Unveiling New South Wales’ history through digital innovation

Full name
11 Jan 2022
5 min read

Museums of History NSW enlisted our help to simplify their digital landscape. Catering to a diverse audience from teachers and students to event managers and researchers, creating a single digital platform with big ambitions. The goal was to create a unified digital space to engage with NSW stories, First Nations perspectives and historical artefacts using guided pathways through crosslinked related content - allowing people to deeply explore the collections in a way never before realised. 

Our solution? We used a headless CMS to centralise digital assets and content, giving content creators the freedom to build engaging stories and artefacts. On the technical side, we implemented a serverless architecture, which allowed for a flexible and scalable platform. This adaptability ensures the platform is accessible to users with various abilities.

The outcome? A single, modern platform equipped with powerful government CMS features for editors and curators, delivering an immersive and inclusive user experience. We're proud to partner with Museums of History NSW for this long-term digital transformation.

Museums of History NSW is enriching perspectives on the past

Museums of History NSW is transforming how we engage with the past and envision our future. They serve as the nexus of historical houses, museums, and collections previously overseen by Sydney Living Museums, combined with the wealth of archives and records found within the NSW State Archives Collection.

Through diverse narratives, they spotlight the social, cultural, and political dimensions of NSW's history. Focused on truth-telling and honest reflections on history, opening up opportunities for healing and for a more united future.

In partnering with Museums of History NSW, we joined their mission to amplify these stories and create a more inclusive understanding of our heritage.

Creating a cohesive digital experience

Museums of History NSW presented Airteam and its partners Pollen and For the People, with a unique challenge: harmonising two eminent cultural entities, Sydney Living Museums and NSW State Archives & Records Authority into a new cultural institution. With existing platforms reaching their end-of-life capabilities, the opportunity was clear - to create something new that could meet newly evolved user expectations, support varied audiences through accessibility and inclusive design and appeal to a more culturally diverse audience.

There were also technical challenges to consider, from selecting a CMS that supports a complex taxonomy for enabling deeper content exploration to digitise the museum’s collections using interactive 3D experiences. Not to mention the sheer volume of content to migrate, 12,000 pages, and web editors to train. 

Using custom development for engaging storytelling

As the technology partner of choice, we set to the task of delivering a comprehensive solution that included the front-end UI and interaction layers, with the back-end infrastructure to support it. We utilised Sanity CMS, a fully decoupled, real-time content back-end, to provide a fully customisable and highly scalable content management system.

Agile design practices required us to be at the ready for rapid prototyping. The MHNSW UI library was built from the ground up using the front-end workshop tool Storybook. Allowing us to facilitate close collaboration with both the client and the design team, enabling us to fine-tune their distinct product. 

With performance and SEO optimisation a priority for this project, we utilised the server-side rendering capabilities of Next JS, ensuring the delivery of content in a rapid and highly responsive manner.

To deliver on the desired exploration and discovery of content, getting the navigation elements right was crucial. We translated an intricate taxonomy into a content model for the CMS to enable the clients’ editors to easily add new content and build out the site’s content and support deep browsing and connected journeys. As a tool for education, our client emphasised the importance of a strong indexing system and search engine. Using Elasticsearch as the engine, we developed a system that empowered students and history followers to search through thousands of content pages with ease. The client's extensive image catalogue and library indexes were aggregated into the search engine using a custom-built aggregator allowing for a richer search experience.

Our skilled developers created a front-end experience that included 3D models of historical artefacts for deep digital exploration, opening up an array of museum items for online viewing. We leveraged the Sketchfab API to build our annotations layer on top of the Sketchfab Viewer for all 3D models on the site. This custom implementation allowed us to provide a more accessible experience for keyboard and screen reader users than Sketchfab provided out of the box. The end result is an intuitive navigation tool to further enhance the story-telling experience - a feature that benefits all users.

Scalability, performance and security were not an afterthought. To handle large traffic volumes, the site’s APIs use highly available AWS services across multiple zones with an autoscaling setup for consistent performance. We implemented a WAF (Web Application Firewall) to protect the site from various attacks and malicious bots, ensuring the website’s security is not compromised. 

Developing custom software solutions for Sydney’s leading government organisations

Our developers navigated the complexities of migrating over 12,000 pages of content from Sydney Living Museums and NSW State Archives Collection, employing web scrapers to automate the process.

Additionally, we created sydneyopen.com.au, a gateway for content access and ticketing.

Collaborating closely with design partners Pollen and For The People, Airteam played a key role in foregrounding First Nations storytelling and making NSW's history accessible to a broader audience.

A comprehensive digital solution for NSW's rich history

The result was a revolutionary digital home for Museums of History NSW, uniting two iconic institutions' collections and transforming them into an engaging and immersive online experience.

Our efforts have empowered users to interact with history in unprecedented ways, while the strategic implementation of software solutions ensured optimal performance, accessibility, and discoverability.

By enhancing inclusivity and showcasing First Nations narratives, the platform enabled Museums of History NSW to achieve its mission of sharing NSW's rich history with a global audience.

Have your own development or migration project?

The Museums of History NSW case study underscores our expertise in seamlessly blending technology with diverse visions. If you are ready to embark on your digital journey, driven by expertise and powered by creativity, connect with us. 

Reach out at hello@airteam.com.au or through our contact form.