LILAC Museum Ship

information architecture, domain model, site map, wireframe

Lilac Information Architecture


Goal: Design the information architecture, based on research, for a website for the LILAC. (The LILAC is the last steam-powered lighthouse tender in America, and now in her second life she serves as a museum during the summer.)

Outcome: The information architecture for a museum website and artifacts to communicate the design.

My role:

The Process

LILAC's current lightweight website does not capture the full breadth of knowledge onboard nor provide much room to explore, so my focus for this project was to boost discoverability while supporting visit planning. Research was conducted into museum and visitor priorities before reimagining her website.

I concentrated on researching museums as a concept since I was already familiar with the particulars of LILAC as a former volunteer. Unstructured interviews were conducted with a museum educator and two self-professed regular museum-goers to gain their understanding on museum visitors, i.e. my users, and their conception of the function of museums, with an emphasis on historical museums.

Domain map draft
Early drafts of the domain map, to organize concepts from my domain interviews

A key finding showed that despite the copious content that museums provide, visitors often browse and look at only what catches their eye. Visitors check whether topics that they already have an interest in are present, and then from there discover other topics of interest. Exploration, already important for a museum like the LILAC that is rooted in its physical space, became the underlying theme for my website design.

Domain Map
Final domain map of the LILAC as a museum entity, to convey the focus and the main topics of the website

After producing a domain map, I used this to create a site map of the content pages and to explore different options for the nav. The Museum of the Home, Imperial War Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art were also referenced in organizing visit and administrative information structure.

Site Map
Site map of the LILAC to show how information and pages would be structured

In particular, I would like to highlight:

I also created a user journey to visualize the path that prospective visitors may take through the website and understand where I could provide more opportunities for exploration.
LILAC User Journey
User journey of the LILAC, to show how the website would fulfill the hypothetical user journey of a visitor deciding whether or not to visit the ship


I started designing from the lowest-level content page upwards. Since a museum’s site “mainly acts as 'brochure' ... which primarily is supposed to attract people to visiting the 'physical' museum” (according to Van Welie), the site content only highlights potential topics of interest and provides visit information.

Wireframes of the LILAC site
Lo-fi wireframes: Homepage, Higher Level Content Page (History)
Wireframes of the LILAC site
Lo-fi wireframes: Content Page (World War II), Geographic Content Page (Upper Deck)

As the focus was on information architecture, the scope of the project ended at lo-fi wireframes but I built hi-fi wireframes afterwards to see how the designs might actually look. Turns out... there was something to be desired about their visuals, so I tried again.

Homepage of the LILAC site as hi-fi wireframes, version 1 Explore page of the LILAC site as hi-fi wireframes, version 1
Hi-fi wireframes (version #1) for Homepage, Geographic Content Page (Upper Deck)
Homepage of the LILAC site as hi-fi wireframes, version 2 Explore page of the LILAC site as hi-fi wireframes, version 2
Hi-fi wireframes (version #2) for Homepage, Geographic Content Page (Upper Deck)


User testing involved moderated thinkalouds using the lo-fi wireframes, with both findability and discoverability task scenarios, and targeted questions about the geographic content page and artifact listings. (Again, the hi-fi wireframes shown here were created after the user testing.) Three user evaluations occurred: two tests were conducted in person and one was conducted remotely.

Participants were:

It would be beneficial to conduct future evaluations with users with no knowledge of American history.

Users displayed a willingness to browse, sometimes in spite of their uncertainty around certain labels. Task order was rearranged per participant to account for potential learnings during the task. The tests showed that more consideration was needed around labeling and particularly around the artifacts section, and prompted reformatting the layout and revising the site copy. However, since these tests were done using lo-fi wireframes, future evaluations using hi-fi wireframes would have produced more trustworthy data, due to the fact that participants sometimes find lo-fi wireframes difficult to visualize.

The evaluations also captured successes—the timeline classification within the History page was very suitable for someone looking for a particular event or time period (something I had worried about), and participants also interacted with related links within the narrative content page and the thumbnails for exploring the Upper Deck without any prompting, so the underlying goal of exploration was met.