Digital Archive Project: Dance Dialogues

[PDF + Appendices + Figures]


Design Team Report

I. Competitive Analysis

To improve our redesign, the group compared the current Dance Dialogues website to The Museum of the City of New York (, the New Museum (, and This Kiss to the World: Klimt and Vienna Secession ( These websites were chosen because they were oriented towards arts and exhibitions, and the Klimt website was chosen because it was Omeka powered. These sites we believed would help to guide us in the best ways to improve our website. The websites were compared in three main areas: information organization, content, and visual design. (See Appendix A for full analysis.)

Information Organization

We believed that information organization on the current Dance Dialogues website was lacking. Many aspects of what we considered an intuitive, user-friendly website were absent. The website navigation was located on the left side of the homepage with a suppressed feature. While this is not a highly unusual placement we felt that this was not an optimal placement.

We also found the prominently featured “Recently Added Items” and “Featured Items” on the homepage to be a negative aspect of this website. Based on the three website we compared, it seemed more acceptable to display images of featured exhibits and individuals as the main feature on the homepage. Navigating within collections was also difficult especially on the collection pages. When one browses a collection a limited number of interviews are populated then users are given the option to click a link to view the entire collection. We would prefer to avoid this type of item display as it could prove to be confusing for users.


Compared to the three websites that were analyzed, the current Dance Dialogues homepage lacked any description of what this project was about. Additionally, we found that our website consisted of over four hundred tags, many of which only linked to one item result while the other three websites did not have this. The Museum of the City of New York’s (MCNY) website had keywords which were significantly less, more descriptive, and from a controlled vocabulary. Due to time constraints in only editing one collection, we decided that we should keep the tags on the website, but we deleted any tags with less than three items associated.

Group members found the metadata on this website to be overwhelming. There were many fields that did not need to be shown on the website. The group found the metadata on MCNY’s website to be ideal and aimed to achieve this same level of detail without showing too much unnecessary information. We worked closely with the Technology and Metadata teams to decide which field to suppress  and the best ways to go about do so.

Visual Design

Overall, the visual design of the Dance Dialogues website was extremely lacking as well. There were no items of visual interest on the entire website. The homepage only displayed textual content and the only images were those of the cassettes. The group found the gray color gradient of the homepage header dull and dated. We saw it necessary to add images to the homepage to add visual interest and to break up the text on the website. We also thought it was important to have other images on the website other than that of cassettes, as some users confused the image of the cassette for the link to the audio file.

The aesthetics of Dance Dialogues was quite poor, however in our analysis, we found the MCNY website to be the most visually interesting. We found that MCNY’s website had a good balance of images and text. There wasn’t an overwhelming display of text on this website and we aimed to replicate this with our redesign.


II. Drawings and Wireframes

After discussing what we wanted to change or add to the website, as well as looking at a few museum websites, we created rough sketches of our initial ideas (Figures 1-6).

In order to more clearly communicate these ideas to the Technology team, who would be executing them, we created wireframes using Balsamiq (Figures 7-10).

Suppression of metadata fields was a top priority for us, and the evolution of which fields to display can be seen in the drawings and wireframes. We worked with the Metadata team to determine relevant fields to display to users, cutting down the amount displayed significantly. This is discussed further in a later section. Other notable changes we made that are evident in the wireframes are adding a rights statement and “about the project” section to the about page and our proposed alterations to the advanced search page, discussed in a later section. We also noted scrolling on pages that we wanted to remain static. An early issue we saw was the amount of scrolling users would have to do on the item page to find relevant information, including the audio file, and we were careful to note in our drawings and wireframes which pages would need to be condensed enough that the user would not need to scroll.



III. User Testing


We tested the Dance Dialogue website while it was still in development with 8 users. Participants reported a medium to high proficiency with technology and came from a wide range of professional backgrounds including libraries, design, therapy, dance, and law. The users were recruited by the members of the Design team. The test was conducted either in-person or remotely. Questionnaire responses were recorded using Google Forms. Each participant was asked to complete three tasks on the Dance Dialogues website, as noted below:

Task 1: You have arrived at the Dance Dialogue homepage.  Browse the website to find an interview from the Grace Under Pressure Collection. Click “Continue” after completing the task to proceed to the first questionnaire.

Task 2: You would like to use the interview that you found in Task #1 in your research. Find information about copyright and how to rightfully use the interviews. Click “Continue” after completing the task to proceed to the second questionnaire.

Task 3: Using the search bar, find the Natch Taylor interview and from the item page, find the corresponding Collection Page for this interview. Click “Continue” after completing the task to proceed to the third questionnaire.

After completing each task, users were asked to answer a short post-task questionnaire. After the third questionnaire, users also completed an AttrakDiff survey to help quantify their emotional response to the site. There was also a final, post-test questionnaire that was administered to gather users’ general thoughts about the site, as well as record demographic information. The questionnaires, as well as a summary of the results of both the user text and the AttrakDiff survey can be found in Appendices B-D.


Findings and Recommendations

The user test brought to light several general observations and four specific opportunities for change, one that we were able to address immediately and three that can be considered for future designs of the site. The most general observation that was made by users throughout all three of the tasks was the general ease of use and navigation of the site. This was reflected in the users’ responses to the questions about how easy they found each task to complete, with almost 100% reporting easy to very easy. Again, when asked in the post-test questionnaire if they found the website to be navigable, users responded, “The navigation was good,” and “It was easily navigable.” However, this question also led to our first recommendation: adding breadcrumbs to each page so that users know where they are and from where they have come. When asked about whether or not they would make any changes to the layout, several users suggested that cues, such as “Home” and a hyperlink of the name of the page, would be helpful in distinguishing between the content found on different pages.

A second recommendation that emerged from the analysis of our user test was to distinguish the top bar navigation from the title of the page. The difficulty distinguishing between the tabs to new pages and the title of the site was addressed first when users were asked for their general thoughts about the homepage, and then again when they were asked if there were any specific changes that could be made to create a better user experience. Based on one user’s response, it appears that she entirely missed the links at the top of the page, and instead scrolled to the bottom of the page to use the links provided there. This was an easy fix, as the tech team was able to make the font sizes a bit smaller and increase the space between the About and Browse tabs and the title of the site, thereby increasing visibility of the top bar navigation.

The third recommendation that came from the data collected during our user test was something that the design team had already agreed upon but had had to sacrifice in the interest of time. After completing the first task to find an interview in the Grace Under Pressure Collection, users were asked how they found this interview and to explain the steps that they took in browsing the site. Several users identified the browsing language as confusing and were unable to distinguish between Interview and Collection. One user wrote, “It’s confusing as to what the difference is between an interview and collection, so I stuck with what I could find on the homepage,” while another wrote, it would be helpful to “clarify what each type of content is.” Because the language of interview versus collection wasn’t clearly or naturally mapped for the user, the user felt discouraged from moving deeper into the site beyond what was available on the homepage. The design team had originally proposed a single Browse by tab on the homepage that would lead to a page with different Browse by dropdowns including Interviewee, Interview Date, and Collection. Had time permitted and this change been made, perhaps users would have found the navigation of the Browse options more understandable. In future iterations of the site, the recommendation to create a single Browse by tab should be implemented in order to ease the use of the browse feature for the user.

Finally, users noted throughout the test that the site could benefit from more color and multimedia content. As one user wrote, “dance is a visual medium,” and more images would, “make the site more impactful.” Several of the users, when asked what their least favorite part of the website was, noted the absence of photo, music, and video content. One user wrote, when answering whether or not the website was visually appealing that, “for such a visually based medium, the lack of imagery was disappointing.” Again, time constraints prevented us from being able to add additional multimedia to the site, but in the future, it is recommended that more multimedia content be uploaded in order to stimulate readers’ visually and entice them into further engagement with the site.

The results of our AttrakDiff survey illustrate definitive trends in the overall emotional response of users during their interaction with the site. Users were slightly more likely to feel that the website was more human than technical, more connective than isolating, and more pleasant than unpleasant. Additionally, they strongly felt that the website was more simple than complicated, more practical than impractical, and more professional than unprofessional. What we can take away from these results is that in the time that we had to redesign the Dance Dialogue website, we were able to successfully create a site that looks and feels simple, practical, and professional. We were also relatively successful at creating a human, connective, and pleasant interaction for users. If we had had more time to make changes to the site based on the results of our user test, we would have worked to make the site feel more connective and human, which we believe would also correlate to the overall pleasantness of the user’s experience.


IV. Achievements and Accomplishments

New Theme

There was consensus within the Design team that the current theme for the Dance Dialogues website was not acceptable as a template to work with for our redesign.The gray gradient as a header was outdated, the logo was not modern or professionally done, but looked like clip art. The navigation menu was also placed at the left side of the homepage, while not unusual the menu suppression and drop down was a feature that we would prefer to not have as a part of the redesigned website (Figure 11).

In our analysis of similar sites, we also browsed other Omeka-powered sites, particularly focusing on a NYARC website that we liked to see what the theme limitations with Omeka were. We were able to find the theme used by that site, Neatscape. Neatscape’s layout (for instance the item page’s placement of text and images) aligned pretty closely with our initial ideas, but the Technology team also did some alterations to the theme’s code in order to display all of the collections on the homepage, add a carousel to the homepage, and suppress metadata fields. This theme choice allowed us to place the navigation at the top of the webpage and the search bar at the top right of the page. We also added a slideshow to prominently feature  the collection we worked on “Grace Under Pressure.” We also featured an interview and an interesting interview on this slideshow, which we thought was a better option than simply having “Featured Items,” “Featured Collection,” and “Recently Added Items” written on the homepage. We wanted to draw interest to the sections of the website we felt were most developed. (See Figure 12 for new homepage design).


Tagging Schema

The tags on the old website was rather extensive, repetitive, and most led to only one search result. The group initially decided to exclude this feature from the website but due to time constraints in only editing one collection, the tags were not removed from the website completely. Instead, we edited the tags to make them more useable in the collections we did not work on. In the beginning there were over 400 tags and users were taken to a massive tag cloud when they clicked on Browse by Tags (Figure 15). We trimmed this list ,and now there are approximately 100 tags all leading to search results of three or more hits or to dance companies (Figure 16). Dance company affiliation we, and the Metadata team, felt was important to keep as users would be likely to browse by that information.


V. Challenges Overcome

A challenge we overcame was related to display and suppression of metadata fields. We knew we disliked the amount of metadata displayed on the old site, especially the fact that users had to scroll through all of the metadata to reach the audio file (Figure 17).

We worked with both the Metadata and Technology teams to solve the problem of information overload.

First, we proposed which fields to display on the item page (Figure 1) and the placement of the audio file in relation to the metadata. In discussing with the Metadata team, we edited our choices of fields to display. Tags or keywords were a point of discussion because of controlled versus uncontrolled vocabularies and the difficulty of imposing standards on an already non-standardized metadata field. With the Metadata team, we ultimately decided not to display tags or keywords. We also discussed the inclusion of a company affiliation field, as that seemed to be the relevant (possibly search-oriented) information from the tags. This field was not added to the metadata schema, which was their decision that we agreed with. The merging of description, meant to be of the interview, with the biographical note, was a decision made with the Research team as well as the Metadata team. The Metadata team retained the term “description” in their schema, and “biography” was the term we settled on to display, to avoid confusion. Originally, it was unclear whether “description” referred to a description of the interview or the interviewee, hence our original idea to include both fields. Working with Research, we decided that a biographical note, termed “biography,” was more relevant.

We then went to the Technology team with our proposed fields to display. In addition to suppressing metadata fields, we also wanted to suppress the labels “Dublin Core” and “Oral History Item Type Metadata” because we felt they were confusing to non-librarian users (What does dance have to do with Ireland?) and looked childish to librarians (Showing your work makes it look more like a school project). We and the Technology team noted that other Omeka-powered sites had either not attempted or had not had success in suppressing these labels, but our Technology team was able to accomplish it. They were also able to suppress the metadata fields we identified.

Working with the other teams, we accomplished a streamlining of the item page, presenting the user with less information, but information that was relevant, and making it easier to find and access the audio file (Final item page Figure 18).


VI. Challenges Not Overcome

There were only a few challenges that the Design team felt we were unable to overcome, most of which came as a result of our constraints on time. In our initial design mockups, we included an advanced search page and also a single browse page, rather than individual Browse By Collection and Browse Interviews pages. Technical constraints due to our choice in theme prevented us from being able to make changes to the existing advanced search page. Because we were very unhappy with the design and layout of this page, we needed to compromise. Consequently, rather than link to a page that we considered to be overly complicated and difficult to understand, we eliminated all direct links to the advanced search page (the only way for a user to access it now is to type the URL into their browser’s address bar). Because the website’s content is simple enough to only require a simple, keyword search bar and browse by tab, we thought that this was a good compromise to make, especially because the theme was consistent with the design that we envisioned and allowed for all of the other changes to the site that we found most critical to make.

The browse page that we envisioned included browse by interviewee, date of interview, and collection dropdowns. Ultimately, when we prioritized the changes that were most important to make in the time allowed, we dropped changing the Browse page to the bottom of our list. The result (keeping both Browse by Interview and Browse by Collection tabs), as our user test indicated, is occasional confusion of the user about which option to select. However, considering all of the other changes that were made to improve the navigation of the website, the confusion about navigating the browse options reported by a small amount of users is a minimal loss.

Finally, the Design team, in conjunction with the Research team, would have liked to have been able to  add captions to the images included with the interview audio file. Again, technical constraints from the theme chosen for the site prohibited the addition of captions to the media added on individual item pages. We also would have liked to see the interviews arranged alphabetically in their listing on the Browse by pages, but we were unable to see this completed because of limitations on time.


VII. Future Plans

If we had all the time, budget, and skill in the world to continue to edit this site, we would add a few design features that we feel would enhance the user’s experience of browsing and accessing the collection.

One of the museum websites we looked to for inspiration in designing the look of our digital archive was the Museum of the City of New York’s Collections Portal. We particularly liked the item to collection relationship as displayed in the design and the appearance of the item page. The relationship between collections and items was evident in the design in that when an item is clicked, it opens as a pop out window in front of the collection page (Figure 19).

The arrows on the left and right of the item page also allow for browsing through the collection, without leaving the detailed item page. If we had unlimited skill, this pop out feature is one we would like to add.

Due to  time constraints we were able to make certain modifications only to the collection for the book Grace Under Pressure. Images were added for interviews to that collection only and the headings were modified to exclude the “Published” header. If we had more time we would remedy these two issues to get a more uniform look and metadata display on the website. The group would also have preferred to add a breadcrumb navigation to our redesigned website but time restrictions did not allow us to do this.

Finally, if we had had more time to work on this website, we would have completed far more extensive user testing. Due to the limited time of this redesign, we were unable to test the existing site, the site while it was in development, and the final product. Our user test focused on the page while it was still in development, and was successful in identifying a few important changes that needed to be made before the new website’s launch. However, the most effective use of usability testing would have included a test of the old site (rather than the walk through of the site that the design team completed on their own) and a full test of the new site to catch any lingering stumbling blocks that might have been overlooked in the testing completed during development.