Art Museum Websites: Why Are Most So Uninspiring?
When we were tasked with creating a new site for our hometown Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA Tucson) last year, the first thing I did was take a survey of the scene. I looked at lots of art museum websites, including every Andy Warhol Foundation grantee’s website (MOCA Tucson is one of them). I found little inspiration. Some were downright confusing, while others were just completely outdated and unusable on mobile. As I broadened my research, I found a few bright spots among the big guns (MOMA, New Museum) but even some of the most respected institutions were basically unresponsive duds (LACMA, Guggenheim).
I knew art museum websites should give the feeling of being in the place. These institutions are where we going to be turned on to something new, to be around like-minded individuals, to feel moved, pushed or perplexed, to feel something. But the vast majority of the sites I was visiting in my research were not pushing the envelope in any way OR showing me why I should care. Instead they were so counter-intuitive, outmoded (you’re an art museum and you’re showing me teeny tiny pictures?! how dare you!) and cluttered with minutia that I wanted to immediately close my browser window instead of wading through the muck to try and find some bright spots. If I had been on these sites to find events, get involved, learn what they were doing in their communities and the art world in general, I would have been even more frustrated.
By contrast, what we created for MOCA Tucson is an engaging, responsive, image-driven website that caters to their core audience (museum goers – both potential and devotees – donors, etc.). You are greeted with dynamic images, but they serve a dual purpose. They show the art but what they really show is who MOCA Tucson is – by highlighting the most important, compelling things going on there at this moment in time. The museum website changes as much as the physical museum does. And right there are the top you can become a member (because you’ve certainly been missing out if you’re not) and see if the museum is open now. It looks great on mobile and the menu let’s you jump around easily. You’re never far from the filterable calendar of events. It is a wealth of information that you can easily mine.
And all of this wasn’t by accident. We knew to properly tell this budding museum’s story we had to avoid the pitfalls so common on other art museum websites. More than being modern and responsive (absolute essentials), the new MOCA Tucson website had to match the cutting-edge institution that it represents.
So, when will more art museums get a clue and update their websites? I don’t know. I hope soon. In our digital-driven world, an institution’s Internet presence has got to look as fresh as its real-life presentation.