Women’s Weeds: an audio experience

The Women's Weeds webpage with my custom CSS code beside it

Women’s Weeds: an audio experience

Last Friday saw the launch of my wife Romany’s exhibition, Women’s Weeds: the hidden history of women in medicine, at the Museum of the Home. Researched, written and created by her, the exhibition covers 600 years of history with four distinct themes; Witches, Herbal Healers, Colonial Medicine and Victorian Feminists, and takes the form of an audio trail through the gardens of the museum. Visitors are encouraged to walk through the garden, where they can listen to Romany narrate her work through audio tracks, which can be accessed using a mobile device and headphones.

Romany asked for my help in putting together the webpage where people can access the audio tracks. She already has a WordPress site, Blackthorn and Stone, where she shares her work, and so, in order to give her the ability to make changes easily, and encourage people to explore her site further, she asked for the Women’s Weeds page to be part of the site. As her project was supported by an Arts Council England grant, as well as hosted by the Museum, it is important for her to be able to track visitors to the page, as well as seeing which audio tracks they listened to. We managed to achieve this by using the combination of the analytics on her WordPress site, as well as using the Soundcloud analytics provided by her Soundcloud Pro account. Also, to access the page, I created a QR code using Bit.ly, which allowed users to quickly access the page using their phone cameras, and provided another way of tracking visitors. We even created the shortened link of bit.ly/womensweeds, in case visitors were not able to use their cameras.

A hand written sign in the garden of the Museum of the Home, reading "Herbal Healers 6"
One of the signs in the garden one the Museum of the Home, showing visitors which section of the exhibit that they should be listening to.

The page itself was built using a standard WordPress page, which provides a way for Romany to be able to make adjustments as she wishes, without having to engage in any coding. I then applied custom CSS, using the specific class that WordPress gives the page to define it from other pages, and optimise it for a phone interface, as this is the most likely thing that visitors will access the page with. We gave some careful thought to how visitors will interact with the page, and as it is quite a long project with twenty three sections, we needed to help users navigate between sections as easily as possible. I started by building the sections, and then providing a menu at the top with page links to jump to each section individually. At the bottom of each section, I provided a link back to the main menu, which helps visitors from unnecessary scrolling. We did think about having the link back to the menu as a floating box at the bottom of the screen, but opted for the simpler option of having a link at the bottom of each section, as a floating box could obscure information, and would be harder to cater for on different screen sizes.

The menu is provided with a map of the gardens beside it, so that it is easier to see and associate each section with the relevant part of the garden. The map was traced from an aerial view on Google Maps, in order to ensure proportions are correct, and the sections are picked out in which, so that they can be more easily seen, even when looking at a phone with glare from the sun. Each section also includes photos of the areas, so that visitors can see where they should be looking, and it also provides a visual representation of the gardens, allowing visitors who can’t access the Museum the ability to see visual context, even if they can’t be there.

The exhibit had a very successful launch this last Friday, on the 7th July, with Romany and the Museum Director, Sonia Solicari giving short introductions to the exhibition before encouraging everyone to explore the gardens and listen to the work (which you can see in a video below). Visitors found the page intuitive and easy to use, with one small issue of one person who tapped on the Soundcloud link, and though she was meant to be listening the the tracks from there, rather than from the page. With this feedback, I also ensured that there were clear instructions for people to tap the orange play button, to prevent them from the same confusion.

The exhibit will be in the gardens until the end of September, so if you’re ever in the Hoxton area of London, please do go and give it a look, or if you can’t why not go to the page, and you can at least experience it remotely.

If you’d like my help with designing and creating intuitive and enjoyable online experiences, please get in touch, and we can discuss your requirements.

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