Te Papa updates its web architecture

TLDR; Like a growing number of organisations in New Zealand, Te Papa decided that the benefits of modern web architecture justified rebuilding their websites without making major design or content changes. Because of Haunt’s experience in this area and our shared passion for modern web technology, Te Papa asked us to support them with their re-platform project.

May 01, 2024
Written by:
Tim Grubb

New web technology…what are we actually talking about here?

In recent years some important web technology and tools have become much more viable, and widely used.

Broadly speaking we’re talking about headless web architecture driven by microservices that are connected by APIs. An example of this technology is commonly called “Jamstack”, which is what Te Papa has adopted.

This approach stands in contrast to more common “monolithic” (all in one) web software like Silverstripe or Drupal.

Read article: Re-platforming websites onto Jamstack

Benefits of new tech without the design cost

This project involved re-platforming Te Papa’s website, using the modern web architecture, more or less “as is” without major changes to content, design or layout.

This is something we’re seeing (and doing) a lot more of, and is different from most web projects where a redesign is often at the forefront.

So what are the benefits for Te Papa?

Moving faster by being closer to their technology

“A key and fundamental benefit of the use of Jamstack is that we’ve been able to bring the site in house. This has allowed us to be closer to the tech, move faster, and better”, Kingston told us.

An example of how their new website has changed how they work is that the modern architecture supports rapid, continuous deployment. This means lots of little changes with a streamlined process for QA and code review.

“We’ve been a bit conditioned to make big-bang deployments once a fortnight. Now we are often deploying several times a day. This introduces a velocity to our work that wasn’t there before.”

Modern search = better user experience

Part of the more modern web ecosystem is the use of superior, cloud-based search tools. Te Papa is using Algolia, which Haunt uses a lot because it has great developer tools, is super fast and highly configurable.

According to Kingston “this introduced an immediate step-change in the quality of our site search behaviour and results, which has genuine implications for how we manage content in the future.”

Supporting audiences to more easily access relevant content from Te Papa’s massive content library reduces the pressure on site structure and navigation.

A less complex project reduces risk

A key benefit of re-platform projects is that the overall size and complexity of the project is limited by not including a big rethink of the site’s design, content, or layout.

By keeping as much of the existing site “as is” during the project, it is possible to move quickly and reduce complexity.

This can seem counterintuitive to traditional web rebuilds, which can be seen as an opportunity to tackle everything all at once. But increasingly, organisations are deciding that the benefits of the “big bang” project are outweighed by the increased complexity, cost and risks that these projects can bring.

Also, in fiscally constrained times, many organisations are happy to run with their existing design and content, but want to move their web platform forward.

Kingston highlights that the new platform will allow for more rapid iteration and continuous improvement - “there’s plenty we can do from here.”

Successful collaboration

“We loved working with Haunt. Their systems and processes are solid, but what we valued most was that they shared our vision for what was possible with modern web technology and what it could truly mean for Te Papa”, Kingston notes.

In terms of the actual project, Adrian’s pleased with how it went. “I really can’t believe how smoothly it went. SEO hasn’t dropped off at all, and the new CMS is fast and easy for content editors.”

In the case of this project, Haunt was happy to work alongside Te Papa’s internal development team. Managed well, this can be a great arrangement for projects like this one, where the internal team brings their knowledge of their site’s content and functionality while being supported by Haunt’s experience successfully delivering similar projects.

End of the Te Papa roadmap workshop - also the last roadmap we did in our old Taranaki Street office.