Digital Museums Canada: Reimagining a national investment program

Digital Museums Canada (DMC) is the largest funding program in Canada dedicated to online projects by the museum and heritage community. We provide investments of $15,000 to $250,000 and offer support and leadership to help organizations build digital capacity and share stories and experiences with their audiences. The program launched in December 2020 and evolved out of the Virtual Museum of Canada, a museum investment program and public content portal introduced by the Canadian government in 2001.

Digital Museums Canada is the product of a multi-year renewal process that included research, community consultation, analyzing stakeholder needs, streamlining business processes, implementing a grant management system (SurveyMonkey Apply Pro), a rebrand, and a new website with an enhanced user experience.

The new Digital Museums Canada brand and website are the focus of this submission for the GLAMi award in Design.

The DMC brand and website were designed to meet the needs of Canadian museums and heritage organizations seeking support to create better digital experiences – like virtual exhibits, virtual tours, educational resources, web-based games, web applications, etc. – for their audiences. An integrated, user-centred experience combines an intuitive user interface with clear language and stand-out design, all of which cleverly balance the practical requirements of an investment program with the spirit of museums as places of wonder and discovery.

Brand pillars and audience personas [ref. images at link provided] were developed early and contribute to the success of this project. Keywords – like useful, fair, accessible and inspiring – and three pairs of personas representing program stakeholders working in collaboration informed decision-making throughout the brand and website development.

The DMC brand went through several iterations before arriving at the final version. The striking palette [ref. image] and fonts [ref. image] were conceived as digital first, are fresh and engaging, and tested well with members of the target audience early on. Anecdotally, in the DMC logo [ref. image], people see shapes representing the program’s three investment streams – small, medium and large – a sense of upward growth and movement related to capacity-building, and a stylized “M” for museum.

The Digital Museums Canada website was developed using WordPress. The platform has a user-friendly backend that allows our staff to easily create, update and publish content. The DMC website is usable and responsive on all devices and platforms. The site meets WCAG AA 2.1 accessibility guidelines and is accessible to all users regardless of their ability or the devices they use to access content. The use of light open-source tools allows our technical team to continually improve the website based on the latest technology and accessibility requirements.

The DMC brand and website boast several innovations:

  • A single website

The previous two distinct program websites (investment site & content portal) and email proposal submission process are combined into one accessible, bilingual website where users can access program information, be inspired by recently funded projects, explore archived projects, stay connected with the program through social media, contact us and the newsletter, and submit a proposal. The focus is on getting people to apply; the old websites were more like a showcase of what was done with our investment.

  • Central, easy to access projects

DMC-funded projects are at the heart of the website. A portfolio of searchable projects from the past five years is prominently featured, boldly designed, and constantly refreshed by new launches. Going forward, each newly launched project will include a richly illustrated, detailed project page highlighting information, like service providers and featured technology, that can benefit other organizations seeking investment. Projects by smaller organizations with limited capacity to host and promote them appear in a separate collection, and older projects are accessed through an archive.

  • New and useful content

All copy on the site is new and follows detailed editorial guidelines. An evolving toolbox of resources and references, FAQ, a glossary, and enhanced project landing pages [ref. images] make it easy for busy museum professionals and volunteers to understand what DMC offers, what is required for a successful investment application, and who in the wider community has participated in the program.

  • Fully accessible and responsive

The brand and website meet Web Accessibility (WCAG 2.0 AA) guidelines and success criteria. The brand design (including colours, fonts and iconography) is optimized for all screen sizes, including mobile displays. Mobile first and progressive enhancement are integral to the approach.

Additional links for reference:

French version of website

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