First Impressions: Attracting Museum Visitors Through Effective Web Design and Usability

Museum guest poses with work of art

Museum guest poses with work of art.


First Impressions: Attracting Museum Visitors Through Effective Web Design and Usability

Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Art – Spring 2018

For many people visiting museums in the contemporary world, the first point of contact with a museum and its collections is not within the walls of the museum complex itself, but through the museum’s online presence. An individual’s decision on whether or not a museum is worth visiting is informed not only through word of mouth and reputation, but through Google (or any other search engine of choice). Review sites such Yelp and social media presence via platforms such as Facebook and Instagram are relevant to this discussion. Even more significantly, however, is the museum’s portrayal of itself on the official website. 

In Spring 2018, I was a Museum Studies intern at the Carnegie Museum of Art, focusing on the museum’s online presence and improving outreach to audiences. Because website is likely the first platform on which museum goers are going to experience the Carnegie Museum of Art, it is crucial that the website constructs an image of the Carnegie Museum of Art that is both accurate and enticing. While this may seem like an obvious and overly simple goal, it is difficult to sustain a consist pubic image in a very active programming environment.  Because events and exhibitions come and go on a day-to-day basis, online representation must also reflect and synchronize with the series of events.

Achieving accuracy and synchronicity with programming is related to another difficult goal—the intuitive usability of the website for visitors. Usability must anticipate the impulses and cognitive patterns of online visitors. This means that a good website must reflect the associations that most people—literally the majority—form in their mind, anticipating their online “desire paths.” This is difficult because a wide variety of people will have personal preferences for which website layouts are the most intuitive.   

In my job I helped the museum website’s usability to potential guests—hopefully transforming them into actual guests.  I had to assure that the dates posted for upcoming events were correct.  Meanwhile I had to make sure that past events did not linger on the website crowding out the upcoming events.

I learned that it is important for a museum’s website to appear as though it is cared for. In the minds of online users, this appearance and usability reflects the amount of care that is put into the museums actual collections and programming.  For many audiences the online presence and real-life presentations of museums are one and the same.

Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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