The National Library of Australia has a lot of websites and online platforms. I knew this because as part of the Web Publishing team, I looked at and worked on them every day. As it turns out however, we had many, many more that I never even knew existed.
In May 2013 I began the mammoth task of auditing all of the Library’s online websites, platforms and other presences which ranged from the corporate website to Trove to 15-year-old exhibition microsites, to blogs, to our corporate social media accounts and so on. The purpose of the audit was to identify the similarities, gaps and issues contributing to the continuity, and in some cases, complete lack thereof, of user experience across NLA branded platforms.
This analysis was the first major research activity conducted around the Library’s online platforms. By pinning up the physical results of the audit on the walls of our IT division, I was able to create a very visual representation of the results which gave other staff the opportunity to better understand just how many different platforms we manage and why exactly we needed to promote greater continuity across them.
As well as the “Giant Wall of Horror” as I lovingly called it, I also put together another visual representation of the results in the form of a blog post in wanting to highlight some of the key differences I found but to avoid getting too bogged down in statistics and numbers. It was also an opportunity to particularly highlight a sample of the key areas I believed should better provide our users continuity when accessing our online services. Some examples of these representations:
Search entry point:
For more of these results, check out this National Library Identity post on Tumblr.
Once the need for greater strategic direction with our online branding was understood and communicated, it was time to pitch the idea of creating the Library’s first ever Online Identity Guidelines. The Library does have Print Identity Guidelines that were developed a couple of years ago, but they didn’t address online branding application and ultimately fell short of being able to meet this need.
So how would Online Identity Guidelines benefit the Library?
By making best practice recommendations on a number of visual and structural elements related to the Library’s websites and online platforms, as well as confirming and implementing a standard baseline of compliance across our various digital initiatives, the benefits include:
- Consistent branding across National Library and collaborative platforms and websites
- Continuity of user experience
- Strengthening of the National Library brand
- More strategic design and content direction
When it came time to thinking about what the guidelines should actually include, many a brainstorming session was had. There were lots and lots of ideas and wish lists and interpretations. Branding guidelines can be as simple or as complex as you’d like them, and while there were almost an endless number of items we could have included in the first draft.
Ultimately though I worked hard at redrafting and refining our initial list of inclusions, firstly to restrain the amount of work necessary during development, but also to ensure that the guidelines could be treated as a very practical and consumable document from the very beginning. I was conscious not to overwhelm audiences by presenting them with an overly complex and rotund document – I didn’t want to scare them off! Any online guidelines should be evolving and fluid, just like the online environment itself. The final version #1 of the National Library’s Online Identity Guidelines is much like a Chapter 1. There are very surely to be more additions, edits and considerations to come as we become more adept at understanding user needs and perfecting our user experience.
Once the development phase of the project was complete, we engaged external design agency The Squad to help get us over the finish line. I did as much work as I could to put together a useful and full working draft but I had to be realistic about the gaps in my skill set. I am a content person, not a designer, and I was very happy to have objective and expert help in finalising my draft and transforming it into a polished and functional design too.
The first iteration of the new guidelines was the revamp of the NLA Blogs. Once the changes are successfully made to the blogs section of the website, the intention will be to roll these changes out across the rest of the corporate website. Unfortunately my time has come to move on from the National Library as I have taken a new role in Sydney at the State Library of New South Wales. This means I won’t be able to see these project through to the end but I have no doubt the rest of the NLA Web Publishing team will carry my torch and ensure a successful roll out.