Case Study: Smithsonian Learning Lab - Codename
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Case Study: Smithsonian Learning Lab

04 May Case Study: Smithsonian Learning Lab



The Project:

The Smithsonian Learning Lab is an ongoing project (first phase completion summer 2016) for the Smithsonian Centre for Learning and Digital Access (SCLDA). Our role involved collaborating on strategy, and providing user experience, user interface and front end design. The project is also a collaboration with the talented team at Navigation North Learning Solutions, out of Chico California, who are providing the backend expertise.

In addition to product and web design codename also provide a variety of related projects from stickers to postcards and even a card game used to promote the project.

One of SCLDA’s primary mandates is to make the resources from the 19 museums 9 research facilities and one zoo available under the banner of the Smithsonian to the public, specifically educators. The Learning Lab allows visitors to Discover the digital artefacts of the Smithsonian Archive, Create new annotated collections of resources for personal study or to Share them as assignments to students or less formally via social media.


Taming Complexity  

The main challenge with larger complex informational projects lies in properly identifying both the technical and user-side information architecture, specifically organising the content in a way that maintains consistency in the relations of objects, language and iconography. In addition the goal is to maintain a fluid experience for the user as the project is rolled out sequentially over a matter of months.

Additional complexity comes from the fact that the resources come from multiple sources and multiple resolutions and one of the main challenges was to present was to provide a flexible system that would allow the resources to be presented alongside each other despite their varying levels of resolution.

Our process for distilling complex information involves what we call ecology diagramming. Making the relationships between the actors (or users) in the system and the objects they will be manipulating visible allows us to systematically identify core relationships, user paths and interactions required. The diagrams also allow us to componentize and prioritize projects to allow them to be deployed over time without leaving gaps in experience.


Plugging in to Existing Projects

As is sometimes the case we were brought into this project wants some of the initial information architecture work at been completed. One of the main things we needed to do was quickly assess what was at play to see if any issues have arisen from previous work, to identify problems and clarify any issues relating to the experience. It was clear after a brief review that there needed to be a clearer understanding of the resources in the system and allowing users to quickly understand the various states that an object can take. For example providing simple feedback that makes it highly visible to the user that they had entered the edit state of a given object, or if they were in view only mode. These small issues can lead to a confusing experience if not edealt with early in the process.


Core Attributes: Discover, Create, Share

The same diagramming process also allowed us to quickly engage with the key functionality that we were providing users can also lead to a very strong direction in terms of the personality and core attributes of the Learning Lab.

Because our introduction to the project was by invitation to a competition we had strong sense of the visual personality of the project before digging too far into the project discovery. It wasn’t long before the diagramming process helped us identify three major components of the Learning Lab based on its primary affordances: to Discover objects, to Create annotated collections of existing objects or add their own and to Share those objects either as assignments or otherwise with students or other people to

Discover Create Share components provided clarity to the language to help structure the experience through consistent textual and visual language, help text as well as instructional videos.




Design Management

Our current work is focused on providing refinements to the roughed out front end work that has been completed. This component is a key part of our work on projects that are created with rough front end deployment to test functionality and get feedback early from key test groups. Over the next two months Codename will be managing significant improvements will be made to the front end design and user experience.


Beyond Digital

Consistency was not only required within the actual web product itself within the product was also required for other collateral including stickers and a card game which was used to promote the scope of the Learning Lab



The first public phase of the Learning Lab is due to be completed mid-summer 2016 and future phases are planned with enhanced functionality continuing into the fall.