Celebrating Jewish History, Stories and Identity in New England and Beyond

Jewish Heritage Center joins the Drupal multisite

The Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center (JHC) is a destination for exploring, preserving, and advancing the history of Jewish families, institutions, and communities in New England and beyond.

As part of the American Ancestors family of organisations, the JHC website is part of the Drupal multisite. However, it is essential that the JHC retain its own strong visual identity. It is also vital that it supports the organisation’s goals in providing access to its extensive archival collections, educational programs, scholarship, and public events.

Design That Juxtaposes History And Modernity

Promoting A Modern Organisation With A Historical Cause

Drupal Driven Power

A Seamless Deployment As Part Of The American Ancestors Multi-site Platform

Telling the Jewish Heritage Center’s Rich Visual Story

The JHC has a mission to enhance Jewish historical and genealogical research and to be a premier site for the collection and preservation of Jewish history. We wanted to ensure the website’s look and feel was also a reflection of Judaism, its symbolism and colours.

Symbolising the Relationship with Judaism

Our starting point was to take inspiration from the organisation’s logo which is based on the Star of David. To that end we created a graphic device using elements from the six point star which featured as part of the website design. This would ensure that visitors would see the powerful Jewish symbol throughout the website.

Creating a Brand Palette for the Jewish Heritage Center

Colour is also an important feature of the website design. We wanted to create a website that was beautiful but that also used colours that are significant to Jewish culture. The JHC logo uses blue and white which are the colours most traditionally associated with the Jewish faith and culture. It was clear that blue and white would feature strongly in our website design.

In order to develop a broader palette which could be used throughout the website, we explored other colours that have importance in Judaism. Purple is a colour found in antiquity, so we introduced a rich burgundy as a contrast with the blue. To create brighter, lighter accents we introduced a gold (a colour often used as a complementary colour to the traditional blue in Judaism) and a light green.

A Modern Look for an Historical Organisation

While the Jewish Heritage Center’s work is focused on the history and genealogy of Jewish people in New England, the organisation is modern and progressive. The team was keen that the website’s overall look and feel was one that combined elements of the historical nature of its work with a modern design that reflected the organisation’s character.

To achieve this balance of modern and historical, we selected a set of modern fonts to use across the website. As well as ensuring the site would meet strict accessibility standards in the USA these fonts give the website a distinctly modern look. When juxtaposed against the largely historical photography that the JHC has in its archives, this provided an important bridge between the modern organisation of today, and the rich histories of the people the organisation represents.

Using Colour To Support the Juxtaposition of Modern and Historical

Part of our vision for the design of the JHC website was the juxtaposition of the historical assets from the archive, with the idea of the Jewish Heritage Center as a modern organisation. To that end we wanted to apply the colour palette to the design in a way that reflected that juxtaposition. We used the more traditional blue colour as a primary colour that was applied to the navigation, the footer, the site search and the call to action buttons.

The other accent colours were introduced and were applied to the mega menu dropdown, the block headers, section headers, the hero and secondary hero blocks. This use of the lighter, brighter colours as accents throughout the site provides a fresh and modern look as well as contrasting well with the archive photography which is often black and white.

Telling Stories Through the Visual Assets

Composite assets were created for the most important landing pages. These comprised images from the JHC archive of historical images which were positioned onto backgrounds using the JHC brand colours. The images used reflect the broad nature of the archive content: providing a window into the lives of Jewish people at work, at home, at leisure and in the community.

This approach actively supports the JHC organisational objective of promoting the stories of Jewish people in New England and beyond.

Flexible Filtering of Audio/Video Content

Bringing Jewish Neighborhood Voices To Life

Background to the Exhibit

The Jewish Neighborhood Voices project was developed in order to tell the stories of the people who grew up in Greater Boston’s Jewish communities in the first half of the 20th Century. The exhibit consists of oral histories recorded through interviews with people who had lived in the neighbourhoods of Chelsea, Dorchester, Roxbury, and Lynn between 1920 and the 1950s.

Along with the audio recordings, the exhibit would utilise a large amount of photography and archival material to support the stories of growing up and living in these neighbourhoods.

As well as focusing on the four neighbourhoods, the material would also support some key themes of Jewish life during this period. These were family life, neighbourhood life, neighbourhood relations, WWII and the Holocaust, as well as assimilation and upward mobility.

Unique Assets to tell Compelling Stories

To bring the exhibit to life visually, we created a unique asset style that would make full use of the plethora of imagery held by the Jewish Heritage Center as well as images provided by contributors. The style involved the creation of composite images that used photographs, documents, maps and icons to create images that would evoke the exhibit’s time and place in history.

This style was used to create images that could be used throughout the digital exhibit including hero images, images associated with each of the five themes, the four places, and all the narrators and researchers who made the exhibit a success.

Bespoke Functionality to Support the Exhibit

We wanted visitors to the online exhibit to be able to navigate through the content easily, and to be able to filter the oral histories to suit their own specific interests. To provide a maximum level of flexibility it was important that visitors could filter content by place (neighbourhood) but also by theme or even by the person who had provided the oral histories.

In order to provide this flexibility we needed to design and build new functionality that would not only showcase these important oral histories, but would also support this need for filtered content.

Giving the Jewish Heritage Center and its Users Full Control

We scoped a new piece of functionality that would provide a gallery-style view for users. Each piece of audio content would be represented by a card, and would include a relevant historical image or a quote from the audio recording. Depending on where the galleries were placed within the exhibit, users would be able to either filter them by place, theme or narrator.

In order to maximise flexibility, the JHC team could add a gallery to any web page, and select which content, if any, would be pre-filtered. This meant that on a more focused or specific page such as a neighbourhood page, a gallery could be created that would only show the content relevant to that neighbourhood.

Expanding the Multi-site’s Functionality

The large amount of audio content created for the exhibit led to a desire to use media files in all blocks as an alternative to images. This also provided a great opportunity to expand the scope for using audio and video content across any block in the multi-site.

At the same time, we also expanded the functionality around captions. Driven by the large amount of historical images that had been donated to the exhibit, the JHC was keen that all images give descriptive and citation information. We designed a caption approach that would support the addition of captions across all blocks as well as ensuring the site was accessible to all users. Our approach is a discreet symbol, that when clicked reveals the caption, without interfering with the image.

A Collaborative Approach to Content Planning and Upload

In order to ensure the exhibit’s web pages were as attractive, engaging and user friendly as possible, we worked closely with the JHC team in planning and uploading content for the Neighborhood Voices project. By combining JHC’s expertise on the exhibit and its resources with Hookson’s expertise on imagery and creation of attractive page layouts we were able to curate an online exhibit that is thoughtful, informative, attractive and easy to navigate. Working with the team was a real pleasure and we’re thrilled with the end results.

Jewish Heritage Center Joins the Drupal Multisite

As part of the American Ancestors family, the Jewish Heritage Center website would form part of the broader Drupal multi-site and benefit from the same advantages as the other sites on the platform. The setup and customisation of the JHC site was quick, straightforward to implement while providing a unique design for minimal front end effort.

The JHC website was able to benefit from the multi-site’s shared functionality, including enabling its users to give donations, as well as accessing upcoming and past event content via the events pages and the video library.

Bespoke Search Functionality

The JHC were keen to offer a range of search options to visitors. As well as being able to search the content on the website itself, it was important to enable users to search the digital library and archives, and the JHC finding aids which are guides to collections.

We designed a search that would enable users to access all the different search functions from the same search menu. By combining a keyword search with the selection of the appropriate search function users can either benefit from a pre-filtered version of the multi-site’s federated search, or search the JHC archives.

Looking for a New Digital Partner? Get In Touch.

Our website for the Jewish Heritage Center has brought their work to life in a digital environment; engaging and immersing visitors in the exciting and important historical content.

If you would like to transform your organisation’s digital presence, we would love to chat. Contact Hookson today and let’s start our journey together.