Telling a Story a Century in the Making
Forum One partnered with the Smithsonian Institution to welcome online visitors to the new National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), which opened in late 2016 on the National Mall in Washington, DC. As the newest museum in the Smithsonian family, the NMAAHC wanted its website to stand out with a bold visual presence befitting its physical architecture — one that goes beyond simply providing visitor information to convey a powerful and immersive virtual experience.
We worked with the Smithsonian’s multiple groups of stakeholders to lead the design, user experience, and front-end development of a beautiful, responsive website that lets online audiences explore the museum through stunning visuals and an intuitive, engaging content structure. Together, we created a digital home for the NMAAHC that tells personal stories, celebrates its historic importance, and lets all Americans share in experiencing a common history and an instantly iconic national landmark.
Before You Visit: Get to Know Your Users
Forum One worked as an integrated team with the Smithsonian’s in-house developers and content owners, applying Agile delivery to guide and prioritize our work together. During an in-depth discovery phase, our team engaged the Smithsonian team in a series of workshops and interviews to identify top needs and goals for site users and content owners. We applied the insights we gained to craft a roadmap of user journeys through the site, sharing and shaping the story we wanted to tell through a series of design comps.
To keep the team focused on making the final site cohesive and easy to use, our user experience lead worked alongside the design, content, and theming teams at every stage of the project to advocate for the best possible user experience.
Now On View: Designing for a True Work of Art
We took a design-first approach to our work with the Smithsonian, engaging stakeholders to craft and refine a design vision that echoes, complements, and extends the NMAAHC’s striking physical space.
Our design reflects the museum’s unique color palette and its bold architectural lines, and features large-scale imagery that evokes its soaring spaces, then brings visitors up close to experience its collection. Our team worked directly with Smithsonian curators to feature marquee artifacts in our design, which allowed us to truly understand and clearly communicate their meaning and context in the larger story our design is telling.
Don’t Miss: A Great Mobile Experience
To bring this experience to visitors on any device, we designed and themed a fully responsive website for Drupal 7 that uses full-width images to fill the viewer’s screen. Our sharp and intuitive mobile menu and thoughtful interactions streamline the user experience, while a floating action button on the bottom of the screen subtly follows users as they scroll, then jumps them back to the top with just a tap.
Our front-end team coordinated closely with Smithsonian’s in-house back-end development team to faithfully translate our designs into code, using Pattern Lab to allow us to theme components that were still being built.
Coming Up: Continuing 100 Years of History
The NMAAHC’s opening is the culmination of more than 100 years of work on behalf of presidents, members of Congress, historians, artists, veterans, civic leaders and ordinary citizens to share the African American experience with all Americans through a permanent, prominent home on the National Mall. Forum One worked closely with the Smithsonian to announce and generate excitement around the NMAAHC’s opening events, designing promotional materials including custom Snapchat filters.
We’re continuing our work with the Smithsonian to keep the momentum going, providing strategic guidance and website enhancements to give museum site visitors an even more engaging experience.