Fresh & New(er)

discussion of issues around digital media and museums by Seb Chan

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We are (partially) mobile – Powerhouse on your phone

February 28th, 2009 by Seb Chan

Today we went live with a mobile version of the Powerhouse Museum site. Open up http://www.powerhousemuseum.com on your phone browser and you’ll see a stripped back version of the site with the bare necessities and a slimmed down architecture.

It is a still a work in progress – we’ve been greatly impressed with how SFMOMA incorporated a mobile version into their recent website redesign – and there’s a few more tweaks to be done.

We’ve been thinking a lot about how our site might translate on a mobile – and the sorts of information users might privilege over other information when looking on their phones. Obviously separate pages for prices, location, etc that exist on the ‘normal’ site are just an annoyance on a hard-to-navigate phone interface so we slimmed it right back to one key information page, three pages of exhibition listings and what’s on information, and the collection search. You’ll notice that exhibition pages, themselves, revert to the full web version at the moment.

Here’s what it now looks like on an iPhone.


(home page 7″ edit)


(featured 7″ edit)


(collection object 7″ edit)

Designing for mobiles is still a challenge given the diversity of devices, screen sizes and plugin support. But the real challenge is information architecture. Mobile browsing is all about getting timely, pertinent, situationally relevant, slimmed down information – and most cultural organisations have spent a lot of time, money and effort doing the exact opposite.

In our sector, plugin-heavy exhibition websites still abound – especially in the art museum world, and in the science and social history museum world we go all out on deep information heavy resources. All this is wonderful (well, maybe not always the plugin stuff) if you are sitting in front of a broadband connected modern computer with a large monitor, a hot beverage, a comfortable chair and plenty of time to kill.

But on a mobile phone when you are making a snap decision as to where to take your date – or maybe you are just looking for the street address – these bells and whistles just don’t cut it. In fact they get in the way.

Next week you’ll see why the collection was so important to have working on mobiles . . .

Tags: 4 Comments

  • This looks great. I hear you on the architecture being different, it makes you radically adjust your priorities and think about what the most popular and useful sections of your site really are.

    I’m a little curious how you’re testing the User agent. Also, there’s no option to view the full normal site if you’re on a mobile?

  • Seb Chan

    Hey Justin

    Yeah that’s one of the things we’re working on. Currently the user agent is detected with PHP and we divert the user to a different directory (/m/) which contains the relevant ‘mobile’ content.

    This was a neater solution than having all the complex normal pages load then be rendered in a reduced format by an alternative CSS. Also it allows us to have totally different architectures for each (normal site vs mobile)

    We’re yet to implement a ‘view full site on mobile’ because we have to introduce logic (roughly along the lines of if user agent = mobile BUT show full site =1 then show full site instead of mobile site) into the detect then – which is going to happen in the next couple of weeks.

    We had a deadline for this of this weekend . . . I’ll show more next week . . .

  • Hi Justin

    I work at the Powerhouse as a developer and worked on this stuff for Seb.

    I looked around at a bunch of detection scripts and settled on Greg Bulmash’s one here:

    http://www.brainhandles.com/2007/10/15/detecting-mobile-browsers/

    At first it seemed a bit old, but then I realised it had been updated as recently as Dec 2008.

    As time goes on it will likely be necessary to update the script however i think an even bigger challenge will be working out when/where to let in features like javascript, complex CSS, flash etc as mobile device browsers become more capable.

    Right now its black n white. Only two versions of each page. But soon it will cauliflower into many shades of gray…. And many different versions of each page, potentially….

    the future will be full of interesting challenges I think. :)

    :L

  • Richard Smith

    Seb, check out http://mobify.me – they have a great tool to help webmasters do this work (although it looks like you’ve already done most of the work…) simply and easily and without having to learn the vagaries of every mobile device on the planet.