Freer|Sackler Digital Publication

Project Role: Design Lead, Design Research Lead

The Smithsonian’s museums of Asian art, Freer|Sackler hired the IMA Lab to develop a digital art catalogue for their Pulverer Collection of Japanese illustrated books. The collection holds more than 900 titles that encompass almost 2,200 volumes that range in date from the early seventeenth century to the 1970s. Today, the Pulverer Collection is regarded as one of the most outstanding and comprehensive collections of Japanese illustrated books outside Japan.

This site marks the initial phase of an ongoing project to make all of the volumes available online to researchers, bibliophiles, and art lovers around the globe.

My work as the lead designer on the project began with a discovery phase and analysis of the collection. The website includes scholarly essays and videos, as well as a search interface that includes a timeline, advanced search, and browsable topics. The site also features a My Research section that includes tools for annotation and comparison to use while researching the collection. Once logged in, users may take notes, save searches and favorite titles, volumes, sheets and essays.


Upon the start of this project, I flew to Washington DC to meet with the scholars, researchers and caretakers for this collection. I wanted to understand the physicality of the books and the way viewers interacted with them. I explored what content was most relevant to potential catalogue users and gained an understanding of hoped institutional outcomes. After our site visit, I proposed an information architecture for the website and began exploring color, type and icon systems for the catalogue. 


Upon the approval of information architecture, I began wireframing the user experience. The catalogue would house text and video essays, search, and a study section wherein users could login and use tools for annotation and comparison while researching the collection.


After finishing wireframes, I began visual design for the website. After finishing several rounds of designs and receiving client feedback, I conducted user testing with forty-five individuals, including general users and scholars. I used Zurb apps to record user testing sessions and met users in person for qualitative feedback. After this testing phase, I compiled a report with suggested adjustments. These adjustments yielded improvements to the navigation order and naming conventions as well as feedback for in-progress content development.