Monday, August 9, 2010

A Major Museum Website

As a change of pace, this week we're going to look at a major museum's website.

Over the weekend, I visited the De Young museum, in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. The museum is currently hosting and exhibit called the Birth of Impressionism, with pieces on loan from the Musée d’Orsay.

The home page of the museum's website ( gives a rotating view of current shows and programs, in addition to links for other shows. The pull-down menus are the top allow the visitor to find information about the museum, its permanent collection, educational programs, membership, current exhibitions, and even parking. There's a lot of information, but it's generally well-presented and easy to find.

Pictures of artwork set the tone and entice the site visitor, but the website is clearly intended to present information, not display the museum's collection online.

Once I clicked on the link to learn more about the Birth of Impressionism show, I was disconcerted to see that the top menu bar changed. The new navigation links provided information about the exhibition, tickets, group visits, sponsors, etc, but it was not immediately clear how to get back to the main menu (to find parking information, for example). This problem could have been avoided by adding a secondary navigation bar for the "exhibit" related choices, without replacing the main navigation.

Overall the museum's site is well-designed, attractive, and functional, as you would expect from a "big budget" site... but it's clear that even major sites sometimes make basic usability mistakes.

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