Under Construction: Thinking About Exhibit Buildings

In the last stage of project development, I began constructing my base collection. With material to draw from, I have started to build the exhibit. In this endeavor, I have tried to keep the needs of my users at the forefront of my thinking by using my personas. My guiding concept is create the feeling of moving through rooms, like a physical exhibit. I thought that for users like Maggie, who have primarily experienced history in the context of museums, this would be a comfortable environment that made sense to her. For younger users, like Sarah, I have provided a denominational approach, where she can click through the exhibit in more of a web-surfing-like experience.

I began by paper proto-typing. I followed Shawn Medrow’s guide 1 and, as a lover of paper crafting, I had so much fun.  I’m a tactile person and I love that I could physically move elements across the “screen.” In my paper proto-type, the theme of door way kept popping up in my thinking. Doors are both boundaries and connectors. On the one had, I want my users to understand that as they move through the site they are learning about connect, yet distinct, cultures. Even within the denomination approach, I feel it is vitally important that users understand that while they might be looking at two churches of the same tradition, they are separated by time and cultural development. When a person walks through a door, there is a sense of leaving on the one hand, arriving on the other- yet a connection between the two places.

After I drew out a few plans of how users might move through my content, I had to make some decisions about what that content was going to consist of. I already had my base connection, but now I had to consider how I would use that material to make something meaningful for my users. Erin Kissane’s “A Checklist for Content Work” 2was helpful in considering content in a new light. She was writing for companies developing a website to sell something. In the humanities, it’s almost to taboo to think about what we do as being a product that we need to sell. We like to think that we are operating in a higher space, above the dirty market place. As we are quickly learning, however, this commodity based approach is exactly what we need to be doing.

I started thinking not of what I want Maggie and Sarah to learn, but about what they wanted to learn. How could I make a product that would meet their wants and needs? Maggie just wants to know, but she wants to enjoy the learning experience. She wants facts, but she’s looking for “Oh, I had no idea!” moments. I thought the best way to deliver that to her was to make content that leads her to discovery, rather than listing facts. To achieve this, I want to create “rooms” (image maps that take up most of the screen) in which users can “look around” (click on interesting objects for more information).

Sarah is  consciously in the market for a product. She is looking for a teaching tool. She’s not interested in “discovering” information, she needs to access it. I developed the denominational approach for her. She can go directly to the tradition she is looking for and easily find the content she wants to use. On tradition pages, the content will be written in a more authoritative voice.

Lastly, I began to develop this content (See the developing content here).  I don’t yet know how to make an image map, but I plan for clickable objects to “live” in Omeka exhibits. The user will like on the section of the image map she wants to learn about, and a small window will appear with the Omeka entry. When she clicks on the next object, the new information will populate in the same small window. As for the actual process of building these exhibits, I was again thinking of my users. I avoided lengthy sentences and jargon-y words. I was specifically designing the content for the tour part of the website. I want users to encounter the order Early Christian, Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Congregation, and Non-denominational. So when I wrote the content, I assume that they have followed this path. For example, in the Lutheran material, I refer to Catholic and Early Christian material, but not the other three traditions.

These most recent stages of development have helped me in two ways. First, by putting my users desires before my own. Second, by making me think of this website as a product rather than an isolated academic experiment. I intend to keep these two concept at the forefront of development throughout the project.


1. Medero, Shawn. “Paper Prototyping.” A List Apart. Published on January 23, 2007. Published in Layout & Grids, Information Architecture, Interaction Design.
2. Kissane, Erin. “A Checklist for Content Work.” A List Apart. Published March 8, 2011. Published in Content Strategy.

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