For my interface design critique, I selected the United States Holocaust Museum. I selected this site because it functions within the fields of exhibitions, scholarly research, education, and advocacy which I thought would be an inspiring tool for us as we attempt to design a holistic interface for our class project.
When examining the interface design what strikes the viewer first is a relatively conservative website that is designed to serve a wide range of users, both young and old. The first picture one sees is a commemoration of the Rwandan genocide that occurred 20 years ago in 1994. The intention here is to broaden the visitor’s understanding of genocide, and draw parallels of human behavior within a larger historical arc from the Holocaust to the present day. What I take from this approach to think about our class project holistically by making connections to each tributary that draws back to The New School. The UX principle of organization allows for any user to navigate throughout the site and engage into different tributaries at any time. There is always a means to dig deeper into the site.
When examining the USHMM site I look for clarity of design, key points of interaction, where my attention is drawn, and how the composition supports the narrative organization. At the top of the page, the navigation starts with: Site (to allow users to select from 15 different languages), Events, Hours, Directions, Support the Museum, Connect, and Donate. This top nav is one of the weakest aspects of the page. Hours and directions could have easily been integrated into one section, and it is not clear why the ‘Support the Museum’ link is different from the ‘Donate’ link.
Overall, the site holds a strong consistency in form and function. Each item remains fixed and users can always engage with another element without having to use the back button. In this way, the site feels like a journey that allows the user experience and user interface to flow.
Social media has a presence on the site, but it is not a core feature, and tends to be downplayed for the most part. Each page on the upper portion of the left-hand navigation has a button that is colored in periwinkle blue that says ‘Share’, where the options are email, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Yahoo.
What first strikes me is the dark background that allows the top navigation to separate the eye from the main focus of the page. Photographs are changed weekly focusing on specific ideas or topics, and the dark gray background in this central space pops most effectively. Beneath the photos there are arrows pointing left and right that allow the user to cycle through each photo. Each images is also connected to a specific story, and serves as a way to enter into the larger narrative of issues pertaining to genocide and Holocaust studies. There is nice balance between title text that highlights a current story at the museum, with a very legible paragraph that is laid out in the only serif font that pulls to eye to read.
Use of typography is very dynamic, and at times I find slightly confusing, but becomes more useful the more I engage with the site. To the right of the central images a clear navigation with tasteful typography and color that is gently highlighting specific words to draw attention without being garish. The menu to the right shows the following informational flows: Museum Information (that contains specific data about exhibitions and programs), Resources for Academics and Research, Resources for Educators, Resources for Professionals and Student Leaders. Each item has a clear arrow to the right of each word to engage the view to click.
Below the central images the words are much bigger and clue into how the museum organizes their core principles. Each word is punctuated by highlights of color in orange to bring attention to specific classifications within the period known as ‘the Holocaust.’ USHMM breaks up ways in which visitors can enter into this world with the words “Learn About” in white, and “The Holocaust” in all-cap, colored in orange. “Remember” is marked in the same method, with the words “Survivors and Victims” in orange. Lastly, the words “Confront” are in white, and the words “Genocide and Antisemitism” are marked in orange.
This logic flow is very intentional and jars the mind at first in terms of how and why the museum chose to break up these distinctions into these three chunks. Then I thought about the target audiences and how these keywords challenge the visitor to make a choice in how to engage with the content.
Why would I want to confront genocide or antisemitism? Do these things still exists? If the user clicks on the words they will quickly discover that the site is not linear allowing any user to engage with contemporary issues surrounding conflicts in Syria in 2013-14, and draw connections to Darfur in 2003, Bosnia in 1992, or Poland in 1939.
What I find most appealing about this site is that primary actions, secondary actions, and next steps are all closely connected by how the typography and color work together to communicate direction. The site’s archival resources are the most transcendent, and the most personal for anyone struggling with putting the pieces of their family’s past together. The transcendence is less to do with the interface, but the effect that occurs when one finds what they are looking for. In my own experience researching using the archive, I found records that I never knew existed.
There are resources here that include records from a wide array of databases. Unfortunately, most databases are scattered throughout the world, and most research has to be conducted directly with the museum librarians. USHMM site makes it very easy to submit requests and often replies occur within a least a month directly those who inquire.
In conclusion, I think that the lessons our class can learn from this site is to have a clear sense of what our core topics are and to build a strong narrative around each tributary. We should pick simple colors that draw the eye, not to overwhelm, but to focus. We should also choose clean and clear fonts that engage the viewer and limit the selection to two with creative balance in size, weight, leading, and kerning.