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  • Case Study: National Park Foundation micro site

    Filed Under: Why Design   Tags: experience design, web design
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    Client
    National Park Foundation
    Project Title
     “This Is Your Land” micro site
    Duration
    September 1–24, 2009
    Team

     

    Modernista!
    • Gary Koepke executive creative director
    • Lance Jensen executive creative director
    • Michael Tabtabai interactive creative director
    • Andrew McKechnie associate creative director
    • Xavier Teo senior art director
    • Matt Howell director of digital production
    • Ryan Harms interactive producer
    FL2
    • Erin Tagg producer
    • Sean Ryan designer
    • Matt FaJohn user experience strategist
    • Matt Wiggins JavaScript developer
    • Codin Pangell database programmer
    • Nathan Kurach technical director
    Description

    Introduction and justification

    Modernista! teamed up with FL2 to design and develop a micro site for the National Park Foundation that coincided with Modernista!'s broadcast campaign supporting the Ken Burns PBS documentary The National Parks: America's Best Idea. The site provides a destination for users to explore the National Parks, make a personal contribution, and most importantly share it with others—reinforcing the sense of collective ownership, pride and responsibility of our National Parks System.

    The goal

    With the unprecedented visibility offered by Ken Burns' documentary, the National Park Foundation needed a digital experience that could drive action and involvement—primarily in the form of email submissions and donations. The Foundation had never engaged an agency to design a major campaign like this. We had an opportunity to explain that the National Parks system is deeper and more expansive than the average citizen may know. Ultimately, we wanted users to be able to quickly and intuitively navigate through this vast catalog of information and actively contribute to the site and make it personal, as well as universal—like the parks themselves. And we had what most marketers crave—a quality product that is timeless, true and visually compelling.

    Methodology

    Modernista! sent a creative and production team to FL2's Denver offices for a condensed two-day assault on the project. We collectively identified the key objectives of the campaign, which were to enable the user to:

    1. engage in an exploration of the parks system;
    2. contribute individual memories and thoughts for a particular park; and
    3. share contributions to build overall awareness.

    We then began organizing information and shaping the user experience around these three philosophies. At the end of the work session, we had a solid information architecture that organized official information in a grid-based layout and allowed user-generated content to grow and be displayed more organically. From there, we had just under three weeks to design and build a site.

    The experience

    Users are asked to comment on their own personal National Park experiences, and tag those locations on the site. We created a grid catalog of information that allows the user to sort through the database visually. All changes happen in real time, using JavaScript, giving the user the sense that they are always on the same “page.” A breadcrumb is also prominent in the design to allow users to back up to their previous content area at anytime. This approach, when focused around stunning Flickr-sourced imagery and the emotional context of the documentary series, was well received, as a steady flow of user generated content began to stream into the site immediately. Additionally, we have seen “average time on site” figures continuing to float in the 4:00 range, clearly suggesting that users are easily accessing a variety of engaging site content.

    The challenges

    We decided to leverage existing Flickr photography content in relation to the National Parks themselves. While this reinforced the notion that we all contribute to the parks, it quickly became apparent that finding multiple images for more than 400 parks in only a few weeks' time was no small feat. Our developers wrote a script that allowed us to scrape Flickr for public images that were the appropriate size, matched the park we were searching for and provided the contributor's information to be displayed on the site.

    As mentioned we had a very tight time line that conveniently pushed bureaucracy, ego and singular ownership out—we had to trust the expertise and first-reaction contributions of each of our team members. All stakeholders stayed out of their own way. And in order to reach this deadline, we had to build a highly collaborative environment. We cast two passionate teams together on equal ground. The typical client/vendor relationship dynamic simply wasn't there. Finally, this small team of collective owners represented the full breadth of skills that encompasses any digital project of worth: copywriting, design, user experience, technology, digital strategy and production.

    The results

    Our entire team was thrilled with the results of this project—not only over how quickly the site was put together, but also how comprehensive it is in addressing the client's goals and how different it is from anything it had done before. To our knowledge and research, the NPF has in the past provided a way for people to browse all of the parks, but nothing with such a progressive framework or ways for user-generated content to be created and displayed on an official site.

    We feel that the site's design truly reflects the spirit of the parks themselves: pride of ownership, involvement and community. The ease of use and immediate gratification are additional benefits of this particular design, and have kept users logged on and coming back, which obviously makes us—and our client—very happy.

    The most encouraging conclusion that we reached was one that didn't surprise us: web experiences finish most gracefully when crafted in tight spaces. The construction need not be complex.

    The result was a lightweight, though content-rich, exploration of our National Parks. With more time and resources, we could have built a vibrant engagement platform for the National Park Foundation. But Americans don't need another user name and password to misplace—they just need more graceful web experiences.

    Editor's note: The case study above was co-written by representatives of agency Modernista! and interactive studio FL2. While it was written at AIGA's request, please contact the editor if you would also like to provide a case study.

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