The websites of the world’s great art museums, as well as those for numerous smaller museums, serve as a resource both for visitors to the institution and for those who are interested in viewing and accessing online information about the artworks in the museum’s collections.
As someone who routinely scours the web in search of great art images, I can testify that art museum websites vary in quality and usefulness on those counts from good to disappointing to appallingly bad. It’s astonishing how many major museums allow their online presence to fall into the latter two categories.
The website for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, one of the world’s great art museums and one that has been fairly adept in its adaptation of modern technology, has always been something of a mixed bag — professional and competent, with lots of information online, some of it very well presented, but with a somewhat clunky search system, some frustrating dead ends, disappointingly small images and an overall feeling that things could somehow be better.
Evidently those responsible for the museum’s website have also been of the opinion that it could be better, and after what is undoubtedly a great deal of thought, planning and hard work, have just unveiled a new website that is likely the best major art museum website in the world.
The redesigned interface is elegant, understated and when presenting the artworks, quietly beautiful. The website has been reorganized, streamlined and made more usable at almost every level.
The new home page, which thankfully dispenses with the pointless splash page from the old site, offers easy access to a number of paths into the site’s contents without overwhelming or confusing the visitor.
The listings for exhibitions are likewise simplified and at the same time more graphically appealing, the search feature is drastically improved and much more useful than its predecessor, and the listings for individual objects are a brilliant combination of clear, uncluttered presentation and easy access to deeper levels of information.
The Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, an online feature I have written about before, is not dramatically changed, but has been integrated into the other parts of the site more fully, putting this great resource to even better use.
A new MetMedia section collects videos, podcasts and web interactive features into an easy to use central interface.
Best of all perhaps, is the new image enlargement feature, in many cases replacing the disappointingly small images that used to represent the objects at their most detailed with a new full screen image viewer that is lightning fast and a joy to use.
I don’t know if the work was done in-house or by a third party design firm. If the latter, they deserve more recognition than the site gives them, but if the new site was created by museum staff, which I believe is the case, they just handed numerous high-end website design firms their lunch and sent them packing by showing them how a large scale website (of any kind) should be done. [Addendum: Lines and Colors reader Caz was kind enough to inform me that the site was designed by Cogapp, a design firm from Brighton, UK with offices in New York. The also designed the new website for the Barnes Foundation here in Philadelphia. My hat's off to them.]
In the process there are few trade-offs; the horrible long-string URLs (web page addresses) for individual pages utilized by the old site, which were difficult to copy and paste, send to a friend, or add to an article, have been replaced by short, human-readable addresses. The downside for someone like me is that the dozens, if not hundreds of links I’ve made to the Met’s site over the last 6 years are now broken and have to be replaced, but I’ll gladly accept that for the easier to use addresses going forward.
For those who can physically visit the museum, not only are the exhibition listings and visitor information sections much improved, there is a new zoomable interactive museum map that allows you to pinpoint specific galleries within the museum and explore their contents, as well as suggested itineraries for those who can’t devote a week or two to exploring the museum’s extensive and extraordinarily rich collections.
Exploring the collections and works online is now a genuine pleasure, so much so that I will issue my Major Timesink Warning about visiting.
The elegance, ease of use and intelligent application of sophisticated interface design principles throughout make the new Metropolitan Museum of Art website a shining example that we can only hope many other art museums will aspire to emulate.
There is a press release about the new site here.