Design Thinking and In-depth Research Bring Storied Institution’s Website Into Digital Age
By Glenda Rissman, Principal, q30 Design
Canada is home to one of the first interactive science museums in the world, the Ontario Science Centre, and anyone who has walked through its doors knows the sense of adventure and exploration to be found within. The space has welcomed 50+ million visitors since it opened and their website needed to trigger that same spirit of curiosity.
The challenge for us at q30 was how to successfully translate the excitement and dynamic experience of the physical space online, with a focus on navigability and accessibility. We wanted an effective and engaging new design but also optimize a complex user experience for a broad audience – all while facing the uncertain future of a city-wide lockdown. Here’s how we accomplished it.
Pivoting For The Pandemic
The project began just before the COVID-19 lockdown which closed the OSC down in March. Just as we had the information architecture nailed down, we had to shift to new ways to accommodate parents and teachers across Ontario who were scrambling for ways to educate and occupy students and children.
We quickly pivoted, adapting design concepts and refocusing the web strategy to online offerings in the ‘Science at Home’ section, to support learning for at-home students and their caretakers. While content was not part of our mandate, we created educational sections and flexible content wells that could accommodate text, images and video, to be adaptable as possible to future needs.
Design Thinking Ensures A Meaningful Outcome
Our strong investment in research provided a better understanding of the Centre’s various audiences, from teachers to newcomers to Canada, and allowed us to validate that the redesigned website would work well to support all the Centre’s visitors.
We interviewed a broad cross-section of stakeholders to create personas that represented their central needs. This included two on-site research visits just prior to the lock down where we interviewed visitors to understand how they had planned for their visit, which provided some of the most valuable insight.
Following the lockdown, we were able to continue our user research and validation remotely.
Good Design Is Accessible Design
While high-level brand guidelines were in place, much of the design and layout suggestions were not suitably considered for digital applications, so we needed to respect the established guidelines while evolving them for digital application.
Onsite photography is featured as much as possible, and is enhanced when paired with their extensive color palette. Movement or animation can add a lightheartedness to a site like this, but we needed to strike a balance between playfulness, legibility and load-time performance.
The result is a vivid, dynamic and accessible site that aligns with AODA requirements and reflects the OSC’s commitment to serving the needs of all their visitors.
Digital Map Design
The website rebuild included a new digital map and floor-by-floor visit guide, as well as new planning tools to prepare visitors to navigate the space. We reimagined the Centre’s online map in a clear and easy to follow infographic, so visitors could quickly find particular exhibits or get to a show on time, meet up with their group or make their way to a well-loved installation.
Pulling off a massive, digitally complex website-build that anticipated future visitor needs during an uncertain time – all while working remotely – required logistical heroics and strong project management skills. Flexibility and collaboration allowed us to deliver a successful project on time, despite the chaotic circumstances. While we all wait for the day that their doors will reopen, the Ontario Science Centre is ready to welcome online visitors with a flexible, accessible, and engaging website.
q30 is an independent design consultancy that helps organizations design and develop products and services that effectively and responsively address the real needs of their users, with particular emphasis on the need for universal accessibility.