Big changes at vahistorical.org!
In May 2012, the Virginia Historical Society began a journey to redesign our website.
The past website served its purpose for more than ten years, but was beginning to show signs of its age. The site was developed back in the days of dial-up, when there were only two internet browsers to choose from, and when everyone was using a desktop computer. Technology has changed dramatically since the first version of www.vahistorical.org was created. More and more people are using smart phones and tablets to access our website and it was time that we changed our website so we can more effectively meet the needs of our users.
Many people described our past site as small, confusing, and beige. Beige? Hhhmmm, that doesn’t sound good. Confusing? Yes. Even though I joined the web team about two years ago, there were buried pages that I was discovering every day. The VHS website had grown to nearly 2,500 pages and important content was becoming hidden. The site structure didn’t make sense to all users, the layout was confusing, the graphics were small…the entire site reminded me of my childhood bedroom…too much stuff, unorganized, and not really sure what was hidden under the bed.
Senior web resources officer, Greg Hansard, and I worked closely with Cogapp, a digital media firm from Brighton, England to develop a new website that would have a user-centered design and would allow online visitors to easily navigate through our site to explore Virginia history. To do this, Cogapp helped us reevaluate our content strategy plan, create a new information architecture that would organize our online content and give users a better online experience, and implement a content management system.
Cogapp traveled to Richmond and met with members of our staff, stakeholders, and website users in May and September to research how our site was being used, to discuss problems that users were having with our site, and to make a plan on how to fix these problems. To reach out to users, we conducted surveys on our website and we also had one-on-one user usability testing sessions where we met with website visitors and learned how they were using the site, what they are looking for, and how we could improve the website.
During the past fifteen-months, Cogapp collaborated with us to create unique solutions to our online problems. Some of the solutions include:
Responsive design – our new site is now viewable on different devices and platforms.
Accessibility – making our site accessible to as many users, regardless of ability or technology, was incredibly important to the web team. Typography and the use of color on the site were chosen to allow screen readers to read the text, and to enable text resizing. This complies with WCAG AA accessibility standards.
Online experience reflects a physical visit – attractive and inviting images used throughout the website showcase what a physical visit would be like to our museum and library. A clean and clear top navigation bar allows the potential visitor to navigate easily through pertinent information in “Your Visit” and “What You Can See.” These areas highlight what a physical visit to the Virginia Historical Society would entail. We hope that with this clean design and inviting images more online visitors will want to make a physical visit.
Virginia History Explorer (VHE) – the VHS had a lot of rich content on the past site that eventually became hidden over the years. In the Virginia History Explorer, we wanted to make our collections and Virginia history more accessible to the general visitor by highlighting interesting artifacts in this section. You are able to choose from different categories on a left-hand navigation bar that will sort articles into specific themes or you may choose to browse through our entire VHE collection.
The Story of Virginia online exhibition – exploring over 16,000 years of Virginia history is fun and easy with our new online exhibition. Set up similar to an e-book, online visitors are able to scroll through different chapters of history, take a closer look at images of artifacts from the exhibition by enlarging images and reading captions, and watch videos related to different themes.
Calendar – our new website now includes a searchable calendar. Visitors are able to choose to see what events are happening at the VHS on specific days by using a date filter, they may choose specific categories to search, or they may view a complete listing of upcoming events at the Virginia Historical Society and Virginia House.
Today you can see the results of this project. The website will always be in a state of change so expect to see new content and images. We hope you enjoy the new site. If you have any questions or comments, I would love to hear your feedback. Please email the web team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I encourage you to explore, discover, and learn about Virginia history at www.vahistorical.org.
This blog was written by Jennifer Rohrbaugh Nesossis, programs officer, and Greg Hansard, senior web resources officer.