April 11-14, 2007
San Francisco, California

Reflecting Organizational Change in On-line Presence

Emily Bottis, Museum of Science Boston, Christine Klaehn, and Corey McPherson Nash, USA


The Museum of Science (MoS) recently redesigned its Web site from the ground up. Everything was replaced – new design, new hardware, new content management, new stats tracking. To successfully implement a Web site with this much change required a great deal of participation from departments and staff throughout the Museum. In this paper we discuss the organizational change that spurred the Museum to update its Website, along with the change caused by its implementation.

Keywords: Web site redesign, organizational change


The Museum of Science (MoS) launched its first Web site in 1994. Over time the design was changed and more and more content was added. Major upgrades were done in 1996 and 1999.

In 1997, MoS lauched the Leonardo DaVinci site to complement a physical exhibit developed by the Museum. The site is still active today and draws an impressive 40% of all MoS Web traffic. This popularity is caused by referrals from Google – when a user searches for Leonardo and/or DaVinci, the MoS site is the first search result returned.

In 2001, MoS hired a manager and formally created a Web department. Later that year, the on-line ticket store, named MosTix, was developed and implemented. The site underwent a major facelift in 2004 that lasted until January 2007. In 2006, the site got an average of 108,000 unique visitors a week. These visitors viewed an average of 861,000 pages per week. The Leonardo DaVinci site was the most popular with 40% of page views. The Scanning Electron Microscope site, another top Google search, received 18% of total page hits. The on-line ticket store received 13% of page hits.

Fig1: The Exhibit Halls page from the Web site in 2006 before the redesign.

Fig1: The Exhibit Halls page from the Web site in 2006 before the redesign.

By late 2005, the Web site had reached an inflection point. The design of the site needed to be updated with the Museum’s new brand elements, and the content on the site needed a complete overhaul. Many of the Museum’s exhibits and programs were underrepresented while the things that were represented well were not in line with visitors’ demands for the offering. Most of the Museum’s offerings were available in the educator section of the site as part of the Educator Resource Center (ERC) – but not available in the general visitor area of the site. Content on the home page wasn’t managed at all, and since departments considered the Web the least expensive marketing alternative, everyone requested the placement of their offerings on the home page. Without an established rubric for home page placement, these requests were always granted. Additionally, the rapid nature of Web updates was creating a workflow and time management issue – the Web team continuously received requests to put information about listings on the home page only a day or two before the event if the event wasn’t selling well. As a result, information was quickly coded on the site without much regard to maintenance and content quality. Highly skilled developers were doing much of the upkeep for the site, not those responsible for the content. Change was needed. The spark for this change came from the roll-out of the Museum’s new branding initiative.

Background Branding and Research

In late 2003 the Museum’s marketing department contracted with a local branding firm, Minelli, to devise a new brand strategy for the Museum. Through extensive research, including competitive audits and extensive focus groups, a new brand vision and architecture was outlined. Highlights of the new positioning included:

The personality of the brand was also defined. The newly branded Museum was to be captivating (fun, charismatic, energetic and engaging), empowering (opening new worlds, conveying knowledge and transforming lives), and contemporary (forward- looking, relevant and vital).

Implementation of the brand began in 2004. The ramifications of this new brand vision affected both the physical building and operations. Within the Museum, physical spaces were upgraded, including the café and Museum shop, and lobby signage was improved . New projects and departments were created to carry out these plans, focusing mainly on technology education in both the formal and informal setting. With this came the creation of many new Web sites, including the National Center for Technological Literacy (NCTL) site, Engineering is Elementary, and Power-Up, to name a few. At this time the Museum also created the Educator Resource Center (ERC). Targeted at educators, the ERC consisted of an on-line searchable database of all Museum offerings with curriculum connections to both state and national standards, along with a physical location in the Museum’s library to house curricular materials. All of these new sites had distinct styles but lacked a consistent level of quality.

The overall organization and usability were also found to be lacking. Results from a usability test conducted by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) in April 2005 showed that the information architecture and design of the site needed to be upgraded and improved. The study found that while the site had overall appeal to visitors, there were a number of things that needed to be changed. Users had issues negotiating all of the text on the home page, didn’t find the search function was adequate, and were confused by the nomenclature used on the site’s primary navigation.

The Project

The project officially began in late January 2006 by forming a small Web advisory team consisting of individuals whose job it was to abstract the Museum for outsiders. Team members came from marketing, research, Web, and advancement. The project was managed by the Manager of Web Development and Operations. The project operated more like a cross-functional exhibit or program team instead of an IT project that dictated the way the Web site was to be used by the Museum. The team’s objective was to define the scope of the project and serve as champions of change and partnership within the Museum. After the team became familiar with the new brand architecture designed by Minelli and the AIR usability study, their first task was to write a mission statement for the Web. The team agreed on the following:

The Web site exemplifies the Museum of Science as the science and technology center of the 21st century. The site embodies and integrates its physical and virtual resources to redefine the way people of all ages think about, learn about, and interact with science and technology and how it impacts our lives, our society, and the universe we live in.

Through the Web site we will:

Next, the team outlined goals for the site. The list of goals was extensive and included many advanced features that were not possible without a solid content management and information architecture infrastructure. In an effort to reduce complexity and increase the likelihood of success, the team limited the scope and goals to what were considered a reasonable first phase. The list of goals included the following:

It quickly became evident that to achieve these goals the Museum was going to have to work differently, more collaboratively, and staff members had to understand where their offerings fit into the overall scheme of the Web site. It was evident that this project was not simply a design project. The underlying data management and operational processes needed to be designed as well.

A new content management system was needed to support the goals of the site and to support future growth. To play to everyone’s strengths, the advisory team decided to let the internal MoS Web team design the content management system while an outside design firm would tackle the site’s design. The outside firm and the Web team would collaborate on the information architecture, with the outside firm taking the lead. The project manager began drafting a RFP.

The advisory team was concerned about the cost of an external design firm, given the budget the Museum had appropriated. This problem had a simple solution, however. To save money, the chosen design firm would provide MoS with Photoshop files only – they would not spend any time writing html or css code. The developers on the MoS Web team would perform this task, and since the developers were operationally funded, the budget would not have to increase.

The mission statement and goals written by the advisory team along with Minelli’s brand architecture and the AIR usability study provided the foundation for a RFP. Twelve design firms received the RFP and all responded. Corey McPherson Nash (CMN) was chosen from the finalists and work began almost immediately.

CMN began the project with an intensive research phase. They performed a competitive audit of related Web sites and conducted interviews with Museum employees, visitors, members, and educators. Together with the project manager, CMN also had hour-long meetings with more than 60 staff members representing seven different departments to discuss departmental Web needs and offerings. Since the Web advisory team wanted to create an environment of participation, this first step of soliciting ideas and advice from those affected by the change was vital to ensure the process and project would be widely accepted.

At the end of their research, CMN presented the following set of recommendations:

CMN’s recommendations reinforced the project goals written by the Web advisory team. This project validation let to quick acceptance of the recommendations, and CMN began working on the site’s information architecture.

Information Architecture

Most of the goals and recommendations for the site were achieved through the new site’s information architecture. CMN presented their recommended architecture with wire frames.


CMN recommended an overall scheme that was both offering and audience based. An always-present navigation bar includes links to audience sections for members, adults, and educators. While educators and members had sections in the old site, the addition of the adult focus page was new. Falling in line with the new brand vision to become a destination for adults, the page serves as a focal point of all adult-related content and gives the adult initiative a concrete focal point and concise url for use in printed materials, radio spots, and eNews marketing initiatives.

The main offering-based or functional navigational system included five main items: Visitor Info, Exhibits & Shows, Events & Activities, Support MoS, and Tickets. A sixth item, Topics, was added during implementation.

Visitor Info includes all of the logistical information necessary for a trip to the Museum along with the ‘About the Museum’ section, HR related information, and the Museum Comment Card.

The Exhibits & Shows menu contains all offerings that typically take place during a visit to the Museum during the day. Here you’ll find exhibits, IMAX shows, Planetarium, 3D Cinema, Live Presentations, etc.

The Events & Activities menu combines all of the things available at the Museum during non-traditional Museum hours – usually in the evening. It also includes things that can be done away from the Museum – including videocasts, podcasts, archived lectures with video, and virtual exhibits.

Support MoS includes advancement functions, membership, MoS in the Community, and Volunteering. On the old site both MoS in the Community and Volunteering were under Visitor Info, but CMN recommended that these items sit in this location because the contribution to the Museum by these two functions is on par with raising money.

The Tickets menu includes links to the ticket store and the newly created Trip Planner.

The Topics menu includes links to the subjects represented in the museum. This is made up of Life Sciences & Natural World, Tech & Engineering, Earth & Space Science, Inquiry & Connections, and Current Science & Technology


The labeling was the most difficult part of this process and revealed that the Museum does not share a common vocabulary for its offerings. The labeling of the new Web site was the first attempt by MoS to be consistent in naming its products. This process was met with resistance from many program managers who wished to differentiate their offerings from other offerings in different departments.

While CMN performed usability testing based on the menus and labels, MoS staff were apprehensive about a few specific choices that were made. The term ‘Lecture’ was universally loathed although it tested as the most easily identifiable by people outside the Museum. To complicate matters, offerings typically known as lectures were marketed with a series of inconsistent names, and the creators of these offerings wanted to maintain their chosen descriptor. The list of names includes talks, events, programs, discussions, special programs, special events, and forums. The Web advisory team chose to call things that are most like lectures, typically a speaker in front of an audience, a lecture. The word ‘forum’ is reserved for offerings where the primary focus is on discussion between attendees. The label ‘special program’ was created for offerings that couldn’t be defined as anything else; it also serves as a catch-all, and is mainly used for offerings that are a group of disparate offerings.

Another issue arose around the categories for Topics. For many years, the Museum worked under an internal exhibit paradigm that considered science an activity instead of a series of subjects to be learned. This played out in many exhibits that explored aspects of the scientific process. As a result, many staff members objected to classifying offerings by scientific topic. CMN’s research proved that visitors think otherwise, so the topics menu was created and the ‘science as activity’ offerings were classified as ‘Inquiry & Connections’ topics. We did realize however that some offerings may have more than one topic – exhibits focused on biomedical technology, for example – so offerings can fall into more than one Topic area.

Related Offerings

One major aspect of the new information architecture is that all offering pages include other related offerings on the right sidebar of all pages. Under three headings, other offerings related by topic, audience, and offering type are accessible. The first heading, Get Curious, includes offerings found under the Exhibits & Shows section of the site. Pass It On is content for educators. And Get Active includes offerings from the Events & Activities menu. This cross-referencing of offerings is a central theme and a great motivator for Museum departments to classify offerings – we are attempting to draw more attention to other offerings – and increasing the visibility of the Museum’s diverse work. The ‘related’ content sections present the great breath and depth of the Museum and are intended to spark interest in other activities and create associations in the mind of users.

Fig 2
Fig 2: The Offering page wire frame.

Defining What Can Have A Separate Presence

The old site had a myriad of satellite Web sites, many of which shared the same goals of the MoS Website. CMN recommended that the rubric for what offerings can have a separate Web presence get solidified and enforced. They recommended that sites with similar goals to the main MoS site should not be allowed to remain or be built in the future. Sites that have a different goal can have a unique design. This allows content- heavy educational sites such as Leonardo and the SEM to remain. The satellite site for The Current Science and Technology Center (CS&T), however, was appropriated into the main structure of the new site. The site was a repository for the popular podcasts and videocasts produced by the Center’s staff. Since the goal of the new main site was to cross-reference and highlight offerings to increase visibility, CMN believed the CS&T content should be included in the main site. CS&T is now a Topic page and the podcasts and videocasts are offerings pages under the Events & Activities menu. As expected, this change was met with resistance. The CS&T department had enjoyed a separate personality and an independence from the rest of the Museum’s Web presence. After many discussions and to their great credit, they agreed to be a part of the larger site.

Traffic Conversion

One of the goals of the Web advisory team was to convert Leonardo DaVinci traffic from the virtual exhibit to the main site. CMN designed a container for this and other educational content sites to drive traffic between related MoS content. The container, or clamp, is similar to the related offering section of the individual offering page in that other related offerings are listed.

Fig 3

Fig 3: Container design for educational content sites.

Trip Planner

Trip planning was considered an area that was greatly lacking on the existing site. Both the Web advisory goals and CMN’s recommendations included improving this area of the site. CMN designed a flash-based map of the Museum that serves as a visual listing of offerings that can be added to a ‘trip’. Web visitors can create a daily itinerary made up of exhibits, live presentations, IMAX films, planetarium shows, etc. The system allows for personalized itineraries for up to twenty guests and notifies users of a conflict if two selected shows overlap for a visitor. After creating a trip, users can opt to purchase tickets or print an itinerary to purchase tickets once at the Museum. Creating this application required many discussions with operations staff, the expert source of information about visitors’ expectations and follies, to make sure the planner was accurate and wouldn’t create issues for front line staff once implemented.

Fig 4

Fig 4: The Trip Planner introductory page.;store=trip_planner


Once the information architecture was finalized, CMN presented the advisory team with five different design directions based on the creative brief written by CMN. Each was dynamic and unlike anything the team members had seen before. Although all five were excellent, one design jumped out immediately as the favorite for everyone in the group. The design was meant to embody the way people "of all ages think about, learn about and interact with science and technology, and how it impacts our lives." In other words, it is mean to be visually powerful, using images that are diverse (show breadth and depth), accessible (make science and technology relevant to our lives), and interactive (experientially dynamic, mirroring actual experience of the visiting museum). The design creates objects in a 3 dimensional space as a way of drawing you in. Once you interact with one of those objects, you can drill down, but also access related material, reinforcing that science and technology is everywhere and affects everything.

Fig 5

Fig 5: The new home page design.

Everyone believed this design fit the new brand personality perfectly. Just as important, it was uncluttered, had enormous creative possibility, and was dynamic in movement and educational potential. Each of the objects in the main pane move forward and present the user with information about more than one offering associated with the object.

The home page design made it easier to be more intentional as an institution to decide what should go on the home page. This page is expected to change every two months, and a new ‘home page’ advisory group was created to decide what items would go on the home page. The home page group is made up of people from exhibits, programs, education, the adult initiative, and marketing.

The design of the individual offering page was considered one of the most vital of the project as it needed to open up the Museum to visitors and serve as a source of related content. CMN’s design includes a large image on the top of each offering page. The image allows visitors to see inside the physical Museum. This allows for great visual explanation of offerings – especially when some offering names are confusing to a Web visitor. The related content fits nicely in three vertical boxes on the right side of the page.

Fig 6

Fig 6: An individual offering page.

Content Management

While CMN was working on the design of the site, the MoS Web team was busy reviewing the content management needs of the Museum. Three issues quickly emerged from the review process:

  1. The site did not have enough content about all Museum offerings for the general audience second;
  2. Museum staff were not able to update their own offerings and content; and
  3. Content was factually and grammatically incorrect and was not consistent with printed materials.

Content Quantity

Although the site contained more than 1600 Web pages, many of the Museum’s offerings were not represented at all. Permanent exhibits were the least represented offerings, yet are the main attraction of the Museum and take up an overwhelming majority of floor space. While big traveling exhibits usually got a separate Web presence, the site contained only one page dedicated to permanent exhibits, and it hadn’t been updated or verified since 1999. The project manager met with the exhibits department about the lack of content. They were very upset at being underrepresented on the site and felt that the site favored the more obviously revenue generating items such as IMAX films and memberships. If the site was going to fulfill the goal of becoming a learning tool, the exhibit content developers were going to need to write content. Luckily, they wanted to write content and quickly volunteered to do the job. This meeting quickly dispelled the myth that the exhibits department did not want content on the Web for fear of losing visitation. Within a month, they wrote content for 32 permanent exhibits. The information architecture of the site rewarded this work by giving each its own page with associated media. Work also began for additional media, audio slide shows and video trailers, for three exhibits.

Content Management System

Museum staff was unable to update content reliably. A site-wide content management system did exist, but it was not easy to use. It was used primarily by the Web developers to create new pages and update content. It was not user friendly enough for general Museum staff without technical skills to use. The system centered on creating new pages, and as the Web team didn’t want Museum staff to have the ability to create new pages wherever they wanted, it could not be used by staff despite the lack of user-friendliness. The data stored by the system didn’t have any metadata attached, so topic or audience type tagging was not possible. The system was unable to support the goals and information architecture of the new site.

The Educator Resource Center (ERC) section of the site was managed by a separate content management system that contained most of the Museum’s offerings. The system was rich with metadata – including formats, educational standards, and topic areas. It was also very easy to use and popular with staff. The only shortcoming of the system was that it contained educator-related content only.

A decision was made to stretch the ERC database into a syste- wide content management system. It was built in house and called the Offerings Management System (OMS) because the data was entered in as offerings and not as Web pages. This allowed the Web team to tie the information architecture directly to offering types within the OMS. For example, the new site had listing and individual pages for IMAX films, permanent exhibits, and lectures. Individual offerings entered into the OMS appear directly on the listing page and then when clicked, the individual offering page. Since metadata such as topic and audience are also collected, we are able to ‘recommend’ other offerings as the information architecture of the site called for. Thus, the technical issues of creating the Web site are completely removed from the end user. Offering owners are able to concentrate on what they know – information about the offerings – instead of making Web pages and determining where in the site their offering should go.

The OMS also shows, archives, and expires offerings automatically with a set of date fields – this ensures that offerings that have already happened are either moved to an archive page or deleted. With the old site, the Museum’s call center received a lot of complaints about old offerings. Some visitors even showed up believing a traveling exhibit was still at the Museum long after it had left. The new OMS prevents this.

Another new feature offered by the OMS is the accessibility reference page. Each offering contains properties explaining its accessibility features. For example, if an exhibit has Braille components, the icon will show on the offering page. Consequently, there is a look-up for all offerings by an accessibility type – a user can search for all and see in one place all offerings that have Braille components and other accessibility properties.

Content Quality

With many people submitting information that was moved on to the Web by developers, the content lacked a consistent voice and level of quality. The managers of the publications department and the Web team got together and convinced the administration that Web content was equal to printed material and needed editing on a regular basis. The administration agreed, and an On-line Content Editor was hired to review and edit all site content. The editor will also manage and update the site pages (About the Museum, Hours, Directions, etc.) that are not tied into the OMS. Since these pages are typically static in nature, the changes are infrequent and very manageable for one person.


Other changes that are not visible to surfers of the site but are incredibly important for improved maintenance and uptime include new hardware and operating systems.

While most of the site was coded with PHP and MySQL, the overall environment operated on a series of machines with a mix of Linux, Solaris, and Windows installed. Some of these machines were donated and could not be upgraded to the latest versions of PHP and MySQL. There was only one person in the Museum who could administer the Linux box, and the Museum’s IT department was completely on Windows machines. To leverage in house knowledge and ensure against redundancy, the decision was made to move all Web boxes to Windows.


At the beginning of the project it was considered a given that certain departments and groups within the Museum would not participate or write content for the new site. Others believed certain departments would revolt if their own Web sites were ‘taken away’ and appropriated by the main MoS site. In the end, after explanations of the benefits of the new site structure and design, most MoS departments realized the benefit to the Museum and participated.

The site was launched in January 2007, three months later than planned because the popular and sold-out exhibit Body Worlds 2 was at the Museum and most ticket sales were done on the Internet. We decided not to launch a new Web site during such a high level of traffic to prevent confusion for both visitors and support staff. Initial statistics show that the site is just as popular as before. The Leonardo site is still the top draw. Some new pages, especially the Current Exhibits page with all of the content provided by the exhibits department, is viewed with much greater frequency than the old and outdated exhibits page.

Plans have begun for a large second phase of the site. It will be more personalized, with user accounts and custom created pages. Educators will be able to save their field trips for use in the future. General visitors will be able to save and share their trip planner itineraries. And members will be able to update their member accounts on-line. These changes will use the same advisory team and methods used by the first phase. We still have a long way to go to create our ideal Web environment, but the first phase of the project has created a fantastic foundation, both technically and organizationally, for future growth.

Cite as:

Bottis, E., and C. Klaehn, Reflecting Organizational Change in On-line Presence, in J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds.). Museums and the Web 2007: Proceedings, Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, published March 1, 2007 Consulted

Editorial Note