2017 has been an exciting year for Digital Media at the Museum. We’ve worked on some incredible products that cut across departments; we’ve worked with new software and hardware; we’ve led on a new mobile game for families as well as working with partners such as Google, Preloaded or Dotmailer.
Q: How did we decide which projects to work on?
A: We prioritise work according to perceived benefits and cost to the V&A.
- Audience – will it grow our audience and/or encourage loyalty?
- Income generation – will it drive income and if so, to what extent?
- Cost reduction – how much operating cost will be saved?
- Legal/ security – are we legally obliged to do this?
- Implementation effort – how much effort will the product team need to put into this?
- Reputational – will there brand reputational damage if we don’t do this
And so with this in mind, what did the year bring and what did we launch? Here’s our year in (product) review.
In January, we switched from monthly XML exports to using the SSL API for nightly updates for Search the Archives. This means that our records are now auto-magically up-to-date everyday – and not out-of-date for up to a month. Hooray!
February saw us working closely with our CRM team and Dotmailer on re-designing our newsletter templates to fit with our brand look and feel. In order to meet the needs of our Shop, Marketing and Membership teams, we built a system where admins can now mix and match visually compelling blocks in the template to best appeal to their audiences. Curious to see what they look like? Sign up to the Shop news here. (Buying Christmas presents is optional.)
We spent the majority of the first half of the year on our new What’s On. Working with a large team across Bookings, CRM, Marketing, Membership, Learning, Ecommerce and an ecommerce agency, we launched the project at the start of May. You can read more about what we learnt from it here. The new What’s On now allows users to better plan, browse and discover our exhibitions and events, and also fits with the V&A’s look and feel. As part of the project, we baked in some new cross-selling features too, for example when you buy an exhibition ticket, we offer you the exhibition catalogue and other shop products to add to the basket as part of the journey. It’s so seamless you might not even notice you’ve done it.
At the end of May, we opened a new season of the Learning Academy courses for 2017/18. Short, evening, year and professional development courses went on sale on our ecommerce platform Magento for the first time and became part of the same basket as the rest of the exhibitions, events and shop products. Looking for an unusual last minute Christmas gift? Book this course about Opening the Cabinet of Curiosities. Honestly, this is not an advertorial piece for the V&A.
June marked a great collaboration between our content team and the Google Arts Institute. We created a virtual fashion experience called ‘We Wear Culture – the stories behind what we wear’. The project tells the incredible stories behind objects in our fashion collections through a unique online gallery featuring a VR experience and timelines. You can read more about it here.
Around this time, we also improved the Gift Aid messaging and UX around ticket selections in What’s On, with the goal of converting more users to choose tickets with a small donation and ensuring they gift aid the amount. Interestingly, the online donations match and sometimes even exceed the offline donations in the Museum. You can see it when booking for one of our exhibitions, for example Ocean Liners: Speed and Style.
At the end of June, as part of the Exhibition Road Quarter project, we transformed our events programme into a ‘What’s On today’ for wall mounted screens in the new Blavatnik Hall. Using the same events API that powers What’s On, we were able to pick out events and exhibitions that we thought would be great to make visible to visitors as they entered the Museum. Working closely with our Visitor Experience and Marketing teams, we created this link, which refreshes every morning using Scala CMS and fits the screen perfectly.
Working closely again with our CRM team, we also designed the new touchscreen ticketing screens, which were launched at the end of June. In a similar way to buying train tickets, the self-service screens allow users to select and purchase tickets for up to five exhibitions, either on the day of their visit or for a future date. Enter the Museum from the Entrance Road entrance to see them and give them a spin.
In July, we worked with Preloaded on Secret Seekers, a mobile game for families designed to discover secret gems and stories of the Museum. Simply open the url on your phone or tablet when you’re next in the Museum, pick a character and get exploring. Fun fact – in user testing, the favourite character amongst all kids was Tycho, Henry Cole’s dog.
July saw us re–designing and re–launching our Collections page, which was a good example of how an minimum viable product (MVP) needs to progress to its second version. Our MVP was a grid-like view of individual collections. However, as more collections were added, the grid turned into a long list making individual collections harder to find. Our second version solved this problem by introducing categories to help users navigate more easily. We also introduced the ‘Latest’ section, promoting most recently added or updated collections.
With a little tear and a book about NASA’s design toolkit as his leaving gift, we said goodbye to our full stack developer James. Soon after, we welcomed Simon to the team from the Makers Academy, who’s not only an excellent developer, but has also transformed our staging CMS into exhibitions, articles and collections of porcupines, guinea pigs and pangolins.
By August, we were knee-deep in developing and launching Programme pages, which group events together according to their event or audience type. This means that a user can view the full Family programme, Members’ events or fun things to do in the evening in one page. Primarily used in newsletter campaigns at the moment, we’re planning on making these pages more easily discoverable via What’s On in 2018.
In October, we worked with the CRM team and an ecommerce agency on re–designing our Donations page. Coinciding with a donations campaign for our new Photography Centre (due to open in October 2018), it launched with an on-brand look and feel and a much simplified UX from the amount selection to check out.
November was a busy month for us. We designed, developed and launched a new template in Tycho to present our multitude of research projects. Launched with the ReACH project, the template features the project overview, core team and project updates that link to our blog and related events. At the end of these pages, project outputs can also be added using a dedicated section.
In the same month, we worked with IT and a WordPress agency on re–designing the V&A intranet. If you’re not on our network, you sadly won’t be able to see how on–brand and much simplified it is. For example, you can now view the daily canteen menu (one of the most used viewed features of the intranet) without clicking a button. If you’d like to see it pop by to say hello. We can even have lunch using the daily canteen menu from the intranet.
And to mark the start of the festive season at the V&A, in November we also launched a new Tycho template for Seasons and Festivals. To see it, check out our lovely Christmas season on What’s On, featuring a highlights section for the top events to see.
Last but not least, Winnie the Pooh: Exploring the Classic opened in December. As our only family-oriented exhibition in our current programme, we wanted to bring a bit of magic to the exhibition page (and to encourage parents to book tickets). What’s more Winnie the Pooh than bees and blue balloons? That’s right, nothing. Have a play with our swarm of bees here.
As a museum, we’ve had an online presence for a long time, in fact, it goes back for over 25 years. Managing that and ensuring it’s secure and compliant is another project we worked on with the IT team. For the majority of the year we’ve collaborated on ensuring we are Cyber Essential compliant, and that has given us the chance to review our thinking about our technical architecture over the long term. Collectively we’ve been offering our thoughts on how best the organisation can safely keep its digital estate.
Through the year we’ve also been working with two product designers, Gala Jover and Alex Charlton, who designed and developed a Chrome plugin to showcase more of our Collection online. The plugin displays an object from our collection for every new tab opened, and uses our Search the Collections API to do so. You can find out more about the plugin on its official website here.
Another long-running success this year was our continuing implementation of Tycho. We continue to develop our CMS in a way that allows us to sensibly migrate content from old versions of our websites, and often as a way to provide clearer guidelines, such as around our Membership offering, or our newly-commissioned National Art Library catalogue.
What else has been happening in the Digital Media team in 2017? We presented at the Festival of Marketing, JAM London, and the IIIF Conference in the Vatican. We attended and were inspired by the MuseumNext x Tech in Berlin and hosted our own event IIIF Showcase: Digital Collections in Dialogue at the V&A. In 2018, you can hear us share stories at Culture Geek in London and We Are Museums in Marrakech.
The new year promises plenty of interesting digital challenges. We’ve been able to lift our heads up from our daily work to design an organic and scalable plan for the next few years. We’re currently working on site-wide search to surface the wealth of content the V&A has to offer, based on keywords and questions – you can get a peek into how we’re thinking about it here. We’re also planning something quite exciting to help with a large V&A master brand project, an umbrella brand to then branch out into our South Kensington site, Museum of Childhood, V&A Dundee, V&A East and our presence at Design Society, Shekou in China. Keep your eyes peeled for details!
Merry Sprintmas and an appy New Year from all of us at Digital Media.