The Learning Lab is an ongoing project for the Smithsonian Centre for Learning and Digital Access (SCLDA). One of SCLDA’s primary mandates is to make resources from its 19 museums, nine research facilities and one zoo available to educators and the general public.
The Learning Lab allows visitors to discover the digital artefacts of the Smithsonian Archive, create new annotated collections of resources for personal study, and share them as assignments for students or publically via social media.
Codename Design partners with The Learning Lab to provide strategy, user experience, user interface and front end design services on an ongoing basis. In addition to product and web design, we have also supported a variety of other projects from stickers to postcards to a card game used to promote the project.
When Codename Design joined this project, some of the initial information architecture work had been completed. Our first task was to quickly assess what already existed, identify problems and clarify any issues relating to the experience. To do this, we used a process for distilling complex information called “ecology diagramming”. In this process, we make the visible the relationships between the actors (or users) in the system and the objects they will be manipulating. This allows us to systematically identify core relationships, user paths and required interactions. The diagrams we develop as part of this process allow us to componentize and prioritize projects so they can be deployed over time without leaving gaps in experience.
Investigating the ContentWith the Learning Lab, the resources are served from multiple sources, in various formats, quality levels and resolutions. We faced the challenge of creating a flexible system that would allow resources to be presented alongside each other despite their varying features. Our first step was to investigate the content so we could properly organize it for both the technical and user information architectures. Our goal was to maintain the relations between objects and proper attribution while allowing new connections to be wrapped in a consistent language and iconography. To ensure a positive user experience, it became obvious after a brief review that we needed to develop a clearer differentiation between the types and states of resources in the system.
Finding a Core Narrative: Discover, Create, ShareThe same diagramming process allowed us to quickly engage with the Learning Labs’ key functionality. We could establish a strong direction for the personality and core attributes of the Learning Lab. We soon identified the three major components of the Learning Lab: to discover objects, to create annotated collections of existing objects or add their own, and to share those objects either as assignments with students or publically. Establishing the “Discover, Create, Share” focus allowed us to find clarity in language, and structure the experience through consistent text, visual language, and instructional videos.
On-Going Design ManagementCurrently, we work with the Learning Lab to provide refinements to the front end work that has been completed. This involves testing functionality and getting feedback early from key test groups. Over the next few months, Codename will be managing significant improvements to the front end design and user experience.
Consistency was not only required within the actual web product itself within the product was also required for other collateral including stickers and a card game which was used to promote the scope of the Learning Lab.
Codename Design entered into our project midstream, but through their strategic vision and ability to implement clear and focused design, to the pixel, analyzing and understanding a project at multiple levels, steered us to a product well beyond our expectations. They have become invaluable members of our project team.
Darren Miligan, Project Director @SmithsonianLab