Established in 1965, the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML), Collegeville, Minnesota, is a global cultural heritage organization whose mission is to preserve and share the world’s manuscript heritage. It has formed partnerships with more than 580 libraries and archives worldwide. HMML has three areas of focus: digital preservation of rare and endangered manuscripts; cataloging and sharing the manuscripts online (vhmml.org); and fostering research and education about the cultures that produced them. HMML’s archives now contain approximately 300,000 manuscripts from other libraries, museums, and archives, ranging in size from large codices of hundreds of folios to brief documents consisting of just a few leaves.
REDESIGN PART OF OVERALL HMML BRAND REFRESH:
The redesigned website was part of a larger rebranding effort. Working with Minneapolis brand agency Yamamoto (https://www.go-yamamoto.com), we not only redesigned the website but also refreshed the visual identity with a new logo, wordmark, color palette, and fonts.
ABOUT THE REDESIGN PROJECT:
As part of the larger rebranding effort, the website redesign began in April and launched October 5, 2020 and required unique decisions about structure, content, design, and implementation to facilitate online access and searchability for key target audiences, including:
- Scholars: Requiring information about HMML’s collections, research support, fellowships, and educational programming opportunities.
- Cultural preservation peers and partners: Requiring access to the collections, and in the case of many community partners, providing the only online presence for their collection.
- Foundation and government agency funders and individual donors: Requiring information about HMML’s unique nonprofit mission to preserve endangered, handwritten culture and ways they can align with and support the work.
REDESIGN ADDRESSED KEY CHALLENGES:
The website redesign overcame three key challenges of the previous site:
- Affordability: The off-the-shelf platform choice and underlying technology provided an affordable development option compared to a managed platform approach. The internal team was able to develop the site without third-party support and reduced monthly hosting costs to zero.
- Customization: The selected platform offered a robust suite of templated options to create HMML’s desired level of customization.
- Information Architecture (IA): A re-examination of the content and its structure helped solve previous problems of findability of information by users.
REDESIGN SUPPORTED OVERARCHING HMML.ORG GOALS:
- Advance HMML’s organization goals
- Build HMML brand
- Attract scholars; introduce HMML’s research resources
- Attract and retain foundation funders and individual donors
- Increase appreciation for cultural preservations among broader audiences
- Attract staff
- Serve as a comprehensive, single source of information for media outlets
- Established overarching and technical goals for new site and project
- Completed assessment of current site’s information architecture
- Completed environmental scan of peer museums and libraries
- Reviewed best practices across all industries and within cultural categories
- Completed user interviews
- Reviewed current site analytics
- Reviewed and selected platform
- Developed new information architecture and site structure
- Created three unique primary page type designs to inform overall look and feel
- Incorporated Agile method to edit existing, and create new, content and build pages
- Developed, tested, and refined beta version
- Completed soft and public launch of redesigned site
REDESIGN CORE TEAM:
- Two full time HMML staff plus one volunteer with support from HMML’s entire staff to help source content, review pages, and test the beta site
REDESIGN TECHNICAL ARCHITECTURE OVERVIEW
- Powered by Static Site Generator (SSG), Eleventy (11ty)
- Performance: static assets provide a fast website deployed on Netlify CDN for built-in redundancy and high load capacity
- Portable: pre-generated pages can be deployed anywhere
- Security: read-only files reduce attack vectors
- Utilized a responsive website template to quickly build a mobile-first site; templates gave freedom of page design but utility of pre-built components
KEY REDESIGN IMPROVEMENTS:
- Improved site navigation using improved labeling systems based on user feedback, interviews, analytics, and environmental scan.
- Created an integrated experience by combining content of several external sites into the main site offering.
- Incorporated responsive design with a mobile-first design.
- Created a customized suite of flexible templates to create a unique look and feel that supported new brand identity.
- Adopted web-centric editorial best practices by using active voice, short sentences, clear headlines and subheads, bulleted list, imagery, and white space to better engage users.
- Minimized costs and maximized control by selecting an affordable platform that eliminated the need for third party support to develop and maintain the site.
- Organized site content to help target audiences easily connect with specific subcategories and stay informed.
REDESIGN IMPROVED AND EXPANDED EXISTING CONTENT:
- Home page (https://hmml.org/) added a carousel of images to underscore HMML’s new brand; promote our global mission; and demonstrate our global impact by featuring different faith traditions represented in HMML’s manuscript collections.
- Collection pages (ex. https://hmml.org/collections/islamic/) were re-imagined to provide a simpler experience for scholars to learn more about the diversity and richness of HMML’s manuscript, art, and rare book collections.
- Global Operation pages (https://hmml.org/about/global-operations/) were expanded to demonstrate HMML’s global preservation reach. By adding imagery and key dates in a visually appealing way, these pages tell a compelling story about HMML’s commitment to preservation, the breadth of international field operations, and work on behalf of all faith traditions.
- Research pages (https://hmml.org/research/) were expanded in response to scholar feedback to create a single location providing easy access to every tool and service HMML offers scholars.
- News & Media Resources pages (https://hmml.org/about/media-resources/) were expanded from only media releases to also providing robust support for media outlets.
REDESIGN ADDED NEW CONTENT:
- Repository pages (https://hmml.org/collections/repositories/) contain information previously unavailable to scholars with an overview of materials from every location (repository) where HMML has worked – all searchable, or browsable by collection or country. This addition combined HMML’s curatorial expertise to generate the information with a creative technical implementation to generate 540 unique pages about each repository (ex. https://hmml.org/collections/repositories/malta/palazzo-falson-historic-house-museum/).
- Programs pages (https://hmml.org/programs/) create a gateway that encourages the public and scholars to engage with HMML with separate paths for the public highlighting events, exhibitions, or travel opportunities or manuscript studies courses offered exclusively for scholars.
- History page (https://hmml.org/about/history/) illustrates 55+ years of HMML’s cultural preservation commitment using an image-filled timeline which was critical to share with foundation funders, individual donors, and preservation partners.
- Stories pages (https://hmml.org/stories/) go beyond a single news or blog post and offer a more in-depth view of where HMML is working to preserve cultural heritage, the people who are making it happen, and why it matters.
- Staff pages (https://hmml.org/about/staff/) introduces the entire international team, organizational structure, and showcases the depth of the team’s extraordinary talent, expertise, and passion for their work.
- Support pages (https://hmml.org/support/) invited donors to consider multiple ways to engage and support HMML’s mission.