Massuah – Website Design

Almost two years ago (wow, time passes by…), when I just joined Emara as the Director of Interaction Design, a big project was just kicked off. It was an ambitious plan to completely re-design the Massuah website.

Massuah is a museum dedicated to the Jewish Holocaust that happened during the 2nd World War. The project was ambitious not only because of the website’s size, but also because of their progressive view of the issue. Massuah Museum approached this delicate subject with nothing less than boldness.

The museum states: “The Massuah Institute for the Study of the Holocaust is a museum and an international seminar center designed to evoke discourse on the significance of the Holocaust in our contemporary society and culture.”

In the same spirit we wanted to create a different experience, not dark and depressive but updated and fresh. We wanted to create an experience that will attract young people, we wanted to provoke thought.

In this project I acted as lead interaction designer and information architect, and later on as the project manager too. Managing the project wasn’t an easy job: a mix of stake holders, aggressive customer, and even few consultants from the the customer side, who believed and acted with no alignment with the customer, led to many disputes and dozens of iterations. There were times I was sure the project will never come to an end. Just before the project’s deadline Emara was sold to Time to Know (where I still work today)…

Despite all the pitfall we managed to deliver the wireframes and the visual design,but the disputes continues for about 4 more months. After another 12 months of work by CDTech Massuah’s website is live.

The implementation happened with us out of the loop (after all the Emara was sold already), so there are many nuances that weren’t developed as designed. Nevertheless, I think the final result is pretty good, and the main objectives of the project were achieved. I’m especially proud with the virtual exhibitions: What was the word Holocaust, and Stories.

 

Here are few examples of the website design:

Home Page

This page had so many iterations I wanted to cry. These 4 cards (initially designed as only 3, but the customer insisted on 4), were designed to be implemented with Flash: the cards should roll and reveal their other side when rolling the mouse over them, to call for action and to expose the users with relevant content right in the Home Page. Unfortunately this page was implemented with HTML only, so the experience is not at its best. If we knew they won’t develop it in Flash we would designed it differently.

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The Museum page

This page was planned to be a simple revolving banner, to expose museums exhibitions.

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The customer insisted on a design she wanted, and this is the result: A more complex and noisy experience, as we expected (an alerted) it to be.

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Simple list

The events page was designed to be a generic list that would be used in several page in the websites. It worked well. Nothing interesting to say about it.

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An Event Page

Each item in the event list was designed to be a link to the event page. This page contains some description, optional video gallery, photo gallery, documents and even comments mechanism for after even discussions. I went through all the events and the only one that contained most of this objects was this one. I haven’t found the comments anywhere though… still the pages look nice and clean.

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Complex List

A simple list was not enough and although we wanted to design simple clean pages, our customer seemed to add more and more content and requirements every meeting. This page was required to hold a title, functions (like print, send a friend), and two kinds of list (one above the other): a two column list and a generic simple list that was designed above. Each list item should have been a link to another page… Sounds awful? Well, it was implemented much simpler (this is good), but with no care for details (that’s not so good). See for yourself.

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Stories

This is one of the 2 virtual exhibitions implemented with Flash. I feel they are the pinnacle of the website (and it’s bad they are not so visible on the homepage). This exhibition is supposed to be a strip puzzle created of hundreds of personal stories. I think the navigation works well,  and although there are some implementation errors, it creates an interesting user experience.

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What was the word Holocaust

This was a virtual representation of a physical exhibition. In the design we used the 3rd dimension as the timeline, thus creating a feeling of movement inside and outside – the past and the present. I think it was designed and implemented pretty well (not without flaws of course). Looking at it now, I would add some music and sound effects to make it more intense.

Conclusions

This was not an easy project. Although the political complexity was much greater than the design complexity. Still I think every situation is an opportunity to learn. After all, blaming others won’t help you much, but learning and changing your ways might produce better results next time. These are my main lessons:

  1. Choose your customer. It’s not always possible, but there are situations that you should decide if that customer is really a good business. Sometimes, loosing a customer is much better than painfully serving one…
  2. Be precise about the customer needs. Talk to your client, look at his current website, understand his plans for the new website, understand what he really needs (to understand what he wants is not enough).
  3. Don’t work without requirement docs that both sides agreed about. It’s better to write them together, after you understood his needs (see previous bullet). This is especially important in a big project. There are clients that will continue pouring new requirements on you.
  4. Define your rules of engagement. Define what is allowed and what is not. Communicate it to your customer clearly. Hold to these rules. Having rules without the ability to implement them is like no having rules at all. Rules are important. Where there are no rules, there is chaos…
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