Author - Dr. Sarah Fayen-Scarlett
Building the Keweenaw Time Traveler has always been a group effort. It takes many different people to ensure this resource will be an engaging public history project, a powerful tool for research, and also accessible to as many users as possible.
One way that our production team seeks input from future users is through “Design Charrettes.” In urban planning, a design charrette brings together stakeholders to collaboratively develop a solution to a shared design problem. The Keweenaw Time Traveler team has been holding design charrettes since our early years to make sure that users with different kinds of experience will be able to access and enjoy it.
This Spring, as our production team is finalizing the new design and user interface, we have been holding Design Charrettes to guide the development of Help resources. What do users need to know to make the most of the Time Traveler’s resources? Which parts of the interface are less intuitive than others? What should our Help buttons provide?
We held two different charrettes — one to test the data search functions and another to test the map interfaces. We held these charrettes on Zoom to keep everyone comfortable amid changing COVID restrictions, but also because earlier Zoom charrettes in 2020 had alerted us to the advantages of watching people interact with the Time Traveler on their own home computers.
We invited users from the immediate community and partners from regional heritage organizations to join us for an hour of online exploration and follow up discussion. After a brief introduction, each participant went into a “breakout room” with two Time Traveler team members. The participants shared their screen and the team member asked them to use the Time Traveler in specific ways – Can you find the home of a certain person? How far did their children have to walk to school in Calumet in 1921? Is it clear how to switch the base maps? Participants always had a chance to explore freely so they could show us how they wanted to use the Time Traveler and how the user interface could be tweaked to improve their experiences. The whole group always came back together to debrief and share observations from the break out rooms. Afterwards, the Keweenaw Time Traveler production team develop a list of changes in direct response to participant feedback.
We appreciate all the time our participants gave these charrettes. Thank you! Participants included local residents who use the Time Traveler a lot, Michigan Tech students and researchers, and staff of Michigan Tech University Archives and Historical Collections and the Keweenaw National Historical Park.