Carnegie Hall’s African American Music Timeline Is Digital Experience

Synoptic Office Combines Education, Technology and Design

Carnegie Hall has relaunched its Timeline of African American Music, with a fully refreshed digital experience created in partnership with New York-based strategic design consultancy Synoptic Office. The update is intended to provide the next generation of students, educators, researchers, and music lovers worldwide with an interactive digital resource exploring the rich history and influence of African American music.

Synoptic Office founders YuJune Park and Caspar Lam brought their own experiences as educators (alongside running Synoptic Office, both are professors at Parsons School of Design) to the project, ensuring that the timeline would be compelling, user-friendly, and future-proofed for audiences around the world. “Carnegie Hall’s Timeline of African American Music is a prime example of the ways in which education, technology, and design can be combined for the greatest possible impact,” says Park. “The impact of the new timeline is, in large part, about bringing the history of African American Music beyond classroom conversations, and to the wider public.”



Carnegie Hall first created the timeline in 2009, as part of a festival – Honor! A Celebration of the African American Cultural Legacy – and its content is based on the work of Dr. Portia Maultsby, the Founding Director of the Archives of African American Music and Culture at Indiana University. At a moment when accessible digital educational resources became more relevant and timely than ever before, Carnegie’s leadership felt it was time to refresh the timeline for a more modern, accessible experience. 

Carnegie brought in Synoptic Office early on to lead the process of translating the project’s complex wealth of data into a compelling and easily digestible format that could serve educators, students, and music lovers around the world. To bring the timeline to a wider audience, Synoptic Office was tasked with making 400 years’ worth of material – academic essays, photos, and historical images (including related holdings from Carnegie Hall’s Rose Archives), and audio – easy and compelling to explore for a wide range of people, from middle and high school students through to high-level researchers, as well as casual music fans.



“Because the timeline targets different audiences who have different motivations and goals, we do not expect the outcomes for each type of user to be the same,” says Lam. “This means that the redesigned timeline is multi-faceted in nature and provides multiple pathways for exploration and understanding this content.”



To achieve this, Synoptic Office adopted an approach that progressively maps broad humanities themes to engagement and learning goals, resulting in an intuitive, expansive, yet cohesive experience for users accessing the timeline for a wide range of reasons. The user experience functions like a funnel, without trapping audiences into one path – a strategy that Synoptic developed through an in-depth audit of the timeline’s material and its wide range of audiences in the education and research fields as well as the public.

All exhibits give broad context for a particular time period and allow users to jump to more specific genre information or to listen to related music through an on-site integration with Apple Music.  The collaboration with Apple Music is perhaps the most exciting evolution from the former version of the timeline. “With the music embedded within the timeline itself,” says Park. “Carnegie can tell the story of music in an innovative way – the history of music through music.”