The Project of a Lifetime

I’m on the Amtrak down to Washington, D.C. as I write this. Tomorrow (Monday) I start a new project that will likely be the biggest professional challenge I’ve ever faced and will carry profound personal significance as well.

Happy Cog East in Philadelphia was recently awarded the website redesign project for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and a couple weeks ago they asked me to join the team. All day tomorrow and Tuesday we will be kicking off the project at the museum with our partners Ralph Appelbaum Associates (designers of the museum) and core museum staff.

A large part of the tremendous privilege I feel is because I am a Jewish American and thus have an indelible sensitivity to both the effects of the Holocaust on my ancestry and to the crucial role the U.S. played in ending the genocide.

I visited the museum for the first time when I was in the 7th grade and it had an intense effect on me. It’s impossible for me to dissociate the Holocaust itself from the Holocaust Museum, and almost any mention of the Holocaust immediately evokes visions of the shoe room. I have been back twice more and each time I learn so much more about and feel more connected to my history.

Another main reason for my excitement is that I am incredibly proud of strategic contribution I get to make to this prestigious organization by helping to better understand and better serve its wide-ranging constituencies.

And lastly, I’m thrilled to have the chance to collaborate with the folks at Happy Cog East, among the leading practitioners in the industry today. My deepest thanks go to Kevin Hoffman, Robert Jolly and Greg Hoy for involving me, and to Jeffrey Zeldman for his ongoing support.

I am so humbled by this opportunity and can’t wait to do the best work of my life. But I doubt it will feel like work at all — it will be a mitzvah.

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Comments

  1. says

    Whitney, that's awesome. Congratulations.

    You know, apart from the emotion spurred by a visit to the Holocaust Memorial Museum because of the exhibits (content), the floor plan (user interface) of the museum is a huge part of the experience for me.

    Most other museums I've been to, whatever they are meant for, have individual items of interest displayed on hallways in between themed rooms, with the goal being to get visitors to the rooms they are most interested in.

    The only two other places I can point to where the interface was as much a part of the exhibit as the content were the children's exhibit at Yad V'Ashem in Jerusalem (you walk in on a catwalk and see one candle below you reflected in a million mirrors at various angles while names of children are read over a loudspeaker) and a Post Secret exhibit I saw where you were able to see through the walls the postcards were tacked up on, so that you could see the reactions of other people reading the secrets.

    Congratulations on the project, I can't wait to see its progression!

    • says

      I couldn't agree with you more, Josh. I was at Yad Vashem last summer and it was a wildly moving experience. I haven't seen the Post Secret exhibit, but a good friend of mine did and she said she still thinks about it years later. It's not just the subject matter (though that's certainly part of it) but using the design of the museum to shape the experience is incredibly powerful and it's something other spaces should do a better job of.

  2. ellieoc says

    congrats….NOW I know who won that proposal. It was the hottest RFP here in DC. Let me just say, it is a pure pleasure to be beaten by you and the group from Happy Cog. I can't wait to see the magic you all perform on such an important project.

Trackbacks

  1. […] The Project of a Lifetime 11/09/2009 […]

  2. […] on the redesign of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s website. As my colleague Whitney Hess has written, this is, for many of us, the project of a […]

  3. […] This genre comes from the experiences Whitney Hess had while performing user research for the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. This is another time where emotions can run wild, especially if the focus of the interview is a […]

  4. […] of one, but I collaborate with agency teams (such as Happy Cog, whom I’m working with on the US Holocaust Memorial Museum project), internal client teams, freelance designers and […]

  5. […] keynote at the conference where I had given my very first presentation just one year earlier; I did research and strategy for the Holocaust Museum; after waiting more than 4 years, a U.S. patent with my name on it was […]

  6. […] found myself at Penn Station quite a lot lately. You see, I’m working on the project of a lifetime with Happy Cog Philadelphia, so I visit by train from […]

  7. […] time talking about their feelings, especially to strangers. I conducted 39 user interviews for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum project, and not a single one of them got emotional. We were talking about one of the most traumatic, […]

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