Case Study: Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon
Using Online/Offline Consumer Personas Towards Inclusive Design
“Don’t make something unless it is both made necessary and useful;
but if it is both necessary and useful,
don’t hesitate to make it beautiful.”
— Shaker dictum
We’ve had the pleasure of partnering with Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon to bring their collection online and make it accessible to people worldwide, in addition to designing their new website. After months of hard work with Lacy Schutz, the Museum’s executive director, and a brilliant staff, the website has just launched. We wanted to take some time to call special attention to our work with them, and to talk about the remarkable work the Museum, and the Shakers themselves, have done for the advancement of a just and humane society!
Many people know little about the Shakers beyond their strict code of celibacy and the distinctive chairs they designed and manufactured. An American religious sect that flourished from the late 1700s through the mid-1900s, the Shakers held many values considered progressive even today. They educated girls and boys equally; welcomed African Americans into their communities; shared everything; made accommodations to include everyone in communal activities regardless of age or physical or mental ability; and appointed men and women in co-leadership roles at all levels of their religious and secular governance. They even believed that their founder Mother Ann Lee was the female, and therefore complete, manifestation of Jesus Christ.
In addition to their many inclusive social values, the Shakers were innovative designers. To the Shakers useful innovation, efficiency, sustainability, cost-effective use of resources, high quality craftsmanship, and loving attention to work were themselves considered acts of worship. The Shakers’ distinctive style of attractive and durable architecture and furniture are emulated and duplicated even today, and Shaker innovations in common household and farm tools are still in use, such as the flat broom.
Studio Analogous worked strategically with the Shaker Museum from the beginning to incorporate inclusive design principles into both their website design and branding. We visited the Museum’s historic Mount Lebanon site, centered on the remains of the beautiful and massive Great Stone Barn, explored the collection of artifacts ranging from tools to costumes to furniture, and learned all we could about Shaker culture, history, and the repository of Shaker material and intellectual culture housed at the Museum. After getting a clear sense of the Museum’s mission, we developed the following goals for the Museum’s strategy and branding:
· Get Shaker ideas out into the world. The Shakers represent an important, and in many ways forgotten, part of American history; their values, ideas, and aesthetics resonate even today and deserve to be remembered and contemplated. We also wanted to express the idea that the brand values were the same as the Shakers’ values: in Shaker society, people of all ages, genders, and abilities had a purpose, responsibilities, and positions of worth. So, too, the contemporary members of the Museum’s community.
·Build and engage membership. The Museum’s mission is to provide free educational and cultural experiences, so it relies on the donations of members to sustain that mission. Designing an inclusive experience would maximize the number of visitors who would be interested in becoming a part of that mission.
·Position the Museum as expert, both scholarly and approachable. During the 150 years the Shakers thrived, Mount Lebanon was the Central Ministry and served as the spiritual and social hub of all the other Shaker communities from Maine to Kentucky to Ohio. The Shaker Museum holds the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of Shaker artifacts, including archival records from the Central Ministry, and strives to be a centralized and authoritative source of information about the Shakers. Its collections and archives attract the attention of scholars, designers, artists, craftspeople, enthusiasts, and more.
·Create a digital destination. The Shaker Museum is definitely worth a visit, but it’s a long way from New York City and other major urban centers, so it was key to provide easy access to the collection to anyone, anywhere. We decided to style a user experience consistent with the Shaker conventions of structure, color schemes, and imagery.
One of the key steps in the inclusive design process is the development of personas. In this case, in addition to scholars, students, researchers, tourists, and potential donors, we incorporated the local community, which has a shared history with the Shakers in Mount Lebanon, and who may have different interests and priorities than traditional museum visitors and supporters. Local visitor personas informed decisions beyond the paths to the content, such as language and accessibility standards, user experience design, and universal inclusive principles such as gender-neutral language and accessibility.
The personas we developed proved to be key beyond the website: the Museum used them to guide and inform a new membership program and considers them when making programming decisions, ensuring they are serving all key audiences.
If you have the time for a beautiful drive into the countryside, we heartily recommend checking out Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon for yourself. The Museum, and its collection, are a wonderful reminder of a Shaker value relevant to every inclusive designer today: “That which has in itself the highest use, possesses the greatest beauty.”