Work/

Historic Houses

A new digital experience

Supporting one of Britain’s most beloved culture and heritage organisations through a period of digital transformation

The challenge

Historic Houses is Britain’s largest collection of historic houses and gardens. Tens of thousands of members support the organisation and in doing so, they preserve these special places of culture and history, keeping them accessible for generations to come.

Historic Houses approached Pixel Fridge at the start of a period of digital transformation. Their current digital channels were hard to maintain, and prone to performance issues. With the Coronavirus pandemic putting a greater emphasis on the organisation’s digital set up, it was clear that the current website wasn’t fit for purpose.

They required a new web presence that could handle a multifaceted organisation, catering to several kinds of membership, each with different needs.

  • ‘Visitor members’ represent the general public. A membership allows that person to visit hundreds of historic houses, parks and gardens for free. They also receive exclusive magazines, member content, and access to private tours and events.
  • ‘House members’ represent historic property owners. Their membership gives them access to vital guides and policy information, along with supplier directories and commercial opportunities to get involved with.
  • ‘Corporate members’ represent third party suppliers, such as sponsors and conservation professionals. Their membership gives them the ability to network with Historic Houses. 

"Pixel Fridge were a pleasure to work with, challenging us where it helped and supporting us where it mattered. They're professional and took some complex functionality in their stride, but more importantly they're a really nice bunch."

James Probert, Director of Marketing & Development at Historic Houses

What we did

The brief was to rebuild, or re-platform, their existing website, focusing purely on improving performance and providing a friendlier content management system. These elements were crucial to our approach, but we saw an opportunity to go further.

In rebuilding the website, we also revisited the end-to-end user experience. This meant optimising the site navigation, and improving the usability of key journeys such as signing up for memberships and searching for houses. We also set out to enhance the visual design, making the site feel more premium and better reflect the organisation’s brand.

We also developed a new API, providing the means to share website data with other digital platforms, such as their accompanying mobile application.

How we did it

We started by facilitating workshops with the organisational stakeholders. In spite of the ‘stay at home’ measures enforced during the pandemic, we were able to collaborate remotely using online workshop tools. Through remote collaboration, we were able to define and prioritise the website’s requirements and address user goals.

User profile for the Historic Houses website
We worked collaboratively with the Historic Houses team to map audience needs

We designed quickly with a ‘fail fast’ attitude. By using interactive wireframe prototypes, we could get something that felt realistic into the hands of users and stakeholders within a matter of days. This meant we could test and iterate rapidly, defining the ideal user experience more swiftly.

Our initial concepts were shared with stakeholders from across the organisation. Iterating based on overall themes from the feedback, we worked our way towards a more detailed interface design.

Wireframe for the Historic Houses website
Wireframe for the Historic Houses website
Sitemap of the Historic Houses website

The designs use a component-based approach, future-proofing pages against content and feature additions over time. Everything was considered from a mobile-first point of view. For Historic Houses, it was absolutely crucial that members could find houses to visit whilst on the go.

The result of this process is a beautiful and usable design, that provides a consistent user experience for users across devices and digital platforms.

Screenshot of the Historic Houses website
Screenshot of the Historic Houses website

The results

We built the website using WordPress, creating a bespoke theme that really shows off the Historic Houses brand, as well as providing the client with the capabilities to create and edit all content through a customised content management system. The house search listings were created using the JavaScript framework Vue.js, making use of the Mapbox API for users to be able to more easily find historic properties close to their location.

Aspects of the website required building integrations with the client’s CRM software, Microsoft Dynamics 365. Users are able to join, pay for and manage their memberships through the website, with immediate synchronisation with the CRM ensuring that all membership data across the organisation is up to date. House organisation information is also taken from their single ‘source of truth’, rather than requiring unnecessary updates to the content in multiple sources. All of this data is provided as a source of content for an accompanying mobile application, through an API we developed.

Historic Houses has also invested in ongoing support meaning that we continue to work closely with them, optimising and evolving the website based on usage data. This can steer continuous site enhancements meaning that we’re can continue to provide the best possible experience for members.

Other Work