User expectations for museum digital collections

Irene Lopatovska, Pratt Institute, USA

The subject of designing retrieval interfaces for digital art is of increasing interest to museum professionals, yet few publications offer specific suggestions on optimizing interface design collections (Dyson & Moran, 2001; Lin et al., 2009). The proposed “lightning talk” will discuss the results of two user studies that evaluated several features of digital art collections with the aim of developing design recommendations for online art museum web sites. Both studies used a sample of art novice users with good information literacy skills. In the first study, users were asked to evaluate web sites of seven digital art collections, of various sizes and institutional affiliations, using Nielsen’s (1993) usability evaluation framework criteria. The study resulted in a set of five recommended features and their characteristics that users expected to see on art collection websites, including: 1) search/browse features, 2) image manipulation features, 3) interactive features, 4) website aesthetics, and 5) usability/website architecture (Lopatovska et al., 2013). Using a sample of three art museum websites, the second study explored specific features that were the most influential in creating initial impressions and generating users’ willingness to return to those websites. The study findings indicate that web site aesthetics was the strongest predictor of users’ assessment of the sites, and willingness to return to them. During the time when museums are trying to reach out to new audiences and compete with myriad of online web collections, creating strong positive first impression on virtual museum visitors is essential (Lindgaard at al., 2006). The reported findings suggest specific design features that can improve first impressions and increase repeat visits. While the study focused on users’ initial reactions, more research is needed to understand users’ impressions during repeat visits and specific uses of collections.

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