Natural History Museum
Museums and culture
12 weeks
What we did
Digital strategy
User experience design
image of 5 mobile device sized screens showing the design of the final product.

The Natural History Museum wanted to increase awareness of biodiversity and encourage individual action. This is part of their ongoing mission to create advocates for the planet.

But there’s a fine line between awareness and despair. Biodiversity loss is a classic wicked problem. The scale of the issue is overwhelming. This project needed to inspire action without scaremongering and to highlight small efforts can have a big impact. It needed to be positive, encouraging and scientifically accurate.

This wasn’t going to be easy.

As it turned out, the key to this project was fostering a diverse ecosystem of designers, developers, strategists and content writers from the Natural History Museum and Clearleft.

I’m excited, I feel inspired, I’m full of hope.. I want to thank you all… for bringing us on this journey.
– Head of Digital Product at Natural History Museum

The Results

An immersive tool for exploration and action

We co-created an interactive experience that mimics the interconnectedness of ecosystems. Delivering information effectively to encourage action.

Tangible and measurable engagement

Over 3000 people have accepted missions and spread the importance and ease of being a better advocate for the environment.

Foundations for future work

We empowered the team at the Natural History Museum to continue the work we started together.

The Full Story

After immersing ourselves and conducting the discovery phase, we began an intense design sprint to generate ideas. We spent five days collaborating remotely with the whole product delivery team cultivating an atmosphere of rapid ideation and creativity. Putting pen to paper from the get-go, our ice breaker sketching exercises put the team at ease before diving in to demonstrating their concepts.

An array of rapid design sketches created by the product design team.
An array of rapid design concepts created by the team.

We split the work into three strands: engagement, exploration, and action. People rotated between teams tackling each strand. Each team would dive deep into their topic before returning to share their findings with the wider group.

The diversity of expertise was key. Each team had a mix of people from design, strategy, content, and engineering. The way that everybody contributed equally ensured a shared sense of ownership over the whole project.

I haven’t been involved in this from the design side before. It’s been really interesting to see the differences in the challenges. It’s been a good experience. It’s really beneficial. It’s useful to see my understanding of what the product’s meant to be stacked up against what others think.
– Developer at Natural History Museum
It’s been interesting to be on the other side. I’m seeing things from a different perspective now. Seeing things through a new lens is gold. It was interesting to see how much work we’ve done together – all the collaboration we’ve done… It’s been a rewarding experience
– UX Designer at Natural History Museum

How do you know you’re on the right track?

It became clear that the key to this product was empowering people with knowledge on subjects that really resonated with them. Visually, the user flow presented like an interconnected web. This was a deliberate nod to the interconnected nature of ecosystems.

You drill down into the content, choose a topic, explore that topic in as much or as little detail as you want, and then—crucially—finish with a mission that you can complete. ‘Missions’ are activities or actions of a varying level of commitment and amount of time required. From completing a 2 minute online research survey, to spending a few hours building a bee hotel for your garden, or perhaps joining a weekly local nature group.

An image of the design for missions. A grid of 8 brightly coloured squares, each with their own mission written on them.

Previously, the Natural History Museum had tried presenting information in text-based articles. That felt too passive. We all agreed that this needed to be more interactive and engaging, delivering the information in a way that felt bite sized and easier to digest.

Interconnected information to represent the interconnectedness of ecosystems.

By the end of the five-day sprint we had created a high-fidelity multi-page Figma prototype. We did remote user testing on this prototype and got valuable feedback. We realised that the tone of the content was sometimes misinterpreted as being targeted for children.

We adjusted the prototype and then went to the Natural History Museum to test it with visitors in person. Once again, we tweaked the prototype in response to the feedback.

A young woman wearing a face mask holds a tablet in one hand displaying a prototype. In her other hand is a sheet of stickers. The white board behind her reads: Can you help with a quick digital experiment? (ages 18-100)
Inviting museum visitors to help by testing the prototype.
“I liked how interactive and easy this whole thing was. The designs were great, not just a boring old plain website. The whole thing was entertaining as well as informative”
— Test participant
Close up of a hand interacting with a prototype on the glowing screen of a smartphone while another hand holds a clipboard.
Members of the public interacting with the prototype on mobile.
“I liked the practical aspect! Not just learning and passive clicking but an idea for ‘doing’”
—Test participant

How do you create a minimum lovable product?

Now that we had feedback and actionable insights on our designs from testing, it was time to turn it into a real website.

Together we built the scaffolding. Then the Natural History Museum populated it with content from their wide-ranging archive.

Everything we build at Clearleft is responsive, performant and accessible. This was no different. We didn’t shy away from using cutting-edge, modern technologies such as Utopia and Cube CSS whilst making sure that this experience was available to everyone regardless of their device or network connection.

We only had time to build and launch a pilot. That’s why we worked so hard on making sure the foundations were solid. This isn’t a Clearleft product; it belongs to the Natural History Museum. We wanted to make ourselves redundant and empower them to continue building out this project.

Mission accepted! Users receive instant gratification and are encouraged to double their impact by spreading the word.

How do you set the direction of future work?

We knew from the start of this project that the launch would be just the beginning. More content will be added over time. This shouldn’t feel like a one-off campaign. It’s an ongoing piece of work.

We worked together with the Natural History Museum to create a roadmap for the future. Again, we wanted to make ourselves redundant. We wanted to empower the team at the Natural History Museum to continue their mission …just like this project empowers everyone to take action on biodiversity.

More work