Getting the art to our users: A user-centred approach to navigate Tate's digital content
Researchers. Art Enthusiasts. Self-improvers. Explorers. Users come to Tate’s website with different motivations, knowledges of art, and have different preferences for browsing information online. At Tate, we have undertaken research to understand, analyse and map these users’ needs and expectations. We have then used this analysis to consider how we can develop more effective ways for users to find and consume our content about art, as well as enabling users to create their own experiences and meanings. In this article, we outline our research and visit matrix, and how this framework could go on to inform how we improve our online content. An article by Emily Fildes, Digital Producer, and Elena Villaespesa, Digital Analyst, Tate.
Tate’s website was first launched in 1998 to support Tate’s aim of increasing public awareness, understanding and appreciation of art. At the same time, we pioneered a project to digitise Tate’s collection of British art from 1500 to the present day and international modern and contemporary art. Today our art collection is digitally available in the Art & artists section of our website. We also continue to publish a huge range of contextual and research information about art: from blogs and videos, to learning resources and research publications.
We are constantly adding and developing this content to increase public awareness, understanding and appreciation of art, for example our Archives & access project which will digitise 52,000 items from our archive to sit alongside our artwork records. The challenge we face is how can we present all this content to our users in an effective way?
Understanding our audiences
Our first step was to understand our users’ needs and expectations. Taking some research we had carried out on the Art & artists section of the website, we found that most visitors came to research art and that this encompassed a range of motivations, educational levels and habits. However, some other visitors came to the site seeking inspiration, and a more aesthetic and emotional experience browsing through images of the artworks.
Wordcloud of the terms used by users to describe the motivations for their visit
Combining these two poles, intellectual and emotional, we added another variable to the mix - the level of knowledge our users have about art - creating a four-way type of visit matrix.
This matrix has given us a new way to think about how we present content for these four motivations. We’ve done a brief analysis into how this framework could help us to present the content from our collection, as well as our wider contextual and research content about art, in a more effective way.
As an art gallery, it comes as no surprise that a key motivation for users is to see large pictures and engage visually with our content. We already have a slideshow functionality that you can use to explore just images of artworks from the collection from different search terms (such as all the ‘Roses’ in our collection), and a functionality to dive into one of J.M.W. Turner’s sketchbooks (like the Fire at the Tower of London Sketchbook).
However, we need to investigate better ways of making sure users can find images quickly online by introducing a ‘show me records with images only’ filter, and enhancing our artwork search grid-view to make the images more prominent. As part of the Archives & access project, some images will be released with a Creative Commons License, and we’re hoping that you’ll be able to search for this straight away too – so users who want to, can find images they can download easily.
What surprised us was the number of people specifically looking for information alongside the images. Whilst we have a huge volume of content on our website, within our collection we don’t make that very easy to find, such as the amount of information we have on the Camden Town Group.
We’ll be looking at different ways to satisfy these users, such as a introducing a ‘show me records with text’ filter and enhancing our search list-view to provide more detailed information about artwork and archive records. From artworks, archive records and artists we will also be linking to associated learning resources, videos and other material from the rest of our site to satisfy information-hungry users.
We can also use this user matrix to understand how different people might be looking for information about an artwork or artist on our website. J.M.W. Turner is a popularly searched artist on our site with an average of 5,000 unique searches every month, as we have the largest collection of Turner works.
Having this user matrix helps us to think about the best way to surface our information about Turner to different users. At the moment, we ask people to find it themselves, but we could do a much better job in matching the content to the users.
So thinking about art explorers, we can link to an immersive sketchbook experience (an example). For self-improvers, we can point them in the direction of a biography and timeline, or our online course. For art enthusiasts, they can watch a video critically engaging with Turner (like this interview with film director Mike Leigh) or read the interactive How to Paint Like Turner book. Finally for researchers we can surface the J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours research texts.
Museums and galleries are big content producers but now we need to get this content to the audiences and present it in a way that fulfils the different users motivation modes. Tate’s website offers a good opportunity to package the content produced by various departments over time in a more creative and useful way. As we have outlined, this could be done by grouping the content or adding new ways of browsing or using technology and design techniques to present content in a more interactive format. This way this exceptional content not only reaches people but also creates unique new experiences for them.