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Prototyping exhibition web pages at the Getty: designing for online and onsite visitor needs

getty_prototypingThis guest post is from Ahree Lee, a Senior User Experience Designer in the Web Group at the J. Paul Getty Trust in Los Angeles, CA. 

In January 2014, a cross-departmental team of designers, producers, editors, curators, and senior staff at the Getty kicked off an intense two-week effort to redesign and re-engineer the Getty’s exhibition web pages. In this guest post, I will cover the process we followed, some of the key findings, and how the project is moving forward.

We knew there were three basic groups of visitors we needed to serve with the Getty exhibition web pages: casual visitors; more engaged “enthusiast” visitors; and art professionals such as scholars and curators.

In small teams of four to five, we interviewed people from all three visitor groups, created Empathy Maps and Point of View statements, and then each team focused on one visitor type and created rough prototypes. (To learn more about how teams at the Getty are using prototyping, please see the paper published for the 2014 Museums and the Web conference, From Post-its to Processes: Using Prototypes to Find Solutions.)

My team focused on the needs of casual visitors to the Getty Center, and we brainstormed around the needs of a particular visitor we met and interviewed in the galleries whom we’ll call “Larry.”

Larry is a married, retired motion picture industry professional in his mid-70s from Los Angeles who is generally interested in the arts, but only feels motivated to see an exhibition if he hears from friends or neighbors that it’s a must-see. In our interview with Larry, he used movie industry lingo such as “hit” and “flop” to describe several recent exhibitions he saw, and criticized the content of some less-successful exhibitions, declaring “to be popular, it has to have Tom Cruise!”

Regardless of his interest in a particular exhibition topic, Larry is fascinated with what other people find fascinating, and if lots of other people are excited about an exhibition, then he has to see it. In our conversation, he described the exhilaration he felt at the last major exhibition he saw, watching the large crowds and feeling like he was part of a big cultural event.

Although the scope of our project only extended to the Getty exhibition web pages, we did not hold back in our brainstorming. Our brainstorm ideas for potential solutions to improve Larry’s experience at the Getty covered everything from Getty-sponsored international travel to having Tom Cruise give him an in-person tour of the “hits” of an exhibition. When it came down to choosing one idea to prototype and test, we all really liked the idea of providing a guide to the “hits” of an exhibition. And in interviews with other casual visitors, we heard several times that they were overwhelmed when they arrived at the museum and really appreciated recommendations of where to start and what not to miss — an idea that dovetailed well with, and even extended, the concept of providing exhibition “hits.”

Image courtesy Ahree Lee, J. Paul Getty Trust

Image courtesy Ahree Lee, J. Paul Getty Trust

We also learned in our interviews that pretty much no one ever looked at the exhibitions section of the Getty website before coming to visit the Getty Center, so if we put any pre-visit info online, it might never be seen by those who needed it the most (like Larry!). So, we decided to go out on a limb and build a prototype that had both a web and an in-gallery component.

The in-gallery prototype we built was pretty rough, as you can see, but it was very effective in validating our hypothesis that casual visitors like Larry wanted quick, on-the-spot reference guides of things to see and do.

Our original concept was that the recommendations could come from notable people like local celebrities (e.g., “Tom Cruise’s Favorites”), be determined by popularity among our visitors (e.g., “Most Popular This Summer”) , or selected by different demographic groups (e.g., “Kids’ Choice”). What we found was that while casual visitors might find some of those categories interesting, they really wanted a cultural authority to point out a few cool, important, or interesting things to see in their limited time so they wouldn’t feel like they had missed out on something later.

The beauty of working in cross-functional teams is that ideas spread quickly. Even though our exhibition page redesign project is not going to address in-gallery signage or maps, the notion of providing guidance around “greatest hits” caught on with team members who deal with in-gallery collateral and signage, and currently the team that handles the design of the physical exhibitions and print materials is trying out new ways to incorporate this “don’t miss” concept into the galleries. Over the next few months both the web and the exhibition design teams will be building out and prototyping our solutions.

ahree-leeAhree Lee is a Senior User Experience Designer in the Web Group at the J. Paul Getty Trust in Los Angeles, CA. She is a recent transplant to both the museum world and Los Angeles, having worked for many years at tech companies in Silicon Valley, and is enjoying bringing the user-centered design process to a sphere she truly loves. You can follow her on Twitter at @ahreelee.

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