CASE STUDY #1

BUILDING A WEBSITE FOR THE BENEDICTINE NUNS OF KYLEMORE ABBEY

The Benedictine nuns of Kylemore Abbey strive to maintain a global mindset and outreach. Currently, they feel they are lacking the communication and digital platform they need in order to convey their interest in current affairs, allowing the opportunity to speak up about issues and topics they are passionate about, and allowing the general public  (beyond those who visit Kylemore Abbey as tourists) to be able to learn more about them and their community. I empathized with this need as a means of bridging generational gaps (these women are all 60+ years of age), and breaking down stereotypes of religious women being antiquated and old school.

 The Benedictine community sitting for dinner. COPYRIGHT Mary McGraw

The Benedictine community sitting for dinner. COPYRIGHT Mary McGraw

THE COMMUNITY & THEIR NEEDS

What makes the situation of the Benedictine nuns at Kylemore Abbey unique is their working relationship with Kylemore’s co-residents, Kylemore Trust, which handles the tourism, and the University of Notre Dame, which owns an academic centre on the premises. Because the Abbey grounds itself is being occupied by a few different entities, the community currently lives off site, some living within an old farm house across the road and others living in a cottage also not too far away. Being separate from each other is not ideal and also not in line with the Rule of St. Benedict. The Rule of St. Benedict is the foundation of this community. It is the basis of which they live their life and it is a crucial monastic practice within the Catholic church. To read the Rule of St. Benedict, you can click here. An important need for this community is to be living in community together. Being separated into two houses, one of which is older and has maintenance and mold issues, is not ideal. For this reason, the nuns are currently fundraising to build a small, traditional monastery on the Abbey grounds. Fundraising for their new monastery is no small task and will require a lot of benefactors and gracious donations to help make it possible. These women sustain themselves through a variety of entrepreneurial endeavours including making their famous sheep shaped chocolate, hand made soaps and shampoos, and candles within the pottery of a local ceramicist. Though they are self-sustaining, they are not in a financial position to be able to build a monastery on their own income alone. Because of this, I think it is important to highlight this fundraiser at the forefront of their new website.

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MOTHER MAIRE

Mother Maire is the head abbess of the Benedictine community that resides at Kylemore Abbey in Connemara, Co. Galway. She is the lead decision maker and most often serves as the liaison for her community. She communicates with anyone from me, a college masters student to Enda Kenny and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin. That is to say, she is a personable yet very busy woman who has a knack for communication and entrepreneurship, all in the high hopes to best sustain her community and help them fulfill their duty of ‘Ora Et Labora’ - Prayer and Work. Mother Maire and I have known each other for roughly 3 years now and I have had the opportunity to photograph her and the rest of the community intimately over the years. Mother Maire and Sister Magdelena are the primary women in charge of running the more business administration side of the community–of which there are 8 active members.  
 

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THE INTERVIEW

Benedictine community and the making of their website: I interviewed Mother Maire for this project to understand what exactly I was empathizing with and what needed to be defined in this design process. Mother Maire touched upon the most crucial aspects, in her opinion, that needed to shine through on their website. It is important to have a website that was not only user friendly, but also visually striking and, plainly, "not boring." In addition, she wanted this website to be an opportunity to share the many images I have photographed of them in their work and prayer life. Being able to visually represent Kylemore is important as the natural beauty of the place is what draws many of its visitors and is a key aspect to many of the retreats the Benedictine community holds throughout the year. Besides the fundraising aspect I touched upon earlier, Mother Maire broke down their needs into three main areas: an area where people can find information on retreats and other public events they hold, an area where they can learn more about the Rule of St. Benedict and inquire about discerning, and an area where they can keep up to date on Catholic news/Catholic events/mass times/special intentions/prayers and so forth.

Here is a list of the core areas of the website that needed to be addressed: 

  1. User friendly website that will entice the public to explore (via visual images and textual hierarchy) and engage with the community online.  

  2. Retreat information and a page dedicated to their public events

  3. Call to action to donate /fundraise for their monastery 

  4. The ability for discerners (women being called to religious life) to easily reach out and inquire 

  5. An area on the site that gives a good understanding of what it means to be a Benedictine in contemporary life and to give a good understanding of what the Rule of St. Benedict is 

  6. A page where they can display their news, events, and blog posts. This page is where they will express their interests in various topics and be able to reach both the local and global communities that might be interested in the lectures they put on, the events they host, and the blog posts they share. 

The Design and Ideation Process:

Given their needs and their identity as a religious order, it is important to set up a website that reflects both clearly. I researched other websites and ultimately came up with reviewing The Newman Centre for Faith and Reason as well as the Kylemore Abbey and Notre Dame at Kylemore Abbey websites to provide a good understanding as to how best to layout the needs while still catering to the user experience.

Here is the feedback I received after testing it:

Some of the positive feedback: 

She enjoyed the website and found it easy to use and navigate. She felt the visual design worked very well and that the visual images and text complimented each other successfully. She though the home page was clear and concise and did a good job at emphasizing one of the current important needs of the community – to fundraise and make it known they're looking for donations. She thought the images were successful in their ability to convey the contemplation, beauty and work of the community. 

Here are some critiques and areas I need to revisit: 

It wasn't clear enough to her that that News and Events page would also be a blog forum and where the community would be able to clear and easily share their thoughts and promote their lectures and other events. She suggested I look at blog sites and redesign the page to mimic a more dynamic flow of information. Currently, it feels too static. She also suggest I make the "Rule of St. Benedict" page laid out with less text and more educationally structure. For instance, highlighting the most important key parts of the Rule itself and then focusing on how it specifically applies to the community at Kylemore and how it is ammended to suit contemporary life and the unique situation that Kylemore also happens to be a major tourist destination as well as the site of an American University centre.