In the world of cultural institutions, an interesting trend is emerging in the digital space. More and more museums are presenting their web content using “responsive design.” This means that online content is presented in different ways depending on the device on which it is being viewed. In other words, a museum’s website may appear differently when it is being seen on a desktop vs. a tablet vs. a smart phone. The “responsiveness” of these designs allows online content to be more facile across today’s ever-changing universe of devices. It no longer assumes a superiority of one device over another. This gives a greater breadth of creativity to museums when creating relevant user experiences. It is essential for museums to embrace responsive design, but museums must carefully examine a number of important issues.
In traditional web design, a person (e.g. web developer or writer) completes their work and then typically hands it off to the next person in the production line. In this siloed production process, web developers can be isolated from one another. As a result, any given team member may not be reaping the benefits from certain types of collective knowledge and expertise that their team has amassed.
The use of responsive design disrupts that linear production flow and the production environment becomes much more iterative. Words and images can convey a much different story when viewed on different types of devices. Because of this, content experts and web developers need to constantly prototype and evaluate their work throughout all production stages. Writers cannot simply hand off their copy, but now need to review and refine their content as enhancements to the site are made by other team members. Also, the overlying code base allows for production teams to prototype and, thus, user test much more effectively. This promotes an iterative production process and a dynamic, creative work environment. With the introduction of a more dynamic production process, museums can now introduce exciting and innovative production models such as design thinking (bit.ly/1gz4Fyj).
As with many technical projects, pre-production is a critical phase of the responsive design process. Now with responsive design, we no longer assume we should create a static experience consumed by a generic audience. Pre-production must be more dynamic, creative and expansive as we take into account the diversification of our audience’s consumption habits. As a result, many experts are committed and invested in the project in its early stages. Content experts and producers are re-architecting and optimizing their images and their copy. UX specialists are evaluating and properly establishing the various relevant use-cases. Developers are preparing and building code elements that can improve your visitors’ experience by optimizing content and layout for a faster, more seamless product.
As can be expected, building upon existing production work is nothing new, but within a responsive design environment, a production team is inherently committed to sustaining and maintaining one primary set of code, layout and content principals. Even more, these production plans carry over to the “live site” where they promote clearer company branding and improved storytelling. This approach allows for greater consistency and simplicity, which are two critical components of good branding and storytelling.