The Royal Academy of Arts makes blockbuster exhibitions but couldn't make a 'trailer' to save their lives.

Strategy and website for the Royal Academy of Arts

Delivering a new public website and a custom CMS for the Royal academy staff

The Royal Academy of Arts is an almost 250 year-old institution run by artists known as Academicians. The institution provides perhaps the best (and free) fine arts education in the UK, runs world class exhibitions and events and publishes a highly respected art magazine.

We worked with the RA to develop a digital strategy and as part of that strategy we also designed and build the new RA website.

We quickly realised that the RA was amazing at putting together exhibitions of true world class but they were rather terrible at communicating this awesomeness other than for visitors who actually came in person. 

The organisations was highly siloed. We used the website design to change how the organisation worked to deliver visitor-centric communication.

We also build a custom CMS solution to allow the staff from across the RA to creatively put together and communicate to visitors about the large variety of exhibitions and events taking place at the RA.

Below are some early sketches I made.

We designed a highly visual and modular system that could handle a constant flow of new content. We designed the homepage to highlight aspects of the RA that visitors was not necessary familiar with. The RA is famous for big exhibitions but not many know about the fine arts school, the Academicians, the educational event, the permanent collection or the RA magazine.

The RA is great at producing content. Sometimes working with clients, we come up with ideas that requires the organisation to start producing exciting new content such as articles, podcast, images or videos. In the case of the RA, they have all of that stuff in abundance. The problem was that they didn't have a good way to communicate it. So the bulk of our work was spend creating a platform for their already excellent content to shine.

There was however one new piece of content we encouraged the RA to produce. An unfair advantage of the RA is their access to the Academicians, world-class contemporary artists. We discovered that visitors were as interested in the life of the artist as in the actual art. Getting a behind-the-scene peak at the studio, artefacts and life of these world-class artists was something unique that users really appreciated. A few example photos below.


• A digital strategy  and building the new RA website

• During the project we a decided to build a custom CSM tool for the staff which took about 30% of our time and effort

Time and team

• Strategy phase: My role was as a Project Lead. I worked with two interaction designers and one researcher
• Build phase: I worked as the Product Manager
• 8thLight was our development partner


Again, I seem to be blessed with great clients. In addition, I really enjoyed the collaboration with 8thLight, software developers from Chicago. Despite the time and physical distance between Chicago and London, we managed to build rapport and work very well together.  

This project was definitely unusual in that we don't often work so far into implementation. It was a huge learning opportunity for me to be there and see all the implications of our design decisions, having to make hard trade-offs and simplifications based on technical and time constrains, client desires and  gaps in our previous design thinking.