The one-template museum websites

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 15.07.12.png

What do you dream about for your museum website?

Storytelling? Flexible templates? Landing pages that also deliver information? Content that’s reusable across your site?

I’m seeing people dream about this kind of functionality on Twitter and Medium, so I thought I’d let you all know it exists and you can have it, like, yesterday.

By Lorenza Walker (Own work), CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons


Storytelling is prevalent throughout our work and that of our clients, so we’ve put a lot of hours into a solution that enables storytelling and flexibility, whilst maintaining consistency of presentation and brand.

We first started using this when the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum asked us to develop a platform that would enable them to showcase the stories of Baseball, and since then we have been continuing to develop the system and our practice.

The days of entering all your content in one big WYSIWYG block are over. The nightmare of an overly prescriptive CMS is finished. The dream of a flexible one-template museum website is here.

What is it?

This video shows five pages from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame that look very different, contain various types of content and a selection of content elements, and are aimed at different audiences but all these pages use exactly the same CMS template.

Five different pages, one template. Site: Music: Sunny —

What you see there is landing pages, content pages, education content, visit information and blog content all using the same CMS template.

Here’s the secrets of how you can get exactly that functionality and flexibility, using only one template.

This is a technique we have used for clients including the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Qatar Museums, Yiddish Book Center, Qatar Digital Library and Baseball Hall of Fame based on the Drupal Paragraphs module.

How it works

Each element you see on the page is a distinct chunk of content.

Let’s take a look at the content chunks in this story about the crossover between popular culture and the nation’s favourite pastime from the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Each of these content chunk types (and more!) are available in the CMS to add to any page on the site, in any order, any number of times.

Here’s two examples of content chunk options from Content Management Systems we’ve built using this approach.

As you can see, the options can be as varied as your requirements. And this means your user-facing pages can be just as varied.
It's a template that doesn't look like a template.
  • Got a great video that you want at the top of the page? No problem.
  • Want to add a slideshow in the middle of some text? Easy!
  • Need to add a quote from a visitor that will display beautifully? Sure thing.
  • Is it just text and you haven’t got any images? We can make that work.

Another helpful feature is that you can drag and drop each content chunk up and down. It’s that easy to reorder your content on a page.

Landing pages

The content chunk method is so flexible that it works for creating landing pages as well as story / information pages.

A key benefit of this is the flexibility to customise landing pages.

Whilst you don’t want every landing page to look different, some landing pages benefit from a slightly different treatment.

For example, it’s usually really helpful to have hours and admission right there on your Visit landing page, rather than forcing users to click into a specific Hours and Admission page.

Often you don’t even need a traditional landing page at all.

With mobile traffic outweighing desktop, enabling users to get to your content quickly on one page is often preferable.

Both Rock & Roll and Baseball Halls of Fame use this ‘one-page’ approach where it fits the content, to improve user experience: showing users what content is on the page and scrolling them to it immediately.

Baseball Hall of Fame Visit page on mobile. Hitting a menu item scrolls you to that information immediately.

The content box is created automatically when the subheading content chunk is used, making things easy for content editors as well as users.

Ensuring consistency

This approach helps you to ensure that information and presentation are consistent across your site.

For example, each image is added to the CMS as an image in its own right, and then is available to pull into any story you like.

If you need to amend the image — perhaps add a photo credit, or swap the image for a different one — you just do this in one place and it rolls out across your entire site automatically.

Likewise, promos are added as standalone chunks, which means that you can be certain your messaging is consistent wherever the promo is dropped in. Exhibition extended? No worries — just change the single promo and it will automatically update across your entire site.

The future is now

It’s time to stop dreaming about a flexible, easy-to-learn, one-template system that’s robust and powerful enough to run your entire museum website. It’s already here!

Take a look at some of the sites we’ve developed using this approach. These links take you to pages that show multiple content chunks in action.

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Baseball Hall of Fame

Qatar Digital Library

Yiddish Book Center

Let me know what you think over on the original Medium post, or on Twitter @Gavin_Mallory.