Helping a venerable institution adapt and thrive in the 21st century

Helping a venerable institution adapt and thrive in the 21st century

Royal Academy

Higher Education


The historic Royal Academy of Arts needed a new web presence to connect with their audience and promote their various events and initiatives.


We partnered with international design firm IDEO to transform the Royal Academy’s digital presence into a modern and flexible design that highlights its many unique traits and offerings.


With their new, custom CMS, the Academy’s students have been empowered to create new content and promote a more holistic understanding of the various initiatives within the historic institution.

London’s Royal Academy of Arts has a rich history that dates back to 1768, when King George III permitted Sir William Chambers and 35 other artists to establish an institution to "promote the Arts of Design." In the more than 250 years since, the Royal Academy has continued to evolve under the leadership of the Royal Academicians—some of the U.K.'s best ­known artists and architects—who run one of the world's most prestigious art schools and host some of London's most popular exhibitions. But the Academy's website had not evolved with the organization. 

We had an old website that had suffered years of underinvestment. It didn't match the vibrancy of the organization. [The website] wasn't responsive. It had a poor user journey experience.

Nick Sharp, head of digital at the Royal Academy

The website also failed to adequately represent the breadth of the institution's ambition, including its dynamic educational arm. While visitors could learn about their blockbuster shows, they would struggle to find any information about the prestigious art school and membership organization that exist within the same walls.

"People mostly know us for putting on these big art exhibitions," Sharp added. "But there is so much more going on, from our diverse Royal Academicians to the work of our students. One of the key things we've been trying to do is open the door to all the exciting activity that goes on in the Royal Academy.”

The Royal Academy website as viewed on a tablet

Crafting A New, Holistic Vision

IDEO spent 11 weeks conducting research and refining an entire re-imagining of the institution’s online presence. Their new design solution allows a variety of different content types representing all aspects of the organization’s work to “bubble up” to the surface.

Implementing this visual-heavy design on the frontend presented a challenge, but 8th Light’s design professionals were able to craft a fully tested solution that remained performant and responsive to all screen sizes. 

In addition to this new user experience, 8th Light’s re-imagining went even deeper. After analysing multiple off-the-shelf content management systems (CMS), we decided to craft an entirely new CMS that is more uniquely tailored to their immediate needs—and also empowers Royal Academy’s staff to take control of how their content and website might adapt and grow into the future.

I think it’s a great step forward in terms of how we’re able to present ourselves and tell stories about what the organization does. We've really highlighted the editorial content that's on our blog, which is seeing more than ten times as much engagement as before.

Nick Sharp, head of digital at the Royal Academy

Empowering Individuals With A New Platform

Royal Academy’s new website is modern and flexible, and has increased engagement both inside and outside of the academy. The redesigned website was also the winner of the 2015 Best of the Web award from the Museums and the Web organization.

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