Simon MadineBy Simon Madine, Digital Media Technical Manager

You might have noticed that we’ve redesigned our website. If you haven’t noticed, go have a look just now then come back. We’ve changed quite a few things, some of which are very obvious, some of which you might not even notice. I’ll give a quick run-down here of some of the things which have changed. That way, you’ll be able to show the site to a friend and when they say “but how does that work?” you can say “Well, actually…”.

Design

The most obvious change you’ll notice is the design. Within National Museums Scotland, we have an enormous number of photos taken over many years of objects, exhibitions and events so we thought it’d be a shame if we didn’t show them off as much as possible. Almost every page on the site now has a big image at the top and many have images throughout the page content. We basically want to show off as much of our cool stuff as possible.

Odiot dishes

The new website makes good use of our in-house photography.

We’ve also tried to make the site a bit more colourful and make the layout a bit more spacious. Most website visitors these days have screens which are much larger than they were the last time we redesigned our site so we thought it was time to take advantage of that.

Structure

Alongside the design changes, we’ve also moved a few things around. This isn’t nearly as big a change as the design but it should help visitors a great deal.

We looked at web statistics over a long period of time to see what bits of our site people looked at most. This involved not only figuring out which individual pages were most popular but also finding out what paths people took while they were looking round the site. This way, we could identify what information people wanted to know and make it easier to get to.

Technology

Underneath all these obvious changes, there have been many technical changes. If you’re less technically-minded, feel free to skip this next bit although you might just find it interesting.

The site has been built using HTML 5 and structured semantically using elements which reflect the meaning of the content, not just the words. Addresses are now presented in address tags, for example. This not only has great benefits for Search Engine Optimisation but also provides a great basis for future web technologies.

HTML Q & A

What is HTML 5?

HTML 5 is the next version of the language used to write web pages. It allows content to be structured semantically meaning that ‘behind-the-scenes’, the most important things on the page are denoted as such. Most websites are built using HTML 4 or XHTML (newer than 4, not as new as HTML 5).

Why is semantic structure important?

When a page is well structured, it is more easily understood by search engines (such as Google), mobile browsers (using a smart phone) and screen readers (often used by visually impaired visitors). Basically, the content becomes much more reusable.

Why use HTML 5 instead of HTML 4 or XHTML?

HTML 5 not only gives us more freedom to structure our content in useful ways but it also shows our commitment to being at the forefront within the public sector of embracing digital media.

Don’t older browsers have a problem with new HTML?

For the most part, no. Where there may be issues, our development process has used the techniques of Progressive Enhancement and Graceful Degradation. This means that when viewed using an older browser (Internet Explorer 5, Netscape Navigator), the content is still presented in a clean, understandable and fully accessible fashion.

Accessibility

Accessibility has been greatly improved as well and not just with the new HTML 5 elements. Our website meets all and surpasses many of the UK Government accessibility guidelines. A large part of creating an accessible website is not just ticking the boxes on the checklist, though, it is extremely important to consider the usability of the website. Keeping consistent visual styles or positioning on-screen for instance, or grouping certain pages together where the user would expect them.

Altogether, we’re very proud of our new website, particularly as it was built entirely by our very own Digital Media team (of which, I’m a member). I’ll be following this up with more specific technical information for those who need to know. But in the meantime, let us know what you think.