Delivering an inspiring site that creates a consistent user experience whilst providing new tools to showcase their collection.
The Royal Armouries is one of the world’s oldest museums, caring for one of the largest collections of arms and armour in the world. Over 75,000 objects are housed at three sites across UK, at the Tower of London, the Royal Armouries Museum and National Firearms Centre in Leeds, and Fort Nelson, Portsmouth.
The Royal Armouries tell the most compelling narratives of human endeavour and spark dialogues about what divides us, what unites us, and how, together, we share the great stories of human history.
We’ve previously worked with the Royal Armouries to establish their Digital Engagement Strategy in 2016, and this project saw us take on the build of their new website.
The new website is the first component of the Royal Armouries’ 2-year Digital Vision for the Future project funded with the help of the National Lottery Heritage Fund and thanks to the National Lottery players.
The old website was becoming dated, and not well optimised for all devices. The collections website and the library website were separate and distinct, lacking any similarity or uniformity of user experience.
The brief was to deliver an inspiring site that would integrate their separate websites into a single new website, highlight the collection, create a consistent user experience, as well as develop a scalable, flexible, and extensible CMS that gives editors more flexibility to shape page design and layout.
We approach any website project with the key question ‘what do users want?’
The main problem we had to solve was integrating separate websites for locations and collections into a single cohesive one, and harmonising the design. Another important issue was the confusion around promotion of live events, as they are held at multiple locations that are geographically distant.
We factored all these issues into the information architecture of the site so users can search and explore the collections, select the museum location they want, and only see events for that location. The event feed delivery does not mix events from the separate locations, and recommended events on event pages are set up so that an event at one site never recommends an event at another.
We also created a special class of pages called story pages, allowing for the collation of several items from the digitised collection. This enables the linking of objects in a meaningful way, helping to bring their collection to life.
Early on, we recognised a prevailing perception among visitors about the Royal Armouries – a compilation of historical arms and weaponry designed for combat and destruction, simply summed up as "swords and guns."
However, in truth, the collection holds far more depth and nuance. We wanted to use the new website to highlight the interconnected narratives of individuals throughout history who have been intimately tied to these objects, from the artisans who created the weapons and monarchs under their protection, to the curators caring for the collection and the interpreters who bring the objects to life with live displays.
A central facet of the design approach was to present these narratives in a captivating, interactive, and distinct manner. Our solution consisted of three components: assigning a unique colour palette to each story, threading these colours through specific page elements, and incorporating diverse background textures that could symbolise integral aspects of each narrative.
Additionally, the redevelopment phase enabled us to refine the digital brand and introduce dynamic visual elements, ever evolving, and specific to each object. This notion aligns with the idea that no two swords or suits of armour are identical; each possesses its own distinctiveness, history, and narrative.