Designing History: The OI Centennial Website
How do you tell the story of saving a 2,000-year-old language over 9 decades, using fragments of tablets and inscriptions on ancient winged bulls to reveal a 6,000-year-old culture? Or tell the story of 100 years of research exploring 10,000 years of history?
This was our charge when we took on the responsibility for creating the Oriental Institute’s centennial site. To tell the stories that are the beginning of us, our lives as humans, together.
Founded in 1919, The Oriental Institute (OI) at the University of Chicago is a leading research center and world-renowned museum devoted to studying the civilizations of the ancient Middle East. The OI Museum exhibits one of the largest collections resulting from archaeological fieldwork in the Middle East, including more than 350,000 artifacts with roughly 5,000 on display on the University of Chicago campus.
Originally funded by a handful of visionaries including James Henry Breasted and John D. Rockefeller Jr., the OI has been a groundbreaking institution for over a century.
With a centennial approaching and over 10,000 years of stories to tell, the OI had a new challenge: find an interactive storytelling way to share the wealth of information uncovered over the years as well as present new expeditions and discoveries going on today. The OI needed a partner to create a digital experience celebrating its Centennial year and showcasing its 100 years of connecting ancient places, people and issues. The OI selected Sandstorm to lead this effort.
Sandstorm and the OI team underwent a thorough UX and creative UI process while leveraging the new branding that was being designed specifically for the Centennial and the rebranded identity for the OI itself. The primary goal was to deliver an interactive, high-touch, narrative experience while showcasing the incredible depth of research projects and overall work of the OI.
In addition, a key goal was to drive users to engage with the OI: registering for the Centennial Gala, donating, becoming a member, visiting the museum, or even adopting a dig. Making sure these CTAs and conversions link back to the main OI site was key, while also elevating the Centennial as a major milestone for the organization.
Sandstorm implemented a new Drupal 8 instance for the OI centennial site and configured the CMS for design flexibility in the future. Over the course of a few months, Sandstorm transformed key content related to the OI’s history, research projects, fieldwork, and museum collection into a well-curated, digital microsite experience.
“The OI needed a website that would display a wide range of media types with pictures and videos but we really wanted to focus on interactive elements as well and find the most engaging way to display their research to users,” said Jeff Umbricht, lead developer of the Centennial site. “With work all over the world, we decided to create an interactive map that presents a visual navigational tool to explore key discoveries.”
To encourage museum visits and membership, Sandstorm also included an easy to access events page for visitors to experience OI events throughout the year.
Key elements of the experience:
- Emphasis on displaying a wide range of information in a concise, scannable way.
- Extending Drupal modules and features for strong content editor control and flexibility.
- Interactive map to display research efforts in key locations in the Middle East. The solution provides an ideal balance of performance and interactivity.
- Mobile-first approach that ensures the user has the same level of interactivity and scannability from any device.
- Built targeting WCAG 2.0AA accessibility standards
With the website complete, the University of Chicago has begun promoting the Oriental Institute’s Centennial, which kicks off in September with a Centennial Gala followed by a public event and includes activities throughout the 2019–2020 academic year.
Visit oi100.uchicago.edu to learn more and be sure to visit the museum in person on the University’s campus in Hyde Park Chicago.
“Sandstorm’s work creating a digital experience for our Centennial celebration is a key element of our year-long effort focused on sharing not just the legacy and historical impact of the OI in understanding, revealing, and protecting the earliest human civilizations, but also recognizing that through our ongoing research and public outreach we can offer new ways of thinking about what connects us and why.”
- Dr. Kiersten Neumann, Curator of the Oriental Institute Museum, and Research Associate and Communications Associate of the Oriental Institute