The British Library

The British Library is the UK’s national library and holds over 150 million items from around the world in both print and digital format from around 14 million books, to manuscripts, stamps and prints. The British Library is the largest library in the world by number of items catalogued and houses s substantial holding of historical items dating back as far as 2000BC.

To enhance their offering of learning resources online, the British Library sought to launch 2 new learning sites to support their Discovering Literature and World War One projects.

The Challenge

Following the success of our work with the V&A, The British Library asked us design two new learning sites to support their World War One and English Literature projects. The Library was looking for a forward looking, user-friendly design solution that placed their unique content at the forefront of an interactive user-experience. The design had to fit with their existing Global Experience Language but also allow some experimentation in regard to navigation and supporting a wider learning experience. The resulting site also had to be responsive and work well across web, mobile and connected TV as well as being adaptable for future communication platforms. All this was to be designed before a new content management system had been decided upon.


"The students of today make the readers of tomorrow and we want to inspire the next generation of readers with this fantastic digital offering."

Roger Walshe, Head of Public Engagement and Learning, The British Library

Our Solution

Working closely with the British Library team we designed a unique information architecture solution that left behind the traditional, hierarchical content structure. Pages have a modular structure that each link to related content, encouraging exploration of the site.



The British Library learning websites screenshots

A flat architecture was a core requirement and we implemented this based on the cross-linking and aggregation of related content.  We further advanced this concept to include the work that we had done at the V&A.

The British Library website World War One page screenshot

Our solution involved tagging content extensively on publication. In-page modules, each with a unique set of rules and logic then promote and link to related content to encourage exploration, rather than relying on a fixed ‘site-tree’ style navigation. Designing pages in this modular way allowed us to have a very small number of actual template types yet retain an incredible amount of flexibility when it came to the content and functionality available on a particular page.

The Result

The World War One site was launched in time for the centenary of the outbreak of war to critical acclaim and the Discovering Literature site launched three months later. The sites have been a huge success for the Library and have received huge amounts of positive publicity as well as large numbers of visitors to both sites. The site has had some great press coverage, including coverage by The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph, praise from Education Minister Elizabeth Truss and a tweet from Stephen Fry.


"Every child should have the chance to enjoy the best English authors and that’s why this government has put great literature back at the heart of school life. We want pupils to discover a love for literature they can carry with them for life." "Discovering Literature will support that new curriculum, helping to bring to life some of the greatest pieces of literature of our time such as Oliver Twist and Tess of the d’Urbervilles."

Elizabeth Truss, Education Minister