The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art is a non-profit organization in Amherst, MA. Its mission is to inspire a love of art and reading through picture books. In addition to underscoring the cultural, historical, and artistic significance of picture books and their art form, The Carle offers educational programs that provide a foundation for arts integration and literacy.
Over the course of 5 weeks, my team was tasked with the website’s redesign. We first aimed to define and understand the primary users' needs for visiting the site. Then we looked to leverage the museum’s current content to best influence a sustainable source of revenue.
While traveling to Japan in the early 1980s, Eric Carle (renowned author and illustrator) and his wife, Barbara Carle, visited several picture book museums. This inspired them to create a museum in the United States that would also honor picture books; not only as works of art but for their educational value. And so in November 2002, the museum was founded.
The Carle was in need of a website refresh to help them craft an experience as rich as the physical museum. My team was tasked with researching how current users were using the site, discovering the biggest opportunities, and designing a solution that best serves its users' needs.
While researching the landscape of non-profit museums, I found that even big museums like The Met are struggling. They’ve experienced “declines in sponsorships, attendance, and memberships” Business Model of Non-Profit Museums. And yet, for many of these organizations “making a profit is fundamental.”
And it’s important to note that this 40% is a new trend for museums trying to even out the scales. It’s in this 40% that we saw a number of opportunities.
of a museum’s revenue comes in the form of donations
is merchandising, licensing, and educational programs
I evaluated three direct competitors that all have exhibits or collections that are heavily influenced by picture book art or illustrated literature.
And three indirect competitors to see if there were any additional opportunities we could take advantage of.
Based on my analysis, I found that the competition was successful at three things:
But… Only The Carle had an Art Studio, and only The Carle had carefully selected book collections and gifts for picture book art lovers. I needed to explore how we could take advantage of The Carle’s differentiating factors.
I spoke to a number of employees at The Carle Museum in order to understand what makes the museum so unique. They opened my eyes to a number of things:
My research led me to look at the challenge differently. It wasn’t just about redesigning a content-rich website… It was about building a portal that serves as a fountain of information for many audiences, including potential donors, and creates a sustainable source of revenue.
But… This didn’t necessarily align with the needs of our users.
In the US, one in six children who aren’t reading proficiently in third grade do not graduate high school — a problem which follows them to their adult life, as more than 30MM adults cannot read, write or do math above a third-grade reading level. Title 1 is a federally funded program for disadvantaged students struggling to meet state standards. However, its funding per student can be quite low, averaging about $500 to $600 a year, per student. Which means teachers who work in this program are typically strapped for resources and have to get very creative with lectures.
“I work at a Title I School… We are there to bring students who are falling behind with their reading and writing skills up to a level they should be at… So I’m in the business of literacy.”
Not only did The Carle’s mission of promoting advocacy for arts and reading really resonate with users, but they used the museum’s website as a resource. I saw an opportunity for The Carle to redefine its unique resources and help influence those most in need.
Based on everything we learned from our users, we built our persona, Susan. She’s 45, a mom of 3 and an elementary school teacher.
While considering Susan’s goals and frustrations, my team found it beneficial to develop a problem statement in order to ground our solutions.
Resourceful educators of young children need a robust digital reference tool to inspire their lesson plans and enrich the learning experience in their classrooms because of limited funding in schools.
In order for our solution to honor the work The Carle does, we created four design principles to help guide our design process:
Create consistent in-person and virtual experiences, mirroring the intentionally organized layout of the museum.
The website should reflect the museum’s unique, rich & colorful collections. Understand the content and recognize that it is the hero of the story.
Create a life-long love of art and reading by evoking memories and emotions from picture books.
Allow people that are not from the area to tap into the museum's resources to further influence their personal communities.
I wanted to map a day in the life of Susan to get a better idea of how The Carle could best serve her.
“How can I get them back on track?”
“Emily, what do you do?”
Susan notices some of her students are having problems identifying certain letters in the alphabet.
Her first resource is to see how other teachers have faced similar challenges, see if they have any advice.
Next, Susan does a quick Google search and is overwhelmed by the amount of information her search provides.
“This is going to take a while…”
“I hope the kids like this!”
“Dear Parents, could you please collect…”
There is no good way to filter for what she’s looking for or how to tell which sites are credible.
After settling on a plan, she now has to run to a few different stores to collect the materials.
Due to her limited budget, she then has to reach out to parents for some materials.
“Tricky alphabet letter day!”
“I need better resources…”
Finally, it’s the day the kids get their much-needed lesson and Susan doesn’t feel confident.
Susan gets home after a long day and realizes she has to start planning the next lesson already.
We came up with a few "Susan Stories" to help identify her needs and the Carle’s opportunities:
A visually-focused and categorized section with art project ideas for teachers and parents based on exhibits, books, and classes offered at the Carle Museum.
For this concept, we were Inspired by Susan’s passion for education and lack of resources at her school, so we focused on the visuals and a very easy to use sorting tool. We also knew that the art project ideas page needed to be based on the exhibits, books, and classes offered at The Carle.
“I like that it has the "sort by…" that you can filter what you need”
“So there’s Common Core standards that we use, it’d be great if it had what concept we were hitting”
Interactive online exhibits for any age. “Experience or re-experience your favorite exhibits at your own pace, and on your own schedule.”
I created this concept with Susan’s need to culture herself and her family in mind. I thought “how can we bring the museum experience to her?”
“By giving them those options to have those experiences, you never know when you might inspire that kid in a different way or have them pick up a book”
Curated book and art kits that bring story-time to life and inspire a passion for art and literature.
This concept was inspired by Susan’s frustration of a busy schedule and the opportunity I saw in the journey map to facilitate lesson preparation for educators.
“I think this is one of the things that gives every kid the idea they can be an artist… I think this is another outreach of proving the point of how important art is to kids”
A robust digital reference tool for resourceful and passionate educators. Visually-focused and comprehensive, this section of the website is full of art project ideas for teachers and parents based on exhibits, books, and classes offered at The Carle Museum.
“If I could go right to that website… attached to the museum… it is a huge help, rather than spending an hour searching other resources.”
We left The Carle with recommendations for how they could bring this concept to life and at the same time opened their eyes to the world of revenue possibilities a site like this could influence:
Adjusting to User Constraints
Remembering that not all users have the same technological proficiencies is important. Most of our users were older, and this meant they didn’t always have the tools (computers or iPads) or knowledge (“I’m not sure how to share my screen”) to complete tasks. Once we adjusted our testing methods to best suit them we started to get feedback that was more actionable and concise.