, Bilingual, Digital Strategy, Museum, Organisation Change, Agile, Process, Product Development, Outreach, User Experience, Web Design, Website

The most concise summary of the product comes from the blog we wrote when we launched:

Te Papa’s new website

Today we launch an updated version of our website. In a weird kind of way, we hope it’s not that big a deal to you. It’s a website, you come to it when you need it, and you hope you find the information you need. Like a lot of things, you only notice it when something goes wrong; when you can’t find something, when there is too much noise in your way, or when the site is unfriendly, unwelcoming, or the technology just isn’t working. Apart from it looking great, the idea is that you don’t even really notice you are using it.

From our perspective, it’s actually been a big deal. We’ve started from the ground up, with the key goal of making a usable, stable, useful site for those who use it. We’ve been through every page of content we had. We’ve looked at how the website was structured. We’ve replaced all of the software that was running the website, and we’ve moved the website to the cloud, rather than hosting it ourselves, because website hosting is not our core business. We’ve replaced our search tool completely (to be honest, we still have a little work to do here). And the thing you probably will notice, we’ve given the website a fresh new look, making sure it looks its best, but is also legible, accessible, and useful. And while the old site wasn’t too bad, it’s even more important than ever that the website works well on whatever device you’re using to access it. We think the new version looks great on mobile, tablet and desktop. Even on your TV, if you are so inclined.

It’s been a pretty long journey, but we’ve kept one thing in sight the whole time; this site is not for us, it’s for the people who use it. That’s shaped the way we think about everything on the site.

Finding out what’s actually important
First, we looked at how people are using our existing site. The pages they were viewing (and those they weren’t), the things they were searching for, feedback we were getting through our social media, enquiry lines, uhh, complaints.

That gave us a good starting point, but from there we needed to know what people actually wanted from the site. That’s where a lot of you helped. In fact, we were blown away by how many of you wanted to help, and were so generous with your time and feedback. The numbers are still kind of unbelievable to us.

Over 1,700 people helped out. Yep. Seventeen hundred. Through surveys, online tests, being randomly interviewed in the museum, in Wellington cafes and on the waterfront, all the way through to sitting down in front of a computer and having a bunch of people watch your every move. All of these 1,700 people helped us test whether we were making the right decisions around content, bilingual needs, website structure, design, tone, and a bunch of random things we hadn’t thought about. And we are extremely grateful for this help.

With this project we were focussing on the main site, This left a few of our sites to work on later, including Collections Online, the Blog, Arts Te Papa, and the Channel.

Te Papa’s main website originally dates back to 1998, when the new museum first opened. The earliest remaining trace of it is March 1999.

You can imagine that over eighteen years, an eon in internet time, we’ve built up quite a lot of content. We’ve had lots of exhibitions, events, marketing campaigns, and services. It was time to do a review.

Previously I mentioned having gone through every page on the site. The idea was to make sure each page was useful and relevant. Turns out they weren’t. We had over 4,000 pages on the old site. The new site has just over 350. Yep, less than 10% of what we had before. That may sound pretty drastic, but the majority of the pages on the site were outdated, incorrect, duplicated, broken, and the big one, simply not being used.

Essentially there were a whole lot of pages no-one was interested in anymore, but we were still trying to maintain them, and they were cluttering up the site. So, we focussed on the content that that was of most relevance, and most value to users.

We also removed some old minisites, some of which dated back to 2003, and were not on supported technology. For example, sites weren’t designed for viewing on mobile and tablet back them.

We’ve moved some content to more sustainable and useful places, and retired and archived any content we think is no longer needed.

What now?
What we’ve tried to do is launch with what we think offers the most value to website visitors straight away. We have quite a list of items in our backlog that we think will improve specific tasks, or for specific audiences.

And although we’ve got through significant testing, there will be problems. So we’ll be continuing to fix, update and improve. We’ll also be making improvements to the search tool, the “discover the collections” section, and making changes to the structure and content based on feedback, testing, and traffic analysis.


From project to product

However the project was more than just delivering a new corporate website, it was also about changing the way Te Papa develops and maintains digital products. At the launch of the new site, we wanted to be celebrating a new public face, and also a culture and workflow change.

The product was developed in 5 streams:

  • Content.
  • Information Architecture.
  • Visual and interaction design.
  • CMS.
  • Search.

Key components to this culture and change of focus included:

  • Using agile project management, from the beginning including daily standups, retro, 2 week sprints etc.
  • Delivering user-value features before organisational or personal wants.
  • Constant re-prioritisation after each sprint and test.
  • A cross-functional team, with a clear team culture.
  • A content first approach. One of the very first tasks was to assess the over 4,000 existing pages and rank their usefulness. Based on data and users, not design or technology.
  • Use of data driven user personas used to help with decision making and testing.
  • Data driven decision making rather than assumption and forecasting.
  • User testing, user testing, user testing. Content tone, design tone, IA, content comprehension, overall usability, accessibility.
  • Transparent decision making.
  • Constant internal communication. As well as regular reporting and as many face to face and email contacts with relevant stakeholders, we kept an internal blog to keep all staff informed of progress and to communicate the new ways of working. Thirty six posts covering agile, card sorting, user testing (including failures), analytics, SEO, etc, all designed to bring the organisation on the same journey. (A copy of the blog can be provided on request).
  • A constant understanding and communication that launch does not means the end. A “high care” period of two months where the core team stays together, monitors analytics, addresses remaining backlog items, addressing feedback, more testing, and embedding processes. From that point the site will be embedded in BAU, which includes clear product ownership, budget and continuous improvement. “Project” is now a dirty word.  Projects finish, products don’t.
  • Also recognising the site as a core Te Papa product, our digital front door, and our digital represention of our bicultural values, means it needs to have the same recognition and status as our other core products, such as exhibitions. As such, this was the first Te Papa digital product to be given a traditional Maori blessing ceremony, just like we do with every exhibition we open.

Key companies who partnered with Te Papa to deliver the site: