The Wartime Films Project: Taking a User-Centered Design Approach at NARA

This post comes from the team working on the Wartime Films engagement project, and is part of a series outlining how NARA is using design thinking to reach new and existing audiences. This project was made possible in part by the National Archives Foundation and a generous gift from an anonymous donor. Read the whole series here.

In a series of blog posts over the next few weeks, we’ll be going behind the scenes to explore how the National Archives is taking a user-centered design approach toward engagement on a major digitization initiative of a unique collection of Wartime films and rarely seen still images from WWI.

Promo reel showing some of the many films being digitized and preserved as part of the Wartime Films Project.

NARA has had a unique opportunity, thanks to an anonymous donor, to spend several years focused on the digitization and preservation of rare WWI and WWII moving image archives. The importance of this work called out for a co-designing approach with particular audiences with whom we wanted to engage, so that these films would be discovered and reused by as wide a public as possible. The first step in a user-centered design approach is to identify and gain empathy for your users. To that end, NARA teamed up with Historypin to develop an in-depth process of audience analysis and engagement.

After nearly nine months of research, we published our findings, which included an analysis of potential audiences and their community reach, what motivates these particular users to engage with historical materials, and how we might connect with them and make our nation’s archives available in the most useful way. You can download the full report, which includes analysis, user personas, and case studies as well as explains the methodology we followed in the research.

Report Cover: "Encouraging Reuse of NARA Wartime Moving Image Archives Steps Toward Meaningful Engagement"

We conducted interviews with 30 people from audience groups we selected as community hubs, with a focus on broader reuse and dissemination, from classrooms to blog posts to portrayal in Hollywood blockbusters. The nine groups we focused on were:

  • Teachers/teacher trainers
  • Scholars (professors, grad students)
  • Local groups (community groups, history groups, veterans groups)
  • Cultural organizations and local authorities (learning networks, cultural affairs departments, local humanities organizations, NPS, etc.)
  • Libraries/archives/museums
  • Filmmakers
  • Producers (freelance, Hollywood, PBS)
  • Creatives (artists, designers, gamers, musicians)
  • History enthusiasts (interns, volunteers, hackers, Amara transcribers)

Amongst those interviewed, we found strong interest in the wartime moving image archives, though a limited knowledge of what the NARA holdings include, how to access them, or how the content can be reused. There was near universal interest in better tools to search and explore the content.

In next week’s post, we’ll dive more deeply into three specific audiences (teachers and educators; museum partners; and digital humanist/coders) and explain how we narrowed the content focus for outreach and engagement.

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