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Norway’s national encyclopedia (SNL)

In 2010, Norway’s Store norske leksikon (SNL, Norway’s national encyclopedia) found itself in a critical situation. With declining sales figures for the print version, it was decided to develop an online version.


With declining sales figures for the print version, it was decided to develop an online version. However, the solution did not meet people’s expectations and the company was bombarded with negative feedback. A damage limitation editorial team was set up with new owners and new employees whose brief was to set a new course. With financial assistance from the Savings Bank Foundation and the Fritt Ord Foundation, they were given three years to show that the online version was a feasible option and to convert users from “haters” to lovers”. 

In summer 2011, Netlife Research became involved in helping to chart the way forward  

We listened to what our users were saying on social media. When we asked for their opinions of the SNL website at the time, we received over 200 responses with unmitigated criticism,” says head of communication Ida Jackson.


The Fritt Ord Foundation wished to preserve the centuries-old history of the encyclopedia and Norway’s heritage of knowledge. This would be achieved by having high-quality texts written and signed by experts. Together with a new and bigger search field, this gave users a clear way from the home page to the encyclopedia articles. 

“The tidying up and redesign work is an ongoing process. Therefore we decided not to launch as such, but to develop the encyclopedia ‘live’, as it were. says Ida Aalen. 

In addition, they have collaborated with the ICT educational centre and placed the articles in the context of the students' study programme. They have been working in focus groups to find the most relevant and readable articles for schoolchildren, as well as carrying out a more extensive user test under lab conditions. 

The text is the most important thing in the SNL and the digital version had to give associations with the print version. This has been achieved through the use of fonts and colour combinations. The Design for All mindset was present right from the start 

It was also important to incorporate good contrasts in the design and that the website should have an AA rating. And the fact that the mobile and tablet version requires only a single touch rather than advanced operation is good for all users.

“Accessibility is not something you can just add as an afterthought. It has been integral right from the outset,” says Ida Aalen. 


SNL AS has become Norway's first all-digital encyclopedia publishing company, with 120,000 visitors daily. The articles are no longer hidden away and old fashioned, but up to date and easy to find using the search functionality. The number of quotations in the press has increased, which shows that the encyclopedia has become a more credible source, and school students, journalists and other writers are actively making use of it. User feedback has gone from being critical to declarations of love, and the Board and the owners are very pleased. What started as a rescue project has transmuted into a viable organisation 

Guerrilla testing was carried out among students doing homework, friends, family and colleagues of the project team along with more extensive user test under lab conditions.

Three other similar encyclopedias: a medical encyclopedia, a biographical encyclopedia and an artists’ encyclopedia was developed following the same design process.

The mobile and tablet version of the encyclopedia requires only a single touch rather than advanced operation is good for all users. Photo: Erik Dyrhaug