Project Summary

An initiative of the North Carolina Museum of Art, NCMALearn (formerly called ArtNC) helps teachers and students use art to break down the walls between the classroom and the outside world. The site connects art and artists with videos, lesson plans and other resources created for educators of various subjects and students of various age levels.

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The NCMA’s free permanent collection spans more than 5,000 years, from ancient Egypt to the present, and its 164-acre Museum Park showcases the connection between art and nature through site-specific works of environmental art. The Museum offers ticketed special exhibitions throughout the year, along with classes, lectures, family activities, films, concerts, and more.

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url: learn.ncartmuseum.org    |    completed: August 2017

Challenge

In the summer of 2016 we partnered with the NCMALearn team to discover how to best revitalize their aging education site, ArtNC. Through focus groups, analytics audits, and remote user surveys, we uncovered important insights that would act as north stars for the rest of the project. Paramount among them was the epiphany that users valued different functionality than originally assumed. Additionally, we learned that the relationship between the site and the museum was unclear, and that there were opportunities to better integrate with the museum’s digital infrastructure.

Solution

The main feature of the legacy site was a custom concept mapping tool that allowed users make their own maps on top of art from the collection. However, our user research revealed that this was the least-used and least-valued aspect of the site. The NCMA team was then able to focus efforts on features that more closely aligned with the goals of students and educators. This also freed up a portion of the budget that we were able to reinvest into other features and improvements.

Results

We’ve received enthusiastic feedback from the client as they’ve updated and navigated through their new site. A second user survey conducted on the new site received positive feedback from teachers, students and docents.

Project Highlights

Relational Content Model

Learning is fueled by curiosity, and the best educators are able to nurture it in their students. We endeavored to create a website that fed and encouraged curiosity through the exploration of content. To that end, we built a framework that allows the NCMA team to weave connections between different types of content on the site. Artists connect with artwork, artwork with video resources, video resources with lesson plans, etc. This allows users to traverse the site laterally, following their curiosity and places each piece of content within the context of another.

Faceted Search

Another goal was to make the site a powerful, easy to use resource that educators and students would keep returning to—meaning that it had to be easy to quickly find content relevant to their goals. We built the content browsing pages with a faceted search, allowing users to narrow results by categories such as medium, region, concept, grade level, or subject.

Dynamic Thumbnail Cropping

Often the NCMALearn team will need to crop the images on the site in such a way that directs the viewer’s attention towards a specific area of the work. To meet this need, we implemented a custom cropping tool for the varying thumbnail images that allows for cropping of any and all thumbnail images on the site. This gives the team the flexibility to pick and choose which areas of large pieces of work they should focus on for each thumbnail use case, based on the instructions of a lesson plan or video.

Content-driven Page Templates

In looking at ways to design certain interior pages, it soon became clear that we would need to find a way to make the page adjust for varying lengths of content. Some works of art had large amounts of content, while others had only a sentence or two. To accommodate these variances in content, we built the pages so that the content dictates the page layout, changing from to page to page to fill and balance out the space.

Wikipedia Integration

To save time entering and updating information for the many artists across the NCMALearn site, we built an integration with the Wikipedia that would automatically pull in the first bit of each artist’s description.

Before & After

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before screenshot
after screenshot

Praise

Cuberis definitely stepped up to the challenge for our site re-design. They were committed to listening and responding to our audiences and our team from start to finish. We were lucky enough to get Cuberis on board to do a usability study prior to redesign which really helped them (and us) recognize and understand the needs of our current and future audiences. The systematic process they provide for each project provides the structure needed for clear communication and goal setting but with enough flexibility to let ideas flow and allow for creative solutions. Also they are really enthusiastic about new ideas which makes all the work that much more fun.

Kristin Smith, Project Manager - NCMA Connects
North Carolina Museum of Art

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