Q&A: Inside the Media Lab's New Website

MIT Media Lab

The MIT Media Lab's new website is yours to explore. To find out more about the thinking behind its development and design, listen to this conversation with Stacie Slotnick, the Lab’s Assistant Director of Communications.

Interview transcription

Margaret Evans: This is Margaret Evans, senior writer at the MIT Media Lab, and I’m with Stacie Slotnick, our assistant director of communications. She’s been leading the redesign of the Lab’s website, and joins us to talk about it.

Stacie Slotnick: Hi, Margaret. It’s great to talk about this project.

Margaret Evans: First off: why even do this? I mean the Lab already gets a lot of traffic – so why redesign it?

Stacie Slotnick: Part of the thinking was that we had recently finished our redesign of our identity system which was done by Pentagram. And, once that happened it started to become more evident to me that our website was not reflecting the nature of the Lab.

Margaret Evans: In a nutshell, how would you characterize the new site compared with the one that's been around for years?

Stacie Slotnick: The new site is much more robust. It reflects the research of the Lab in a much deeper way. Part of the thinking with this new project and the new website was that if someone's interested in the Media Lab, which they could be for a variety of different reasons, we wanted their experience when they visited our site to feel like a genuine experience with the Media Lab.

So, it encourages browsing in a much friendlier way. It's a lot more visual, and the Lab has such a rich corpus of content. There are so many research projects—usually, about 400 different research projects, over 150 graduate students, hundreds of research staff, 30 or so faculty members—they're all creating all the time, and the new structure of the website allows us to dive more deeply into projects.

Now we have the ability for a researcher to really trace the lifecycle of a project from beginning to end. So, they could really start with the scribble on a scrap of paper at lunchtime and show the life of that project as it grows the whole way through for months or sometimes even years, depending on how long they're here, until the end when they have this this final piece of work. And, I think that for the researchers this new structure, in the way that the website it allows them to create these web pages very easily, frees them up to do work but also to present that work in a really streamlined way.

A sense of the Lab and its community

Margaret Evans: And for people who cannot get to the Lab, it’s a way to get a sense of the research but also a feel for the place and the people.

Stacie Slotnick: Absolutely. And that was one of our larger goals, that the Lab as a physical place is magical—you stand in front of a research Lab, you look inside, but you know out of the corner of your eye there's something else that will draw you across the building to some other lab. But we can't have people come in to have that experience because we are an academic research lab, we're not open to the public.

But that doesn't mean that we can't give people that experience as a website visitor. And, the structure of the site really encourages that sort of serendipitous exploration, where you look at one piece of content, you look at one project, and from that through all the associations (whether it be people or publications or events or other projects or other research groups) it really just allows you in a very elegant and simple way to traverse the research landscape of the Lab.

It was important as we thought about the content management system and how we architected the site that we could decentralize the content creation process. We really needed to allow everyone at the Lab to have some ownership and some control over their own content and end up with a really beautiful artifact at the end. And, they end up with a project page that relates to them, their advisor, their group, publications, events—all the things that are within the constellation of Media Lab research.

It's about discovery

Margaret Evans: You said "an artifact at the end." My sense though is that it isn't the end—the site is an organism, you know, it evolves. So, to what extent do you see the project pages in particular evolving over time?

Stacie Slotnick: This is one of the things that will be very interesting for us to watch as we see how people use the site. And already they are using some of the features that are built into the site in ways that we hadn't anticipated and ways that are really clever.

And it's about discovery. That's what we do here—we do research, we try and think about things that no one else is thinking about. And if we can give a visitor to our website a similar experience of discovery, then the project is successful.

Margaret Evans: Well that's so in keeping with the mission of the Lab—we use the word antidisciplinary, but it's a fact.

Stacie Slotnick: Yes, the antidisciplinary nature of things is something that will be bubbled up more with tagging and with the way that we can associate things. So, a project that is in more than one research group for example, which there are quite a few, it will be far more obvious in the new website structure that a group that is working on data visualizations primarily might be working with a group that is doing something completely not screen-based. And you see then the convergence in a way that is really the spirit of the Lab.

A platform, not a container

You know, our director Joi Ito talks about wanting the Lab to be a platform rather than a container. And this site I hope will be a tool that allows us to be more of a platform and to be more welcoming to people all over the world. Whether they are just interested in our work, or they have a specific thing they're looking for, or they want to watch a video of a talk because they couldn't be here to see the talk in person: All that stuff should be available and easy to use now, much more so than it was in the past.

And, it's such a community project at this point now that it's a living thing, as much as zeros and ones can be a living thing, and it will depend on the community and the needs of the community how a lot of it progresses.

Margaret Evans: Stacie Slotnick is the Assistant Director of Communications at the MIT Media Lab. She joined us to lay out the Lab’s redesigned website, which you can try out now. Thanks, Stacie.

Stacie Slotnick: Thank you, Margaret.

Past Member
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Margaret K. Evans
Former Senior Writer
Past Member
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Stacie Slotnick

You can also read Stacie’s blogpost on the Lab’s new website. For an extended version of this conversation, click on the audio link below. Meanwhile, please feel free to share your feedback with us—you can send comments to

Music credit: The music you hear at the beginning and end of this interview is called “Tranquil Piano.” The Responsive Environments group at the MIT Media Lab created the piece, using Quantizer, a sonification engine that, in real time, converts particle collision data into music. To find out how it works, see this story.

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