125 Years Timeline

University of Tasmania

Responsibilities: Concepts, UI/UX Design, Front End Development (visual)
In 2015 the University of Tasmania was celebrating its 125 Year Anniversary. Takeflight was approached to develop an online archive to showcase the University’s history and to connect with current, past and future students, staff, researchers, and the community. We developed a rich, interactive timeline that was based around helping website visitors discover and engage with stories.

I'd previously created designs for the University and had knowledge of their audience already in mind, so I started my research by looking at the types of content that could be featured in the archive, and I thought about how users would engage with them. I explored the university's library collections and online exhibitions, as well as local Tasmanian archives and National archives such as Trove.

I realised that it was hardest to engage with historic articles or photos that I couldn't place in history. When I knew what more about what was happening around a certain time, though, the stories were immediately more interesting. I had read about how people are attracted to narrative and how people's memory can be enhanced by context, so I decided that the idea of "stories in context" would be a foundation for the designs.

We decided to organise the site structure and navigation around decades, because they were a very established contextual hook for many people. For instance, if you mention a decade - such as the 80s -  immediate thoughts and feelings spring to mind, especially for those with some experience with the culture and events of the time.

To further emphasise and elaborate on the context, I added a short tagline for the decade (such as "Tensions in the Cold War Calm" for the 1950s, seen below), a longer description that placed the university in the decade, a feature image, and notable events that were represented by imagery on the home page and listed as "in this decade" points of interest on the decade page.
The University of Tasmania wanted this to be on ongoing and living archive, capable of handling hundreds or thoughts of stories and artefacts.

We identified eight different content types that would enrich the website: long-form stories, people, events, statistics, quotes, publications, galleries, and single pieces of media (images or video). Although the current website content is predominantly long-form stories, the University will have the option to diversify their content in future.

Visually balancing the large number and varying types of content was an interesting challenge, especially on the decades page where we wanted to present a wealth of interesting stories and artifacts without being overwhelming.

The individual pieces of content needed to be easy for users to scan while also providing a sense of variety and encouraging exploration. I tackled this through consistent use of typography, imagery and icons for the different types of content, which would give users confidence about what type of content they were looking at. I also defined a harmonious colour palette that could be chosen from for each piece. 
Finally, we also wanted to provide a way for visitors to contribute to and curate the archive themselves. We developed an "interestingness score" for each story which was akin to hearts, stars or likes in social networks. The score is used to order the items in the decade view. 

We planned to implement a tooltip to explain the interestingness score on story pages, but unfortunately other features took precedence. We settled for a brief message on the home page, but this is easy for visitors to miss. You could say this was an interesting experiment!
This was one of my favourite projects in recent years. I'm very grateful that I could work on it as part of the great Takeflight team, who (as always) did an impressive job implementing this in a way that was extremely easy for the client to manage, and building a richly interactive and pleasing-to-use interface for users.