The Best of Online Features for Museum Research
After thorough exploration of the provided online sites, the user focuses on sites in which navigation, search utility, display of search results, innovation, and visual design assist the user. These site features help provide “ease of use” for the researcher, college student or everyday user. In order to capture and maintain the users’ attention, the discussed features enable the user to perform functions quickly and efficiently.
Navigating through an online site is analogous to utilizing a GPS in an automobile. After the user enters her final destination in the GPS, she relies on the GPS to give her accurate instructions for the quickest route to her desired location. Similarly, her “smooth online travel” depends on a user friendly “click path.” She relies on the site to display clear and obvious instructions to help her get to her preferred museum destination. The Royal Collection Trust (https://www.royalcollection.org.uk/) exhibits a user friendly “click path” with unmistakable directions.
The metadata displayed in The Royal Collection Trust homepage is arranged by filters, search bars and tabs labeled “Who,” “What,” “Where,” “When,” and “More.” Once the user clicks on one of the labeled tabs, specific categories of user preference are exhibited. In particular, after entering data into the filter bar for “Who,” specific categories are displayed below the filter bar. The user is able to quickly search for a work as a subject, as an acquirer, as a creator or as a commissioner. When information exists in each of the categories, they appear “hot” or active and if no information exists, the categories remain faded. Although the tabs are written in basic terms, the use of the words acquirer and commissioner may be difficult for a layperson to understand. In order to resolve this issue, the words purchase or secure and representative may be substituted. The “What,” “When” and the “More” tab are already divided into categories. For instance, after clicking on “What” or “When,” the user can either scroll or type in her preference of technique, medium, and date range of creation. The user prefers this search method because it saves time.
Efficacy of navigation also depends on the presence and location of the site ID. In The Royal Collection Trust, the site ID consistently appears on the upper left of each page; this feature informs the user of her location. In addition, the primary navigation tabs are always clearly visible above the top level of the site’s hierarchy. This feature enables the user to easily and quickly navigate to different sections of The Royal Collection Trust, such as “Home,” “Shop,” “About” “Tickets,” “Learning,” “Visit” and “What’s On” while viewing a particular image. While hovering above a particular navigation tab, a dropdown menu appears. This particular tool also reduces time in the navigation process.
Finally, it is crucial for each page to have a name. In the Royal Collection Trust, every page has a name so that the user is always aware of her location. The name is clear and frames the content of the page, as well as matches the click path. For instance, when the user clicks on Learning and Adults, she views the page dedicated to Adult events and activities. The discussed features of The Royal Collection Trust provide the user with confidence in her travels through the collection and a willingness to return to the Royal Collection Trust for future research.
The search utility provides the user with a specific starting point and enables her to either search, browse or research a museum article (s). The National Museum of American Indians collection site (http://www.nmai.si.edu) exhibits a user friendly search utility. Once the viewer arrives to the online collections, she immediately observes three bold headings, which allows her to select from different taglines. She views the following taglines: ‘Search’ the Collection, ‘Explore’ Featured Item and ‘Explore’ Collection Highlights. These taglines provide the viewer with confidence that she has arrived at her desired location and can perform her search in a variety of methods.
In addition to the efficacy of NMAI’s search utility, the visual design of the search page also captures the users’ attention. For instance, the design, location, font, boldness and color enhance the search utility by making the search selections more captivating and pronounced. In NMAI’s ‘Search’ the Collection, the viewer can select if she prefers to search the collection by peoples/cultures, artists/individuals, places, object specifics, and/or perform and advanced search. The word ‘search’ is in bold capital letters with large font. The words listed below ‘Search’ the Collection are in bold, white letters against a blue background and the words are placed on an arrow shaped image. This particular layout and design assures the viewer that she will be taken to her desired location. The tagline Explore Featured item is located next to ‘Search’ the collection.
In Explore Featured Item, there is nicely sized high resolution picture of a Dakota Dance Staff. The picture captures the audience members’ attention and provokes her curiosity to click on other thumbnails displayed in Explore Collection Highlights. After the viewer clicks on the picture, she is taken directly to the field tag. The information in the field tag is labeled clearly.
Explore Collection Highlights displays eight thumbnail images of highlighted items in the collection. After clicking on a thumbnail, the user is provided with images other than the specific thumbnail image selected. This routing method frustrates the user because she understands it will take an extended amount of time to locate the highlighted artifact displayed in the thumbnail. The viewer expects to see the image selected.
The search utility in NMAI’s Collection Search is set up with clear instructions. The user is pleased to search the Peoples/Cultures section, because she can select a culture by one of three ways. She can select an area on a map, select from a drop-down list or enter a people/culture name. The user prefers to utilize the map because she is able to make a visual connection to the provenance and culture of the artifact and can see where the people/culture is located in relation to other cultures. Overall, the instructions in the collections search page are clear and simplified, which makes the search utility user friendly and ultimately, promotes continuous use.
The display of search results is of utmost importance to maintain the viewer’s attention and assure her return to the online site. The user strongly ranks Europeana (http://europeana.eu) as the GLAM site with the most thorough display of search results. Upon the initial search, the user observes the location of the work. For instance, when Pablo Picasso is entered into the search bar, she is able to view where the work is exhibited, the field tag, a map of the location, similar items, references and relations, among other information necessary for research. The field tags are displayed so that the user has plenty of detailed information. Obviously, this GLAM site is a collection of data that has been shared from other museums.
During each search, a sidebar on the left of the page appears and provides more depth to the search; the sidebar is a form of search utility. The sidebar includes providing country, aggregator, institution, language, use of image; i.e., public domain, and certain images have user annotations, as well as links to Wikidata/Wikimedia. Another unique dimension of the search utility of Europeana is the ability to explore utilizing a color palette either from the browsed image or a separate search on the primary navigation toolbar.
The user ranks Balboa Park Online Collaborative (BPOC) (http://www.balboaparkcommons.or) as the most innovative and useful site. This site is a “one-stop shop,” including lodging reservations, Park wide Events, Park Amenities, shopping, performing arts, eating and drinking, as well as parking information. The user can plan her entire trip, minus the airfare on this site. Most importantly, the site exhibits detailed information about the park’s seventeen museums. Museum information, including hours, location (map), telephone number, admission price and website are clearly posted. In addition, museum images and upcoming events are displayed on the site with a brief description and a high resolution image. This feature provides more detail of the museum.
Finally, the viewer ranks Rijksmuseum (http://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/explore-the-collection) as the most aesthetically pleasing. While searching or browsing the collection, the user observes the majority of works exhibit a vivid display. Many of the works can be magnified to show even the smallest of cracks or buckling. As the user clicks on each artist, masterpiece or other work, a different masterpiece covers over one-third of the entire page. Moreover, unless the user prefers to click “read more,” luminous images comprise all of the screen. This site is ideal for downloading an image to be used in her works, especially if she is writing a paper for an Art History class. For instance, if the user is writing a paper on impressionism artists, she may choose to write a paper on Claude Monet. She would also include an image of Monet’s painting, La Corniche near Monaco.
The zoom tool allows the user to view the techniques of impressionism. She is able to refer to the loose-handed brushstrokes, which give the painting a dream-scape appearance. The broad brushstrokes used for the sky, water and rock formation allow the artist to exhibit how light is reflected off the surface of the landscape, or the interplay of the light source.
In conclusion, navigation, search utility, display of search results, innovation, and visual design assists with the site’s “ease of use.” Whether the user is a college or high school student, researcher or layperson, the previously discussed features help to capture and maintain the users’ attention. Each institution desires for return visitation, not only to their museum but to their website.
Amy Bradshaw, Graduate Student, Museum Science & Management, Education Track
University of Tulsa, 2017