Industry: Children’s Museum
Challenge: Refresh a dated website with a new digital experience, making it more intuitive for visitors to navigate, and easier for staff to use.
Results: A freshly-designed web experience, fully-integrated with an eCommerce ticketing solution; Thinkery’s new website improves on previous capabilities and provides the museum with a needed, more effective platform for reaching the community.
Thinkery is where Austin’s children and their families come to enjoy play-based, inquiry-rich, hands-on learning experiences. Its origins go back to 1983, when a group of parents and educators in Austin, Texas created a space to provide local children with innovative educational and cultural opportunities. That effort would grow over the next three decades from the Austin Children’s Museum into Thinkery, which in 2019, served more than 460,000 children and their grown-ups.
"Our new site design has proven incredibly useful throughout the challenges of the Covid-19 crisis. It’s made us far more nimble and helped us message visitors more quickly and efficiently about changes as they happen."
—–Andy Bell, Chief Executive Officer, Thinkery
A city icon with a legacy website.
For kids in the greater Austin-Metro area, Thinkery is nothing short of a landmark.
What began as the Austin Children’s Museum in the 1980s has grown and evolved over the years into 40,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor activity space for children and their families to learn through play.
Those activities have evolved over the years too, and today Thinkery is the destination for interactive STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) exhibits and programs, all with a focus on physical, emotional, and cognitive development for young learners.
Thinkery’s website, which first launched in 2013, has played an increasingly significant role for the museum since.
Today, the site serves as the central hub for visitors to buy tickets and plan their trip, find out about current exhibits and programming, and get involved with the museum as members or volunteers.
At the beginning of 2020, Thinkery’s most recent iteration of the site had been in place since 2017, and over the time that had passed, the UX had grown outdated, and it had become difficult for visitors to quickly find the information for which they were searching.
“Our website was a bit clunky,” said Patricia Young Brown, who served as Thinkery CEO from 2017-2020.
“It really wasn’t current-state, and I felt like it was a hindrance to our visitors getting the information they needed and getting it in an efficient way.”
At the same time, Thinkery is a nonprofit organization with a lean internal IT staff.
While the old site was a challenge, a top-down redesign wasn’t something the museum had been able to prioritize—until RecognizeGood came into the picture.
Illuminating goodness as an investment in the future.
Launched in 2008, RecognizeGood is an Austin, Texas-based nonprofit that provides the means for “anyone to illuminate, connect with, and learn from great examples of goodness.”
Today RecognizeGood is a partner and advisor to forward-thinking businesses, an advocate for the employees of those businesses, and an imaginative champion for all nonprofits across Central Texas.
With that high-level view, RecognizeGood was able to connect the dots between Thinkery’s website needs, and WP Engine’s expertise.
“Based on WP Engine’s interest in increasing its impact in the community, I was able to connect them with folks at the Thinkery who were already using WordPress for their site and stood to benefit from WP Engine’s expertise in a measurable, tangible way,” said RecognizeGood Executive Director Joel Coffman.
“For WP Engine to donate such valuable pro bono talent, instead of just writing a check, played a huge role in the success of this project,” Coffman said. “It really drove home the fact that brainpower is often worth its weight in gold!”
Channeling WP Engine’s corporate responsibility program, Engine for Good, internal staff time was dedicated to the project. Once Thinkery’s needs were mapped out, WP Engine started building the new site, tapping some of the best features WordPress has to offer to create a sleek, responsive experience Thinkery staff could easily manage.
This included Genesis and Genesis Blocks to quickly create a custom theme and page layout for the new site. Additionally, Revolution Slider and The Events Calendar plugin by Modern Tribe were used to add needed functionality to the site, which was integrated with a third-party eCommerce solution for ticketing.
All of these pieces came together to create a new digital experience that loaded faster, presented information more clearly, and made it easier for all users to navigate the site.
Expanding ease-of-use in a time of disruption.
All of the pieces came together to create a new digital experience that loaded faster, presented information more clearly, and made it easier for all users to navigate the site.
While the project itself progressed well, it also intersected with the Covid-19 pandemic and the need for a stronger digital presence that so many organizations around the world now face.
Thinkery’s operations were obviously affected by the pandemic, and its website became even more critical for communicating scheduling changes and safety protocols, as well as up-to-date programming for curious visitors. The new site, it turned out, had come at just the right time.
“Our new site design has proven incredibly useful throughout the challenges of the Covid-19 crisis,” said Thinkery CEO Andy Bell.
“We’ve had to make some big changes, but the upgraded back-end tools allow our team to manage them all in-house, rather than waiting on outside developers.
"It’s made us far more nimble and helped us message visitors more quickly and efficiently about changes as they happen.”
Furthermore, Bell said, the new site has made Thinkery’s website accessible to all users, which is a major part of Thinkery’s mission.
“It’s important that not only is the museum accessible to everyone in our community, but our website as well,” Bell said.
“The new design has greatly improved our site’s usability for visitors with visual impairments or whose primary language is not English, and we look forward to continuing to improve the user experience so that our site is useful and welcoming to folks throughout Austin.”