The digital space continues to grow at impressive rates. Those who rely on technology are used to devices arriving with fanfare only to be quickly replaced with the “newer and better version.” A person’s portfolio of devices is expanding rather than contracting. They are not forced to choose between a smart phone, tablet, and desktop. Instead, they are invited to simply own them all. Museums should use responsive design in order to satisfy the growing expectations of a contemporary audience.
As we become agnostic as to which platform or device we use, museums need to be aware that their content must be relevant, regardless of a visitor’s location and proximity to their museum. The flexibility of responsive design gives us an important opportunity to engage with and connect to our visitors, regardless of where they are.
In early fall of 2013, the Getty launched a new Visit section on getty.edu (bit.ly/2q4g4). Our designers, writers and engineers took time to evaluate our audience’s needs and expectations. We built a comprehensive (and complex) responsive design system that displays content in a simple, elegant manner across many devices. One of the elements we used to inform our design was statistics concerning our current website.
These statistics helped the Getty to initiate an aggressive responsive design implementation plan for our most trafficked areas on getty.edu. As stated, we started with our Visit section, but we are quickly following up with our collection pages, exhibition pages and our online calendar.
All museums need to be attentive to their users’ needs and expectations. Responsive design should inspire us to investigate the ways in which users consume our online content. Once we understand how devices are conduits to our online product, we can use that information to help us build better online experiences. Along with the Getty’s visit section, here are a few other examples of museum responsive designs. (Children’s Museum of Pittsburg – bit.ly/18yVTvt and Pacific Standard Time Presents – bit.ly/19fhxFR)
Responsive design allows museums to create a more flexible and complex digital experience. This is an enormous opportunity for our field. As geo-locating technologies, smart objects and low-powered beacons continue to become more prevalent, museums will find creative and interesting ways to connect visitors to more relevant, personalized and engaging content.
If you are on the verge of considering responsive design here are some simple questions that can help you get started.
It is very instructive to look at other industries using the same types of technologies that museums use. For example, the healthcare (e.g. Oakwood Healthcare - bit.ly/Ug1SVr), e-commerce (e.g. Starbucks - bit.ly/1TDQMG), non-profit (e.g. World Wildlife Federation - bit.ly/qoRun), higher education (e.g. Harvard/Index - bit.ly/145rEkH) and data-mining industries (e.g. Qliktech - bit.ly/gybxTJ) are using responsive design in very specific and effective ways to improve their business. In addition, resources like the New Media Consortium’s Museum Horizon Report (bit.ly/19e8FBD) are invaluable when developing strategic plans.
Responsive design has had a positive and measureable impact on The Getty. As we worked to release the new Visit section, it became apparent that our production system, job responsibilities, and online user experience were changing – all for the better. Responsive design promotes a sound production model and allows museums to create content that is more accessible to its users. For these reasons, museums should take the time to investigate the benefits responsive design could provide to their institution.
I would like to thank and acknowledge the entire Web Group at the J Paul Getty Trust. I work with a remarkable group of technologists. I’d like to also specially call out the production team that worked on the Getty’s new Visit section. Mark Stone, Susan Edwards, Will Lanni, Ahree Lee, Kathie Han and Wes Walker did a wonderful job building an elegant and sustainable web presence.