Sunday, January 15, 2012

First Impressions: A Look at Homepages of 40 Museums

by Drew Martin
I am embarking on making a website for The Museum of Peripheral Art. I had one before but I took it down just before I turned my attention to this blog. I thought I should first take a look at the websites of internationally renowned museums as well as a few that I had good memories visiting. Museums come in all shapes and sizes and have very different revenue sources but on the Internet the opportunities to present an institution is a fair game. Some organizations do a decent job of representing who they are, while others fail miserably. A museum website should embody the heart and soul of a museum. Presented here are thumbnails of "print screens" of 40 museums, the majority are in the United States, with a large number in New York, but these also include museums from Australia, China, Czech, England, France, Germany, Holland, Hungary, India, Israel, Japan, Qatar, Russia, Spain and Switzerland. I just realized that I completely forgot to look at Italian museums' websites (of course they would know how to put on a good show) but when I clicked on the website for the Uffizi, I was more than disappointed. My comments are beneath each set of four images:

I like simple homepages without too much clutter and when they give you an impression of what they are about. I think it was important for the New Museum to show some of its gallery space with an exhibit. The Metropolitan and the Louvre - both classy. The Rubin, OK, I know I am heading East.

These are examples with an urge to tell you more about themselves and they do a good job of it, each in a way that represents the respective organization well. There is a trend now in website design towards cleaner looks but I like the richness of these pages. There is information but they do not seem informational.

These try to do the same thing but have a bit of a breakdown in layout. The Rijks kills it on the lower left in the same way that the Tate's right "shop" navigation bar and bottom-center "follow us" section seem misplaced. MAD overuses its logo and MoMA looks like it is selling ad space and only whispers its name.

There is something wrong with all of these but they all have something going for them. The Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney is too busy and the top navigation is quirky (perhaps too cute) but I actually found it amusing...while it is loading a little janitor is mopping the top header and then people walk into the header and assume a place in the navigation. When you mouse over each one, he or she waves and then a speech bubble pops up over him or her, with subcategories. I like it because, starting with the janitor, it shows you that the museum is about the staff too. I really liked the Prado's homepage when I first saw it because it looked clean and organized but each time I go back to it, it looks more and more boring. Although The National Museum of Moder Art, Tokyo's page is almost void of images, I do like how they make it super clear what they are about Art - Craft - Film. The Virginia Museum of Fine Art has a gorgeous new addition and an impressive collection but this page does not show that and it has banner overkill.

These examples are quite nice and they are all in the same family. They are simple but a little safe. I was expecting a little more of a punch from The Warhol, MOCA - Los Angeles is what I expected, the Städel's site is clean and organized like the museum and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art is very similar, but I have to admit - its use of a great exterior shot of the museum piques my interest in going there. It looks beautiful and modern.

The site for the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi has some clunky navigation but it actually do the best job of all the sites showcasing its collection. I immediately know what I am in for, which I like. I think if the Getty cleaned up its header, it would work better. The Art Institute of Chicago has too much going on and should show its new modern wing by Renzo Piano. The Newseum is the only site I included here that is not an art museum so in all fairness I cannot compare it as such. I just thought it was interesting to take a look at a museum based on mass media.

The Guggenheim commits the same act of design murder by inflating its name. It is busy and boring at the same time. SFMOMA's site would be better if it did not use a Flash build. Otherwise, I actually like how simple and simply different it is growing on me. The Museum of Islamic Arts in Doha is a fantastic building by I. M. Pei and it should be shown off in the header instead of a bad, stylized rendering of it. This last one here pains me. I visited the Collection de l'Art Brut in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1992. I remember it being small but unique . This website des not recall its fascinating collection for me and it has the name/logo in the footer when it should be in the header.
They get worse: the Museum of Contemporary Art, Shanghei's website is too amateurish, apparently I should bring my MasterCard to Budapest if I want to look at art, the National Museum in Prague's website looks like they are still using a template from the 1990's and Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw took a bad logo and made it huge but then the use of it in the upper left of the website looks like it was photocopied from the back of a discarded tram ticket.

These last four are crimes against humanity. I remember being awed by the Ishtar gate preserved at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin when I saw it as a young man. This site looks like a form. I spent a week next to the the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres about that same time in 1992. How could you go wrong designing a site about Dalí's work? I toured the Hermitage when St. Petersburg was still Leningrad and was blown away by it. The site should simply loop the trailer for Russian Ark - the movie with the longest "shot" in film history and the first feature film created in a single take, with 2,000 actors bringing to life 300 years of Russian history in 33 rooms of the Hermitage. I have never been to the Pompidou but it was in all my art history books - Piano's building turned inside out...this homepage is dead.