Indiana Historical Society
Immersive Hoosier History
The Indiana Historical Society (IHS), founded in 1830, collects and preserves Indiana’s unique stories; brings Hoosiers together in understanding and sharing the past; and inspires a future grounded in the state’s uniting values and principles. Following a museum closure at the peak of COVID-19, the Indiana Historical Society chose to bring their in-gallery immersive storytelling online. The call to action was to reimagine their in-gallery exhibits for a digital environment and make it available to the broadest audience possible.
The online exhibition project goals aligned with their physical exhibit goals: create meaningful connections to history through media-rich collection exploration and interactive learning experiences, highlight primary resources to empower historical icons to speak for themselves, and simplify access to ongoing e-learning by sharing access to additional resources and online collections search.
- Advanced Interactive
- Online Exhibitions
- Project Engagement
- Interactive Map
- Scoring Module
- Web Forms
An award-winning immersive in-person experience transformed to an in-depth and interactive digital resource.
The IHS and CultureConnect collaboration started with the exhibition series, You Are There. You Are There is an immersive onsite experience in which historic photographs are brought to life with actors, media-rich learning, and physical interactives. This series is meant to help visitors connect with historical icons and feel as if they are present and witnessing history. The online exhibition offerings will continue to grow but currently, three experiences are available to the public:
- Madame C.J. Walker
- Gennett Studio
- Italian POWs
Content Strategy is Key
The IHS team worked with CultureConnect to transfer the immersive experience from onsite to online through a thoughtful discovery and content strategy process. The series spans the early decades of the twentieth century and each exhibition highlights key learning experiences:
- Themes includes introductory content to help build the audience’s knowledge of the exhibition. Interpretation is focused on text and image. As you explore Themes in all three online exhibitions you discover a treasure trove of historic photographs, legal documents, newspaper articles, advertisements and more. These primary resources help audiences connect with key figures, their businesses, their friends and family, and real historical context which helps to bring these stories into reality for contemporary audiences.
- Activities are the most media-rich and interactive facet of each online exhibition. Here, audiences are offered a deep dive into historical context through images, audio, video, and interactive learning experiences like quizzes. While the Madame C.J. Walker activities highlights oral histories and interactive maps, Gennett Studio shows us how to make a record, tests our sound effects expertise with a quiz, and delights us with music and a century worth of musical connections and inspiration and finally Italian POW helps us learn Italian and track the experience of Italian POWs in World War II.
- Questioning the Past
- Questioning the Past is built upon the live actor interactions visitors can experience while onsite at IHS. Here, you can select from a list of questions about the live actor’s historic time period or their experience within it and watch a video of their answer.
- IHS presents the audience with a collection of additional resources including the research their live actors study when first joining the museum, a brochure outlining additional books, websites, and organizations to continue your learning and finally, a link to their online collection to help users discover related stories and collection items. Each resource experience is built on the web form ensuring users are able to easily download documents, link out to external resources, while remaining in the online exhibition.
Ensuring research and resources live on beyond temporary exhibitions
Be Heard is the second online exhibition series and showcases IHS’s extensive oral histories archive, donated artifacts, and historic and contemporary photographs. Like You Are There, the Be Heard online exhibition aims to transform immersive onsite learning experiences into engaging online exploration and to showcase communities whose experiences in the United States and Indiana are not well-studied or broadly disseminated.
Be Heard is broken out into three learning experiences:
- Be Heard: Asian Experiences in Indiana
- Be Heard: Latino Experiences in Indiana
- Be Heard: Groundbreaking Black Hoosiers
In contrast to You Are There, this online exhibition focuses less on gamified content and interactive maps and leads with people’s personal histories. All three experiences are based on past temporary exhibitions which rotate. By moving this content online, the Be Heard series has the opportunity to become a permanent resource and grow as new stories are contributed to the archive.
The Broadest Audience
A key call to action in the discovery process was ensuring the online exhibitions could serve the broadest audience possible. Online exhibitions offered IHS an opportunity to bring their collection stories beyond the museum walls which calls for thinking about the user experience in a variety of environments early in the project to ensure best practices are consistently applied.
Broadening access manifested in three ways:
- Responsive Design
- Federal accessibility compliance
- Thoughtful design
The IHS website receives traffic from audiences all over the country and those audiences access content from phones, laptops, desktops, and tablets. This meant the online exhibitions, which act as an extension of the website, need to serve audiences across those same device experiences.
CultureConnect applications are fully responsive by default but design and content structure must work within best practices for responsive design. To meet best practices, all designs were tested across a variety of devices and browsers. Check out our deep dive into responsive design here.
- Smart Image Choices – when considering responsive design, it’s imperative that you choose images that have the ability to crop to different sizes. IHS and the design team worked together to ensure the images they selected (especially for buttons/landing pages) were large, with lots of negative space surrounding the central subject matter.
- Playful Web Fonts – One of the best ways to ensure responsive design is by utilizing web fonts. When fonts are embedded into an image, it’s not only inaccessible (more on that later), but can break/crop/decrease resolution on smaller screen sizes. IHS wasn’t afraid to choose fun, engaging web fonts for their headers which have the appearance of a highly designed display, but still respond to different device resolutions.
- Keeping the Content Front & Center –The best way to ensure a responsive design is to think of the hierarchy or importance of information. What do you want your visitors to take away from the content? If they’re skimmers, what do you hope they see first? How do you get them to keep reading, keep clicking? When we build a content strategy that prioritizes the level of information, we also design a system that follows that structure. Thinking through the content structure ensures that even visitors on the smallest of screens will still get the “need-to-know” info first.
- Make Your Design “Sing” with Gifs! – The Gennett Studio section needed to have the feeling of music, without the background noise of audio. How do you create a design that is responsive and accessible, but still wants to make you dance? Use animated gifs! Animated gifs are a wonderful way to showcase movement, and still ensure your website is accessible and responsive.
Like responsive design, the CultureConnect platform has accessibility features built into its digital experiences; however, the museum client team has to ensure their design and content is aligned with best practices to meet the minimum requirements. When approaching design, our design and content strategy managers always cross-check design recommendations against federal compliance.
For the museum client team, providing alt text for media is essential to build a user-friendly digital experience. The IHS team intentionally planned the delivery of alt text for all media as part of their project’s standard content delivery.
- Keeping your content “Live” – as mentioned in the previous section, one of the most important ways to ensure accessibility is by keeping all your text “live.” This means that no text (whether it’s a button, header, subtitle etc) is embedded as an image. Ensuring your text is live allows for screen readers to better flow through the site.
- If it’s not live, then make sure there’s an alternative – For any image, regardless of it containing text or not, there should exist “alternative” (or “alt”) text. Again, this allows for screen readers to describe the image. Have fun with your alt text! Alt text doesn’t (or shouldn’t be) a stale description of the literal image, but another way to tell the story. Be descriptive and emotive!
- Color Check – IHS made sure that all colors passed accessibility standards when building their application. Our designer recommends this easy and free tool to ensure your color palette is up to standard: https://toolness.github.io/accessible-color-matrix/
Interactive modules were essential to maintaining two-way interaction between the museum’s story and its audience. Check out a few of our favorites examples from IHS’s online exhibitions:
- Interactive Map
- The Indiana Avenue interactive map helps tell a location-based story about Madam C.J. Walker, her life and business, and the reality of racial segregation and how Black communities developed thriving economies. (screenshot of map)
- Voting Module
- The voting module allows people to vote from a list of options. These can be displayed as images, text, or gifs. IHS deployed the voting module to test audience’s sound effect expertise and knowledge of Italian (Screenshots of both)
- Web Form
- The web form was deployed across all resource pages to help make downloadable PDFs available and link out to online collections search.
Moving forward, the Indiana Historical Society plans to expand its online exhibitions offerings. Online exhibitions will launch with a six-month delay from their physical exhibition opening. The IHS team will also mine past exhibit content to create a long-term legacy for shows no longer on view. In addition to expanding the breadth of their online program, IHS plans to implement CultureConnect’s search functionality and advanced collection connections tools to help visitors discover deep stories but also explore the full museum collection through thematic exploration.