The main page of AAM with navigation, featured article, and additional content

AAM hired Alley to transform their transactional website into a hub of content for museum professionals by museum professionals. In addition to taking this bold step into publishing, AAM wanted to give professional networks the ability to manage their own content. Before design or development began, we conducted stakeholder research which guided specific website improvements, but also led to the creation of a new community coordinator position, leading to a vast increase in meaningful community involvement on the site. Visitors to the site enjoy a clean, modern aesthetic, while administrators save time with an intuitive interface in WordPress.

An article page on the AAM site with many images, clear large text, and a quote block in teal below the content with a headshot of a woman with brown hair

The Context

The American Alliance of Museums is a 35,000 member strong professional organization that links together museum professionals and volunteers, institutions, and corporate partners in service of improving the museums community in the United States. Their mission is to “champion museums and nurture excellence in partnership with our members and allies.”

 In 2016, AAM was looking to rebuild their platform with a focus on building and enhancing not just their own content but also their communities and professional networks, which allow their members to discuss important topics, learn from each other, and grow professionally. While these networks were present on the former version of the site, the functionality was not there to allow members to easily take advantage of these networks. AAM was unfortunately unable to have a full staff supporting these communities for budgetary reasons, so the users sometimes felt like AAM gave them web pages, but then restricted them so much that they couldn’t meaningfully use them. For example, they were not given permission to make any changes on their own — e.g. set up navigation that made sense for their specific professional network, or to publish their own stories to their section. Therefore, some networks started to spin up their own sites to circumvent the AAM site.

The Ask

A large view of the AAM home page with many images and headlines for related articles arranged in a grid and tagged with orange subjects

The project came with a number of important considerations. First, the site needed to be accessible to everyone. This meant in practice that it needed to work on any device and operating system, no matter a user’s needs, be fully WCAG 2.0 compliant, verified with an external audit, and allow for enhanced navigation by keyboard. We needed to migrate content from multiple systems into one site, and update that content for accessibility.

The site also had the goal of increasing membership and donors. We needed to create a consistent membership authentication system, incentivize membership through implementation of a paywall, and generally simplify actions on both the back and front end.

The Solution

Six people sitting at a conference table each working on a laptop in front of a white wall with the AAM logo on it

We started with a series of focus groups with members of AAM’s professional networks. The research revealed where AAM needed to better support these groups.

After our user research to define success, we built out a visual design based on workshops and an iterative process. This was thoroughly user tested and validated to ensure it provided simplified navigation pathways for users. We also reorganized website content based on member needs. Finally, we created a totally new platform for Professional Network members to collaborate through and provide content for the website.

A pen sketch of a potential design for the AAM home page with headlines, images, and program features

We also created a consistent membership authentication system, incentivized membership through implementation of a paywall, and generally simplify actions on both the back and front end.

Finally, one of our recommendations from our research was to hire a community manager to support the Professional Networks. Once the project was finished, AAM made a number of changes, including adjusting a position into a Director of Content and Community Engagement. They also pulled a full team together from around the organization to become the “content team” and they’re doing great work to aggregate and curate a suite of articles from across the museum landscape specifically for the community.

The Results

As the site has continued to grow after launch, AAM has confirmed that the community has been even more involved in the site and pro-community members have stepped up to administrate certain parts of the site themselves. At museum events across the country, we have heard how this new site has brought new life into the Professional Networks, encouraging sharing and learning between all of AAM’s members. The museum community continues to be strengthened by AAM’s powerhouse of connection and information, and we are excited to see what develops.

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