9/11 Memorial & Museum
Creating a respectful,
helpful, and humble
online experience

The 9/11 Memorial & Museum is a miracle. It turned the site of unspeakable tragedy into a source of healing and remembrance for survivors, victims’ families, first responders, local residents, veterans of the War on Terror, and the general public.

Our website redesign needed to drive visits to the museum and encourage donations. It also had to pay tribute to heroes, memorialize victims, and educate a new generation—a quarter of Americans are too young to remember 9/11. It needed to update legacy systems of data organization, account for the shifting priorities of the museum and institutional knowledge lost over time, and satisfy all of the stakeholders who cared so deeply about the museum and its mission. And it all had to be done with the limited resources that a nonprofit could spare.

The enormity of what happened there made every aspect of the project more daunting: the horrific consequences of the attack, the unfathomable loss, the importance of honoring the survivors and all those who risked their lives to save others. We resolved to approach the project with the same respect and empathy as the designers and the staff of the memorial and museum. We would create something informative, engaging, and simply human.

The 9/11 Museum’s collection includes the flag that three New York City firefighters raised over a still-smoldering ground zero in Thomas E. Franklin’s iconic photo.

The 9/11 Memorial & Museum had a 10-year-old site that was created and maintained by a massive team of volunteers touched by the tragedy, many of whom still felt deeply invested in it. GDP needed to update a web presence that was built while the museum was in the early stages of construction in order to reflect and celebrate the finished structure, while also bringing coherence and storytelling to it. Doing so required rigorous study of the IA, a clear approach to the UX, and a welcoming visual design. The partnership also demanded empathy, patience, and collaboration.

In the low-fidelity design phase, we processed the entire existing website and worked with the core team to reorganize it.
We created five different User Personas to help us understand how different people would utilize the site, and strove to simplify and clarify their navigational journeys.

We realized that the user’s end goals will always change, so our design would have to be flexible enough to evolve and improve. To understand the many ways that the site might be used and explored, we created User Personas, fictitious characters created to embody specific key characteristics of target user groups.

In the process, we nailed down the proper voice and tone of site text. The voice should be Helpful, Unobtrusive, and Humble. The tone should be Evocative, Objective, and Attentive. We also streamlined the site, reducing the total page count from 211 to 85.

We designed 10 different key page templates, which could be used as building blocks for every type of content on the site.

We commissioned renowned photographer Dan Winters to document the museum. He was committed to capturing the space, the artifacts, the memorial, and the people that work there. His images convey the reverence, respect, thought, and care that went into every aspect of the museum. Our research and close collaboration with the museum and its stakeholders helped create the foundation for the thoughtful design you see here.