Our website: a design journey
I’m delighted to be able to share with you today the first pages of the new look for our website.
We’re releasing them as ‘beta’. That means they’re available for you to try out, but haven’t yet replaced our live pages. This will happen at the end of September.
The most striking change is the new visual design, but there’s a lot more we’ve been doing, and plan to do, over the next year or so to make it work much better for you. Over the coming months, the team will be sharing more about this. But first, a quick tour through the changes, and why we’re doing this.
Why and how
Fundamental to this has been our desire to design a website around the needs and behaviours of you, our users. Speaking with our users is one of the most rewarding parts of my job. Over the past few years, we’ve carried out surveys, web analytics, focus groups, one-to-one interviews, user testing, diary studies and home visits. We’ve had some very consistent messages about what works and what doesn’t work, which has helped give us clear starting points – more of this below.
We used this research to start experimenting with ideas, which we refined with help from both colleagues and users alike, and we’ve tested via workshops, face to face interviews and user testing.
Here are just a few of the main changes…
We’d had a lot of feedback that it was difficult to get into deeper parts of the site and that the amount of content was initially overwhelming, so we’ve created a ‘mega menu’ that we feel helps with both problems. Clicking or tapping on the simple red button lowers and raises the menu. It shows at a glance the contents of different sections so you can jump straight in. Once the new pages are out of beta, this will be available across all our web pages. This is really important as 90% of you don’t start from our website homepage.
New visual design
We’re making the most of some of the visually striking records in our collection to add context, colour and interest to our pages. The National Archives works for the record, for good, so this feels like a fitting way to show the gems of our collection. The size, scale and diversity of our collection never fails to amaze me and our new image library has been an invaluable research tool. The web team know a lot more about our records than we did six months ago, and this part of the project has been a joy! Users have responded really well to this use of imagery too. Colour-wise, we’re using warm, rich colours that support these images and are easy on the eye.
Simpler, clearer layout
On each page, we’re improving the layout to better reflect what you want to do. Our testing so far shows that you find it clearer and less cluttered. For example on our homepage, research showed overwhelmingly that you wanted quick access to our records, whether it was advice on how to get started, or to dive straight in to Discovery, our catalogue, so we’ve made access to records the central element on the page.
Improved experience on mobile devices
Almost a fifth of you use our website on a smartphone or tablet. With the exception of a couple of pages, our current site doesn’t cater well for you. In a typical month more than 80 different mobile devices will access our site. We certainly can’t guarantee to test with all of them, but we can test on the most heavily used. At the other end of the scale, we also need to cater for large screen sizes up to smart TV. We’re using an approach called ‘responsive web design’ to improve this (apologies for the jargon). This means that we design our website on a simple grid system, and this grid rearranges itself depending on the size of the device being used. My colleagues will be blogging more about these challenges over the coming months so watch this space. It doesn’t just have technical considerations though – it means that our content strategy has to be pretty ruthless, and we can’t shy away from setting priorities.
In our research, many of you told us that our text was too small to read comfortably, so we’ve increased the font size and spacing between the lines. We’re using free open source web fonts – Open Sans for body text and Bitter for headings. We hope the slab serif heading font makes sections clearer and more distinct. You’ll feel the benefit of the typography changes more when we redesign some of the other pages (such as research guides and news stories) over the coming months.
Please let us know what you think – either in the comments below, or on the feedback tab on each of the beta pages.
I’d like to take the opportunity to say thank you to those of you who have helped with our research and/or testing so far. If you’d like to get involved there’s plenty of opportunity to help us develop the rest of the website, so do get in touch or sign up. We can’t do this without your involvement.
At the end of September, these pages will become fully live, and we begin working on the rest of the website – watch this space!