Carnegie Museum of Art

  • User Engagement
  • Visual Design
  • Organizational Strategy

Hillman Photography Initiative

Visit the live site

The Carnegie Museum of Art came to Bearded with an idea for an ambitious experimental project – the Hillman Photography Initiative (HPI). HPI’s mission is to become an incubator for innovative thinking about photography, and to redefine what it is to be a museum in the digital age. If that sounds like a grand plan, that’s because it was. And that’s just the way we like them.

The People's History of Pittsburgh exhibit

How Do You Turn a Concept Into Reality?

Every project at Bearded starts with a kickoff workshop where we get together and do hands-on activities that help us define your organization’s and audience’s needs. HPI aimed to be a living laboratory for people to interact with the museum, art, and one another… But what would that actually mean? What would people do on this website?

Bearded's size and approach are perfect for organizations who are interested in making something new or something different. They're up for challenges and able to work closely with the client to solve them.

Jeff Inscho Web + Digital Media Manager Carnegie Museum of Art

We met with the museum’s curators, educators, marketers, and technologists. We brainstormed, collaborated, sketched, and built a plan for moving forward HPI and its online presence.

We Needed to Create a Forum for Conversations

To the museum’s staff, it seemed that HPI’s handful of sub-projects had little in common beyond the photographic focus. One was a documentary series. Another, a pop-up bookstore. Another, an outlet for commissioned essays and casual responses. And then there was the People’s History of Pittsburgh, a user-generated photo album, browse-able by neighborhood and decade.

Bearded was able to define common features, and build a system that allowed for functionality across all projects.

What we created was a cohesive way for users to post stories, pictures, and videos, and to respond to others’ content. It’s efficient and it’s extensible.

We Needed to Build Something Fast, Together

Like almost every project Bearded has ever worked on, the timeline was aggressive. We incorporated stakeholder feedback early and often, and quickly moved the designs through strategy, to paper sketches, to in-browser HTML/CSS wireframes, to stunning design comps, to a working web application.

Hillman Photography Institute Website on Tablet View Hillman Photography Institute Website on Desktop View

But Does It Work?

It’s one thing to design and build something that we love, but it’s another thing to build something that people actually use.

Our goal for the HPI site was to create an environment in which anyone could upload, share, and discuss content related to the photographic image. Participating in these conversations needed to be easy and rewarding.

For the nearly 800 users who posted more than 1,500 pieces of content over a period of 10 months, the HPI site became a conduit for conversation and collaboration. Grand plan achieved.

Exhibition design by Brett Yasko.

Photograph by Annette Manning, courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh. Originally included as part of A People’s History of Pittsburgh, a project of the Hillman Photography Initiative.

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