A new look for Te Ara biographies

Last week we released a long-awaited redesign of what is now truly the Biographies section of Te Ara.

A few years ago you may have noticed that we moved the biographies once found on dnzb.govt.nz to teara.govt.nz/en/biographies, incorporating them into Te Ara. But when the rest of the site enjoyed a beautiful redesign of its interface, the biography content was excluded from scope and, until this week, still looked and behaved in a very different way from the rest of Te Ara.

More than 2,500 of these intriguing and interesting life stories originated from the five volumes of the Dictionary of New Zealand biography (DNZB), which were published between 1990 and 2000. Another 16 biographies (of subjects who have died since 1990) have been added online, and these more closely resemble the structure of a Te Ara story.

Our brief was to design a new interface for this content so that it would look and behave as you would expect from a section of Te Ara, but would also remain different enough to distinguish it from Te Ara’s other stories and sections. Its design also needed to have enough visual connections to link it to its DNZB origins, but not so much as to confuse users with mixed-branding messages.

What’s new on biography ’story’ pages

With this in mind we began the challenge, starting with the ’story’ pages – where you’ll find the biography text.

For our long-time biography users we retained the distinctive bright orange inherited from the old DNZB website on just a few key visual elements as a link to the content’s DNZB origins.

Orange stripe – linking the content to its DNZB origins

Orange stripe – linking the content to its DNZB origins

We also added a ‘metadata box’ to the first page of each story, which highlights key information about the biography subject – name, birth and death dates, occupation(s), and any tribal affiliation(s). It also lists the author of the biography and says which volume of the DNZB it was originally published in or, if it was originally published online, the date it was first published.

A metadata box for a biography first published online (left) and one first published in the DNZB (right)

A metadata box for a biography first published online (left) and one first published in the DNZB (right)

New-look Biographies section homepage

On our redesigned homepage for the Biographies section we’ve incorporated some new (and not-so-new) features that offer our users a variety of different interest points as a way into the biography content.

At the top of the page we’ve introduced a slideshow of biographies, mirroring the featured stories slideshow on Te Ara’s homepage. It uses nice big images and handcrafted blurb to describe a selection of fascinating individuals, scheduled to change on a weekly basis. It was interesting to note while working on this how much easier the handcrafted blurb was to read when compared to simply pasting in the first 50 or so words of a biography. But more on that topic in another blog post!

Hone Tuwhare is one of new featured biographies

Hone Tuwhare is one of new featured biographies

The second addition is a set of quick search filters – hotly contested and yet to prove worthy of its place! (Give them a go and let us know what you think.)

Quick search filters

Quick search filters

Next up is the portrait gallery - a curated selection of images that groups biography subjects by their photographs. This provided a brilliant opportunity to feature the colourful, quirky, humorous, familiar or unusual found among the array of biographies.  We hope the artfully written blurb and striking painted portraits shown in the current gallery lure you in to clicking through to find out more about the painted subjects.

'Painted portraits', this month's portrait gallery.

Painted portraits: this month's portrait gallery

The familiar ‘Born on your birthday’ search remains, but now, rather than just taking you off to one biography, it will give you a list of all the biography subjects who share your special day.

Who was born on your birthday?

Who was born on your birthday?

We’ve introduced a ‘This month’s life story’ block, again with a handcrafted blurb, to highlight a person who is relevant to the topic of the month in our email newsletter Te Ara hiko (which you can subscribe to from the bottom of every Te Ara page).

Finally, the last feature lets our users connect with the biographies through their occupations. From carvers and criminals to whalers and writers, the representatives of each occupation is populated randomly, with a different set of 15 people selected daily. The occupations also rotate on each page refresh to keep things interesting!

Prophets in the featured occupations listing

Prophets in the featured occupations listing

What’s next?

What we have is just the first version – plans for further development include: adding thumbnail carousels to image and media pages, upgrading the usability of the advanced search, adding a search bar to each biography story page that will search only the Biographies section, and aligning the design treatment and content of the Biographies search results tabs and pages no matter where you arrive from (they are currently different).

What do you think?

Let us know if you think we succeeded in our mission or not. We hope you’ll enjoy the new features mentioned above, as well as the improved usability and consistency of the updated interface. But this is all part of an ongoing process of improvement, so we can refine and adapt the design based on the evidence and feedback gathered.

So please give us your feedback – by either leaving us a comment below or emailing it to TeAra@mch.govt.nz – good or bad, it will be welcomed!

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