Preparing for your Museum Website Redesign

You’ve been asked to lead the website redesign for your museum. Maybe you have a good idea of what this redesign process is going to look like, but it’s been a few years since the last time the website was updated, and you’re a bit fuzzy on the project lessons and takeaways from the previous cycle. A museum’s website is an element that touches every department within the museum; because of this, you feel a lot of pressure to get it right.

Looking at the start of a project, you may feel like there are 1000 questions and you don’t know where to start. To help you narrow in on your questions and project direction, here are four tips we recommend everyone consider during a new project. Two of these will help you while the redesign process is getting started, and the other two should be kept in mind throughout the redesign process.

Pre-Project: Have a goal for your website

When setting out to redesign your website, it is important to have an overarching goal that you want the redesign to achieve. Does your website need a design update? Have you made the decision to integrate a collection management system with the website? Every museum is unique, meaning their website goals are going to be unique as well, and there is no one “right way” to figure out what that goal is going to be for your website.

If you’re unsure of where to start, look at resources that already exist within your museum to see if there is any indication of a need that the website could help the museum to fulfill— visitor surveys, recent strategic plans, and even the museum’s mission. Starting with the museum’s mission can be beneficial to you as you set out to find your goal for the website. As Eric writes in this insights post, your mission can also help you craft a content strategy that can also guide how you look at the redesign process.

It is this pre-project planning period that is very important because at the same time you are defining your project goals you should also be looking into integrations and other big functionality pieces that can help you meet the goals you lay out in your project plan. Knowing you’d like the website to have a feature like collection integration, or work with a fundraising system like Blackbaud, will help you as you begin speaking with website developers. We recommend taking a look at other museum websites to get an idea of what other museums are doing, as this will help you get an idea of what is possible when you begin your redesign.

Pre-Project: Understand desires of stakeholders

At the same time you are gathering information and setting your goals for the website, it is also important to get input from stakeholders about what they’d like to see. Websites are rarely the product of a single department in museums, and gathering stakeholder input early in the redesign process—input on features they’d like to see, their goals for the website—can help you further shape your plan for the website redesign process.

Speaking with stakeholders in advance of the project can also help you get a feel for the differences in opinion that may arise in discussions further on down the line of the project. For example, say your development officer feels strongly about promoting community impact on your site, while your marketing director would like to prioritize events and exhibitions. You’re probably going to want to plan for a future conversation with those stakeholders to figure out how to balance those two goals, while understanding that, based on the director’s vision, the project may need to go in a different direction.

During the Project: Communication will take time out of your schedule

As you’re gearing up for the start of your project, you’re preparing to spend some time communicating and coordinating different project deliverables with your team. But maybe you’re wondering, how much? If you’re partnering with a firm for assistance during the redesign, they’ll have questions and deliverables that will need feedback from you and your team in every phase of the project.

The amount of time you’ll spend communicating depends on how well your museum already communicates internally—is there a culture of open communication between departments, or is communication more siloed? You know your team the best, so when planning how much time you as the project leader will need to devote out of your own schedule, definitely keep in mind how your team has communicated in the past on other projects. Past performance is one of the best indicators of future communication successes or breakdowns.

When planning the input you’ll need from your team, you can ask your firm partner to lay out the large deliverables in advance at the start of the project. Knowing when they’ll be looking for feedback early on in the project will help you start looking at your team’s schedules, as well as plan for any dates that your team will be unavailable so you can shift the project timeline around their schedules.

During the Project: Think about front-end functionality and design

We’ve talked about knowing your project goals before the project starts, but after the project has kicked off, you’ll definitely want to be thinking about how exactly those goals can be met through the site’s functionality. I’m not talking big-picture functionality items that you’ve established you need at the start of the project, things like collection management systems, calendar, or other integrations, but rather smaller design functionality items. These include features like how your menu will be positioned on the site, how items will respond when a user clicks or hovers over them, and others. Though smaller, these functionality pieces still play an important role in how your overall site will be perceived by future visitors.

Because many aspects of front-end site functionality are visual, verbally communicating what you want to see can be tricky, even for the most experienced developers. This is where the list of features you like on other museum websites that you gathered before the start of the project can come in handy. One designer writes, “Spend some time taking stock of what you like and don’t like about them. Try to think of how we could borrow and build upon your favorite elements. What is the first thing you notice? How do the colors make you feel?” Communicating any feeling you get about these sites, good or bad, to your redesign partner will ultimately help them and you narrow down the big ideas to get you closer to a site that is a perfect fit for your museum.

Embarking on a museum website redesign can seem like a daunting process at the start, but by setting a goal for your website, communicating with stakeholders before and during the project, and keeping an eye on other websites you admire, you’re starting off on the best foot possible.