A responsive, innovative website that expresses the experimental and collaborative personality of the museum

Pulitzer Arts

The new Pulitzer Arts website is being hailed as a major improvement by both internal and external stakeholders that clearly communicates the identity and vision for the future of this innovative museum.

Since its opening in October 2001, Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis, Missouri has become both a sanctuary for the ever-evolving experience of art and a laboratory for unprecedented collaborations and endeavours. This unconventional museum hosts a wide range of exhibitions from old masters to contemporary art, and is situated in a light-infused building architected by Tadao Ando. As part of a larger rebranding initiative, Pulitzer Arts engaged Bruce Mau Design (BMD) and bv02 to design and develop a new website to replace its outdated current property. What resulted is a beautiful, highly functional site that represents Pulitzer Art’s innovative identity and vision and is accessible to a wider audience across diverse platforms.

Pulitzer Art’s previous website was innovative for its time but was badly in need of updating. Largely Flash-based, the site was non-responsive and had poor navigation. For the new site, the museum’s team had very clear objectives — it needed to be accessible and express the experimental and collaborative personality of the institution; its design would need to lead with the art, but also emphasize the personal/human presence, and the building.

Bruce Mau Design began the redesign by stripping the website down to its bare elements, taking the approach of minimal decoration, liberal whitespace and strong and consistent navigation. Like the Pullitzer Arts building, the new site emphasizes empty space in order to showcase the art. Its collaborative and experimental side is shown in the innovative “spine navigation” element where secondary and related content can be revealed by clicking on navigation elements attached to the content. Relationships between art, exhibitions, programs and collaborators are also shown in cloud-like groupings of text beneath images, overthrowing traditional divisions between these areas to encourage exploration and discovery.

bv02’s implementation work began in the earliest stages of the project. Because the site relies so much on interconnected data to show the collaborations and links between content, it was important to start developing the data structure early on. We began with a functional prototype based on the preliminary designs, which allowed several iterations in the way content was stored on the site and the way the templating was configured. As an example, it became clear that the program and exhibition pages share a great number of similarities and so it was an easy decision to make them a single content type. The idea of defaults that can be overridden is used throughout the data model for things like titles and templates. It allows the content editors to control specifics of the site without being forced to navigate a dozen or more required fields.

bv02 recommended Drupal for the new site, for its versatility in presenting content in different ways. The Pulitzer Arts site makes use of several embedded, thumbnail, rollover, teaser and full-page templates that required careful planning and data architecture work before the site came together. Working from Bootstrap 3, a mobile-first responsive HTML5 framework which has an excellent Drupal variant, we altered the breakpoints and margins to work with the new asymmetrical layout.

The site has minimal ornamentation and is focused on frictionless display of content so special attention had to paid to the more aesthetically and technically innovative parts of the site. The “spine nav” animation includes subtle elements like aligning and animating the individual rows of titles separately and the Collaborators page includes javascript restructuring of the content to allow for easy indexing of pages. Features like the video player or gallery view expand in-place, rather than opening in light boxes, in order to align with the design vision of the site.

Since launching their new brand and website, Pulitzer Arts has deeply identified with the new visual and online identity. Despite being closed for renovations from launch in September of 2014 until May 2015, the website is being updated regularly to include news related to the construction and tours and discussions of the construction project. While there were no analytics on the old site, making a direct comparison of the old to new site difficult, Pulitzer Arts is now seeing a strong percentage of mobile users on the website. The site is being hailed as a major improvement by both internal and external stakeholders, that clearly communicates the identity and vision for the future of this innovative museum.

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