Designing the Future of History in NSW

Museums of History NSW

Designing the Future of History in NSW

Museums of History NSW

Bringing together two of NSW’s biggest cultural institutions.

The creation of a new cultural institution, Museums of History | New South Wales, merges two of NSW’s most significant historical institutions. With history at its core, the museum aims to bring to life the stories of NSW through its vast archives and its historic houses, gardens, and museums.

To set Museums of History | New South Wales (MHNSW) up to achieve this ambitious vision, we designed an online presence that reflects the incredible diversity of voices, perspectives, and histories of NSW. An immersive discovery experience, expressive taxonomy and thoughtful information architecture makes the wealth of content accessible.

An online presence that reflects the diversity of voices, perspectives, and histories of NSW.

The new museum is a merger of Sydney Living Museums and the NSW State Archives & Records Authority. We’d been working with Sydney Living Museums for years, which meant we were well-positioned to understand the challenges and opportunities that the merger would bring - both for the two institutions and the communities they serve.

During the pandemic, cultural institutions worldwide experienced enormous upheaval. To remain relevant and continue to engage with audiences, museums turned to the digital space. So when this project began in early 2022, it was the perfect timing to define MHNSW’s digital future and demonstrate what online engagement in the cultural sector could look like.

We started by researching sector trends and understanding the new museum’s audiences. This gave us the rich insights needed to frame the problems that the new institution faced and articulate a clear path forward.

The comprehensive digital strategy we produced clarifies how the museum works to preserve, contextualise, engage, and enable use of the wealth of information, artefacts and properties in its collections.

The digital strategy identified four experience layers for the new institution.

Merging two established government organisations is no small feat. The project was made even more complex by the mammoth amount of content, digitised records, collection materials, and other artefacts that needed to be brought together and made easily discoverable. With a strict launch deadline, we first prioritised the most important deliverables and quick wins, and prepared a roadmap to keep us on track.

Co-designing the future state experience.

We undertook UX and content audits of the varied digital platforms and engaged with teams and stakeholders to understand what was working well and what could be improved. This helped us cut through the complexity to create an information architecture that makes sense to audiences.

Our process was highly collaborative, involving the MHNSW design team, branding agency For the People and software engineers, Airteam. We designed the visual concepts, detailed page templates and an extensive design system for the MHNSW design team, who then rolled out the visual concepts across the entire site. We updated the design system with the brand identity created by For the People and delivered detailed specifications to AirTeam.

Critical to the new website was a rich, content-first framework. To achieve this, we designed a robust, flexible taxonomy that can evolve with the organisation over time. The website content is incredibly diverse and serves a wide range of audience needs. From venue hire and merchandise to learning materials and programming initiatives, and from digitised archives to storytelling, the taxonomy ensures the content is categorised appropriately and connects intuitively.

With the components in hand and the taxonomy defined the MHNSW team were able to take the plans and the objects and like a piece of IKEA furniture begin to curate the experience for their audiences.

Highlighting the amazing artefacts in the collection.

Armed with new 3D scanning technology, we worked closely with the MHNSW content and development teams to create a rich media experience. The stunning 3D assets tell a vivid story of the history of NSW.

Evolving the conversation to address NSW histories.

As an institution with an inherited legacy of First Nations oppression and exclusion, MHNSW has welcomed the responsibility to tell the most difficult histories of NSW. On the new website, First Nations perspectives and voices are placed front and centre, with acknowledgements, place-naming, truthtelling, and First Nations sensitivities taking priority.

The future of history is now.

The new digital platform is just the beginning for MHNSW. With a bold vision for the future, the new museum plans to grow and enhance digital experiences, expand the suite of museums and historic houses under the MHNSW umbrella, nurture greater community participation and inclusion, and boost engagement through contemporary, relevant storytelling.