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About the new Media Lab website

The Media Lab has a new website: https://www.media.mit.edu/

After the launch of the Media Lab’s new identity system (created by Pentagram) two years ago–and encouraged by Lab Director Joi Ito–we started to think about ways that our web identity could best represent and support the Lab’s unique culture of exploration, curiosity, and discovery. How could our website help advance the Lab’s “open platform” philosophy? How could it help to expand the Lab community? I asked our directors of communications and network computing systems if they’d be on board with me taking the lead on a website overhaul project. They said yes.

Before even writing a request for proposals, Media Lab webmaster Josh Boughey and I decided that we’d do our own internal site audit. We ended up with a list of more than 30 systems and applications running in the background just to support our top-level Lab site; this didn’t even include any of the satellite sites for our more than 25 research groups. We wrote a (very long) RFP. We interviewed four firms, chose Type/Code in Brooklyn, NY, and got down to work.

Not surprisingly, we have never had any problems finding or generating content, but we wanted to find a more efficient way to manage, curate, and present it.

One of our first goals was to decide on a user-friendly CMS that would help us democratize content creation and management, opening content creation up to the whole Lab, rather than having it all funnel through the Lab’s Communications team. This would allow for a variety of voices and show the dynamic nature of the Lab, and would hopefully mean that the new website would provide all users with a more genuine connection to the Lab.

 

We wanted to present research more thoroughly

Not surprisingly, we have never had any problems finding or generating content, but we wanted to find a more efficient way to manage, curate, and present it. I told the team that, to that end, we had two non-negotiable requirements: no nested menus, and a elegant, easy-to-use CMS.

We were already adequately showing a whole host of Lab research projects–abstracts, images, and related information–but this was almost always research that had progressed quite a bit. What about the weeks, months, and sometimes years of ideation and hard work that led to these results? We really wanted the researchers at the Lab to be able to show their research trajectories without having to create and maintain a stand-alone web page for each one.

Type/Code created a schema built upon the concept of a profile. Every person, project, and group in the Lab has a profile on the new site. These can exist with a minimum of information, or can be fleshed out to become mini-sites. This profile structure allows us to highlight associations across the Lab–linking people, groups, projects, publications, events.

I like to describe it as seeing something new and interesting just at the edge of your peripheral vision, and wanting to turn and look at it.

Encouraging serendipity

Serendipitous discovery happens through searching, and the presentation of search results now makes it easier for a user to wander around and discover new research and developments at the Lab. I like to describe it as seeing something new and interesting just at the edge of your peripheral vision, and wanting to turn and look at it. That’s the feeling the search gives, and as more content is added and tagged, that experience will become richer.

There are still many things we want to iterate upon and add to the redesigned site, and we’ve already started working on some of them. We’re excited to watch the site take on a life of its own and–most importantly–give everyone who visits it a way to take a real look into the Media Lab and our research.

The Media Lab is an amazing place. We think this new site reflects that, and hope you do too. We’d love to hear what you think–please send comments to web-feedback@media.mit.edu. We promise to read them all and respond to as many as we can.

By Stacie Slotnick, assistant director of communications at the MIT Media Lab. Explore more stories and posts like this on on their Medium channel.

Originally published at https://www.media.mit.edu/posts/about-this-site/.