Royal Alberta Museum

The Challenge

The Royal Alberta Museum was running an exhibit titled 'Chop-Suey on the Prairies,' telling the story of Chinese immigration to Canada beginning with the Fraser Valley gold rush in the 1850s.
Their goal was to create a website that would become a companion piece to the exhibit, and allow it to live on after the physical exhibit was closed. The curator was receiving many phone calls from the local Chinese community, and from East Asian studies students who wanted to explore and contribute to the material she'd gathered for the exhibit, so the website also offered an opportunity for them to view content that couldn't be part of the exhibit.
The museum had hundreds of archival photos and documents, and many hours of video footage. Our job was to make sense of all this content, and find a way to bring it together into a cohesive piece.

Here's how we approached the project...

The Concepts

Inspired by interactive storytelling pieces like Spent and After64, we considered arranging the content in an interactive narrative. Users would come to the site and interact with it, making choices that would influence the material that was presented to them. If we'd chosen this concept, we would have created a script with a series of possible outcomes, using characters from the Chinese Restaurant histories the museum had gathered to walk the user through a biographical narrative. 

Inspired by multimedia journalism pieces like The New York Times' Snowfall and The Guardian's Firestorm, this concept would have produced several long scrolling pages with interactive content, using parallax functionality and auto-playing video. 

Inspired by the clean lines and highly-organized content of websites like the Tennessee government site, we though tat this concept would help to make sense of the huge amount of information the museum had gathered for their exhibit. We also considered the possibility of a Prezi-style animation that would be zoom-in to the desired content frame.

Design Explorations




The Strategy

It turned out that the client liked elements of each of our concepts, and each of our design treatments, so much so that they couldn't choose just one! Ultimately, we decided to combine them in a way that lent itself to the material, creating a grid-style homepage, a one-pager timeline, and exploring the restauranteurs' stories  by highlighting a few of the longest-standing restaurants on their own pages. 

The design theme aligned with the exhibit, using the black and red with gold accents and white text that the exhibit's designer had used. 


A Few of our Favourite Things...

In the exhibit, the museum had a sign like this with bulbs that they were slowly allowing to burn out. We mirrored that with this logo - watch carefully for the dimming lights.



We created a custom Google map, plotting the restaurants that featured in the exhibit, and showing exterior photos. You can click on a few to find interior photos, family bios, videos and menus.

The food, was, of course, a key feature in the exhibit, and on the site. We built a carousel showing place settings with the key menu items mentioned in the exhibit - Chop Suey, Green Onion Cakes, Sweet & Sour Pork, Won Ton Soup and Ginger Beef. A few of the dishes are accompanied by videos of chefs from our featured restaurants.


For a little bit of fun, we created an animation for the user to make their own won ton soup. 



The timeline is a key part of the story, sharing the details of Chinese immigration to Canada from the 1860s to present, and showcasing some important people and places for the Chinese community on the Canadian Prairies. Archival images and documents are displayed here.



The Product


eLearning | Information Design | Web Design | Multimedia