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 the the Shaker Museum | Mount Lebanon to bring their collection online and accessible to everyone everywhere in addition to designing their new website. After months of hard work with Lacy Schutz, the museum director and the brilliant staff, the Museum is launching the site this week, so we wanted to take some time to call special attention to our work with them- as well as talk about the remarkable work the Museum, and the Shakers themselves, have done for the advancement of a just and humane society!
The Shakers are often remembered today for their strict religious code of celibacy- besides abstaining from sex, opposite-sex Shakers would refrain from touching or even passing one another on stairs- but their society was rooted in many values considered progressive today, such as absolute gender equality- including a belief that God encompassed both male and female- communal property, and complete social welfare including public education and community care of orphans, the elderly and the infirm.
Besides their many inclusive social values, the Shakers were innovative designers. To the Shakers useful innovation, efficiency, 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 Shakers patented dozens of agriculture and houseware inventions, including the circular saw, washing machine, wheelchair, carpentry level, and numerous tools still used in virtually unchanged forms today.
We 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 site, centered on the remains of a beautiful stone Shaker barn, explored the collection, and learned all we could about Shaker culture, history, and the repository of human and literary knowledge the Museum counts among its collection. 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, with many values and knowledge that still have great value today. We also wanted to express the idea that the brand values were the same as the Shakers- in Shaker society, every age, gender, and ability had a purpose, responsibility, and position of worth.
·Build and engage membership. The Museum’s mission is to provide a free educational experience, 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, academic, and approachable. Shaker Museum | During the height of the Shaker movement, Mount Lebanon was the central hub for all Shaker colonies. As a result, it holds the largest collection of Shaker objects and artifacts – attracting the respect and engagement of academics but also lay people interested in history, design, culture, art, women’s rights, and beyond.
·Create a digital destination. The museum site is definitely worth a visit; however, Mount Lebanon is a long trip from New York City and other major urban centers, so it was key to provide easy access to the collection to anyone, anywhere- whether students and researchers or tourists and travelers. We decided to style the 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, beyond academics, students, researchers, tourists and philanthropists, we incorporated the locals who have a shared history with the Shakers in Mount Lebanon- and who have very different interests and pain points than the typical museum visitors and followers. Local visitor personas inform decisions beyond the paths to the content, such as the language that we will use and accessibility standards. These personas informed the user experience design, as well as universal inclusive principles such as gender-neutral language and accessibility.
The personas that we developed proved to be key beyond the website- the museum used them as a guide to structure their membership and programming, making sure that they are serving all key audiences.
If you have the time for a beautiful drive into the countyside, we heartily recommend checking out the Shaker Museum at 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.”