Chemical Heritage Foundation

Telling the Story of Chemistry

Modeling Online Exhibitions

Modeling Online Exhibitions

One of the challenges for museum websites is to recreate enough of the richness of museum display experience, without undermining the excitement that gets visitors to make an in-person visit to the museum. With Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF), TBG (The Berndt Group) spent considerable attention on creating content presentation that allowed the website to present an online exhibit on a particular subject matter—say, alchemical manuscripts—in a format far richer than a conventional Web experience. These templates and content types used rich front-end technologies to create animated, multi-layered presentations with added multimedia that could bring complex blocks of subject matter alive in the style of a Web-designed museum display, adapted for the Web.

CHF ChemCrafter page
Content Personalization

Content Personalization

Despite the fact that CHF’s chosen CMS did not provide content personalization (at the time), TBG developed a custom approach built on top of the CMS that allowed alternative displays of targeted content to take place when users’ preferences were known (in a logged-in state), and also to provide the ability to save searches in the site. This allowed CHF to provide a higher value user experience, and to address the major usability issue of too much good content that is too varied—more reliably getting the right user to the right content.

CHF subpage
Rich Content Re-Use & Metadata Taxonomy

Rich Content Re-Use & Metadata Taxonomy

Using a metadata taxonomy of controlled terms to semantically “tag” content is one of the most powerful ways that a CMS platform can provide rich “related links” without the permutational nightmare of ongoing manual effort. However, the devil is in the details and deciding on a usable taxonomy takes strategy and experience. Since many of the CHF staff had a background in library science, it was a rich discussion, starting from the official scientific taxonomies and then moderating back to a hybrid taxonomy that would be manageable and usable by the CHF Web staff, and that would generate enough relevant “hits” to be useful for related links. This process provided many intellectual challenges, but ultimately we were able to arrive at a highly usable approach that allowed for rich, automated interconnection of the rich CHF content. 

CHF Subpage


TBG (The Berndt Group) worked with Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF) to produce what we think is a model of an excellent and effective museum website (today, if we built such a site it would be entirely Responsive). TBG worked with CHF on a full website redesign and complex CMS implementation, and provided ongoing support.

CHF fosters an understanding of chemistry's impact on society—acting as both a historical research resource, and also as an avenue to popularize the subject for the public. An independent, nonprofit organization, CHF maintains major collections of instruments, fine art, photographs, papers, and books. The organization also hosts conferences and lectures, supports research, offers fellowships, and produces educational materials. The museum and public programs explore diverse subjects ranging from alchemy to nanotechnology.

Some of the great features of this site included:

  • a robust related link/portlet strategy, allowing CHF to assign a rich set of portlets to pages in and ad hoc way;

  • the ability to create related links using either the site taxonomy or site sections;

  • enhanced collection browsing and search;

  • Oral Histories details, with a clearly organized structure for a significant amount of content;

  • a Distillation and Periodic Tabloid blog (we especially like the cool audio/download bar on the podcasts);

  • faceted search, allowing users to find specific types of content more easily and providing results in a friendlier manner;

  • the award-winning “It's Elemental” microsite national video competition for U.S. high school students;

  • the Chemical Heritage Online Magazine; and

  • an early implementation of a "sticky footer," allowing constant access to hot topic, community pages, ways to give, and the search area itself.

Live Site

What We Did

Technology Partners


  • trophy iconWinner: Horizon Award
  • 6,000Volumes of Rare Books
  • trophy iconWinner: Best of the Web Award
  • 5,200Linear Feet of Manuscripts and Photos
  • award ribbon iconBest Practices Museum Website
Card Sorting for Categorization

Card Sorting for Categorization

During the Information Architecture phase of the project, among other activities, we conducted a card sort with CHF staff and users to establish a sense of how they colloquially categorized the subject matter which helped to develop site structure and labeling.

Capturing the Physical Space Online

Capturing the Physical Space Online

We wanted to capture the ideals and reach of the organization and aesthetically take hints from the actual architecture of the beautiful museum and library spaces of the Chemical Heritage Foundation to create a new website design that would inspire excitement. The focus was equally around the field of chemistry and also drawing users to visit the physical space. Making great use of the richness of both historical and modern images, the design creates an online space full of light, texture and layers, inspired by the wonders of chemistry.