Science World in Vancouver, Canada has for three decades sparked curiosity and wonder in generations of visitors, and promoted science-related learning across British Columbia. Each year over 3/4 million people visit or are visited by teams from this iconic institution.
The catalyst for the new website was a combination of factors: the existing Drupal site had grown too large and unwieldily to keep up with changes in the organization, a new strategic plan pointed the way to key audiences and objectives, and an brand refresh in the works all made the time right for reinvention of the website. Science World commissioned Denim & Steel Interactive in December of 2018 to help make that happen.
The challenge of building a website for Science World is that while the visitor experience is simple to understand, the organization itself and the many ways that it reaches the public are complex. Creating an information architecture that could hold these myriad activities, and a way of navigating that felt aligned with the Science World experience, proved to be the key challenge in the project.
By taking inspiration from Science World’s expertly designed exhibits, we set out to capture the bright, fun, and friendly visitor experience in the website. At the same time, the website is an information tool and had to be equally effective at delivering what people need to know. The marquee feature is its navigation system, which proved so effective that it became the literal homepage for the site. Most menu items have a secondary space to provide more detail or functionality, allowing visitors to explore the range of offerings without leaving their current page.
The primary information architecture is radically simplified, balancing contemporary categories such as Today and Visit Us with more spirited categories of Get Curious and Bright Tomorrow to invite visitors further into Science World’s unique vision and brand.
While some information in the site, such as events, is highly structured, most pages are not. We provided two sets of tools to help in these cases: a wide array of custom styled Gutenberg blocks for arranging content as needed, and a custom Content Navigator which is essentially a set of tabs for exploring a collection of short but related topics without extensive scrolling or page reloads.
In addition to these features, a lighting fast custom search tool provides instant access to nearly every page on the site from just a few keystrokes. And a still-nascent program called Staff Tidbits enables Science World staff to add their own insights and experiences to select content as easily discovered easter eggs that careful readers will enjoy.
Launched in December 2019, the site’s first real test was the holiday break. The initial results have been very encouraging with a 78% monthly and 40% year over year (same month) increase in online ticket sales. Visitors are spending more time on content-rich pages and less time moving through visitor logistics, and anecdotal feedback has been extremely positive as calls for information that’s already available on the website have dropped dramatically.
Science World’s perspective is that the future can truly be bright, and that advancement of science, technology, engineering, art and design, and mathematics, can not only inspire today’s children but also tomorrow’s leaders. As a charity working to promote this ideal across British Columbia, the new website carries this spirit and the tools to help them make it happen.