Responses by Betsy Lam, associate director of development; Will Miller, senior director of design; and Dean Sweetnich, designer, Firebelly Design.
Background: “The Newberry is an iconic Chicago institution that provides a deep collection of specialty research materials and resources,” says Dan Sweetnich. “Educators, humanities enthusiasts and the general public can attend online and in-person programs hosted by the Newberry in service of deepening knowledge. The website is a primary tool for the Newberry to communicate its broad offerings while providing access to its programs and collections during the pandemic.”
Design core: “A new feature is the updated menu panel that more clearly displays the Newberry’s information and offerings,” says Will Miller. “In the previous site, navigation grew incrementally over many years. This created a winding experience for site visitors as they searched for information. Discovery and exploration on the old site felt restricted, daunting and time-consuming. The new site streamlines entry points and presents offerings upfront through large, accurate labels in the welcoming navigation.
“The website’s design elements and visual style reflect the brand identity we completed in the first phase of our engagement,” he continues. “In that identity work, we refined, refreshed, tightened and uplifted the Newberry’s visual presence. On the new site, open and structured space is present throughout, supporting a pleasant reading experience when moving through page content. Clear calls-to-action, buttons and large titles allow both new and experienced users to find their way easily. Thinking ahead to our future collaborations, our functional and wayfinding successes on the library’s digital space will strengthen the visual connection for improvements to the Newberry’s physical space.
“Brand fonts, colors and graphic elements create a visual hierarchy throughout the site that helps visitors read, navigate and absorb content,” Miller continues. “These elements were referenced in our early brand guide work, coming to life as functional components that evoke and enhance one’s experience with the Newberry.”
Favorite details: “A suite of card formats in various styles help the Newberry highlight events, classes, exhibitions, news and research guides,” Sweetnich says. “Before our refresh, these content types were hidden and difficult to upload. These card details helped unify the display of event data on the website and unified the event planning processes for the Newberry team.”
Challenges: “The depth of information available on the site is tantamount to the Newberry’s skill as a research institution,” explains Sweetnich. “In navigating the redesign, we helped guide the library’s team to sift through and reduce more than 1,000 web pages in service of rewriting much of the content for the new site. The process was a valuable collaboration that helped align both teams toward a single vision of the redesign.”
New lessons: “In developing the website, we learned how to accommodate and streamline vast amounts of information,” says Sweetnich. “We learned how to collaborate and partner with our clients so that they were equally trained in the institution’s web content as we were. This process helped reorganize the Newberry’s capacity for future web content maintenance.”
Navigation structure: “After identifying distinct user pathways, we discovered some needed adjustments,” Sweetnich says. “For example, on the website, lack of alignment behind terms like resource or program became a barrier for new users. Within the new navigation, our goal was to quickly communicate the essential offerings for new users while providing quick points of entry for existing Newberry academics. Using a limited menu of six items and establishing high-level overview pages, we created clear pathways to specific tools and research information without overwhelming visitors.”