A new digital direction for the V&A

We wanted the digital experiences to live up to the V&A’s physical presence as a vibrant, active, continually changing place.

We had four key aims:
  1. Inform: add clarity to the V&A’s offering
  2. Inspire: reflect the spirit of the V&A and their objects, ideas and people
  3. Contextualise: surface content where users need it
  4. Facilitate: make content more accessible
"The mission was to inspire creativity, not just get new visitors through the front door. The relaunch was a key opportunity for the V&A to become a digital leader in the museum space, and our objectives reflected a clear direction in how we could make that leadership a reality."
In any strategic work we undertake we always want to gain deep knowledge and understanding of our clients - as such we wanted to understand the museum, the way it worked, the concerns of its staff. We spoke to a representative from all areas - from membership to collections. It was important to us to understand what processes were in place and how these might have to change to support the digital vision. Alongside talking to those inside the museum, we also talked to users. What were their experiences of the current website? What were their problems and concerns? We also needed to understand the strengths and capabilities of the client team so we could navigate the best route to make the changes we set out to achieve.

During our initial discovery we completed a series of “quick wins”, which involved making small changes to the current website to improve the user experience which resulted in 48% increase in conversion from viewing an exhibition to buying a ticket. We worked alongside the digital media team from the V&A to make these changes and release them. This was a great way to start establishing a culture of continuous improvement, it also allowed us and the team to work closely together unlocking trust and paving the way for the bigger transformation that matched our goals. A by-product of the quick-wins was that as a client and agency team we demonstrated impact and progress to the rest of the organisation in a short space of time meaning we were able to continue with our larger, holistic changes.
We carefully explored how we would represent the V&A’s collections online. The physical museum has a certain taxonomy due to the way the collections were gathered over time. This didn’t immediately make sense online and we realised that we didn’t want to recreate this structure in the digital realm.
A ‘Collections’ page is a way of collecting together elements of the Museum (objects, galleries, exhibitions, events, articles, blogs, people) in a way that provide a route into the museum digitally. They can also offer a way of understanding or route into a particular style, genre or movement for the general visitor as well as somebody with a particular passion. ‘Collections’ are just that - an amalgamation of related artefacts and content that come together to tell stories narrated by the V&A, one of the leading art and design museums in the world.
The content team within the digital media team worked closely with the offline collections team to identify the best objects to showcase online. These can be quickly and easily changed, allowing for curation to adapt to circumstances - for example a celebration of a particular exhibition that requires multiple items from disparate collections can seamlessly now be brought together.
This means that the website has “a single source of truth” about each object. Objects can then appear in the context of an article, gallery, virtual collection and exhibition simultaneously. This gives the V&A the freedom to curate objects online in a way that’s conceptually similar to how it is done in the museum itself.
Objects are the prevailing content in the physical museum and that’s why we wanted to mirror them as closely as possible within the custom CMS we built so that they can be grouped together or treated individually just as they are in exhibitions, galleries or vitrines. So, an object has photos from all angles and maybe video capturing it from 360 degrees. It has some unchanging metadata associated with it, such as where it was found, its history and age and size; it will also have some changing metadata such as where it is located at any given time. This type of data modelling emulates the physical object as closely as possible so it creates a beautifully intuitive system that a lay person can use and understand. An object might appear in an article. It might appear in an app or a virtual exhibition or on someone else’s site. Designing and building for the object as the atomic unit of content is the most liberating, simplest, intuitive and flexible approach that could be
During our initial discovery phase we investigated the tools that the V&A had previously invested in to explore what the best option would be for the technical strategy. We wanted to make sure the platform chosen could support a culture of experimentation. As there was no single static set of requirements, the requirements would be changing all the time and the platform chosen needed to be able to support this.
If we had chosen an off-the-shelf solution, the vision of the product would have to have been constrained by the technology choice. By building from scratch, we were not limited in scope and could create the best product for the visitors and for internal users

Behaviour changes we have seen:
  1. More visits to the museum
  2. Successful journeys to ticket purchase
  3. Improved brand perception online
One of the first successes was a reduced bounce rate from the home page - people are making more onward journeys. The ‘plan a visit’ page is also a popular improvement to the site and has a reduced bounce rate and higher onward journeys. The exhibition pages have seen an increased dwell time as well as a reduced bounce rate.
Any advice for other people embarking on a creative project? There is no such thing as over communication. When you have such a diverse and wide range of people with a stake in a product such as a museum, everyone needs to feel comfortable and informed with what is happening and how it might affect them and their team.