The People’s Collection is a project spearheaded by the Welsh Assembly Government as part of their remit to protect and promote Welsh history and heritage. It was created in collaboration with lots of other institutions that celebrate Welsh culture, like the Royal Commission, the National Library of Wales, National Museum Wales, BBC Wales, and Culturenet Cymru.
The idea was to showcase archives of historical Welsh content online. Each of these institutions had fantastic information, artefacts and images locked away, so the plan was to bring this content out and make it easily accessible so it could be used and enjoyed. We needed to create a website that would be an engaging multimedia platform for the content, where people would be able to interpret, share and discuss it.
One of the primary goals for the project was to attract cultural tourism to Wales, so we wanted it to appeal to anyone with an interest in Welsh history or culture, whether they lived in Wales or beyond. To achieve this we needed to cater to a wide variety of audiences, from history buffs and amateur genealogists to schoolchildren. By encouraging interest in Wales, the ultimate goal was to drive more visits to our historical and cultural landmarks.
The other key business requirement was to encourage individuals and communities to engage with the project by contributing content of their own. This user-generated content would ensure that the national archives continue to grow, and that important moments from local history and culture were shared. We needed to design the website so that it inspired visitors to tell their own stories.
To help make this as easy as possible for visitors, we developed a members section which contained a simple set of content management tools, which could be tailored to different types of users. We also included instructional videos to help users get started with contributing their pictures and memories.
The content had to be the star of the show, so our design was kept clean and simple to ensure that it allowed the archives to shine. We also used clear navigation and calls to action to facilitate the key user journeys to the interactive areas of the site. Search was particularly important, to make it really easy for users to find what they were after, so we implemented search by both topic and location. Search results contain feature images from Flickr as well as the archive content from the collection itself, and the results can be refined by time period for those people who are interested in a specific era.
One of the main features of the site is interactive mapping. We took maps from Bing and Ordnance Survey, and added layers which pinpoint items, groups, events, and trails. These are displayed alongside archived maps, so that users can compare current and historical views of Wales.
To grow the archive, content needed to be published on the People’s Collection site at the same time as on the individual websites for each of the contributing organisations. For consistency, all the content had to be published within set designs and criteria, so we worked closely with each of the providers to design a single taxonomy that suited everyone. From this, we developed an API which would unify the content and seamlessly integrate it into the collection website.
We soft-launched the site at the National Eisteddfod of Wales in August 2010. An innovative blend of modern design and historically-important information, the site fulfils its goals to engage users and stimulate them to contribute their own experiences. Just four months after the launch, the People’s Collection already contained over 24,500 items, and continued to grow every day.