Do You Know Who Your Users Are? The Role of Research in Redesigning sfmoma.org
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Do you know who your users are?
The role of research in redesigning SFMOMA.org
April 12, 2007
Museums and the Web
Dana Mitroff, SFMOMA
Katrina Alcorn, Hot Studio
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)
Head of Online Services
Principal, Director of User Experience & Content
How do we know who our current users are and what they want?
What we’re going to cover today:
• How our project came about
• Why user research?
• Our approach
• What we did
• What we learned
• What we’re doing about it
Why a redesign?
SFMOMA home page today -- current site design is almost 10 years old!
We had some big questions to answer
• Who really uses our site?
• Should we think of our Web site as a destination unto itself?
• How knowledgeable are our current site users about modern
and contemporary art?
• How much detail do people need about our collection and
exhibitions? Do they even understand the distinction?
turn it into a great idea
Our approach to research
• We believe that research should be more than simply an
• As designers, we focus our efforts on research that
can improve design
• Research = science + a good listener
• Research yields real information, but it takes
creative insight to turn it into a great idea
turn it into a great idea
Quantitative vs. qualitative
• Quantitative Research = Information presented in numeric
• When should you use it? When you need to
generalize about people’s specific responses.
• Qualitative Research = Exploration of people’s behaviors,
attitudes, opinions, and belief.
• When should you use it? To gain deep understanding
of the mindset of your target audience.
How research fits into the overall design process
We are here
What we did
Four months of research that included
• Museum Web site “think tank” session
• Best practices and heuristic evaluation
• Interviews with new and returning Web visitors
• Interviews with SFMOMA stakeholders
• Online survey
What we learned
The majority of users:
• Come from a surprising variety of professions and
• Are interested, but not necessarily educated, about art
• Are fairly passive about Web 2.0-type features
• Don’t understand the difference between exhibitions and
• Are not aware of the breadth of programs and content we
• Want to plan a physical visit to the Museum
How we used this information
Some of these
findings led to
insights about what
the target audience
inspired new and
Example 1. What’s going on?
Finding: Most of our current users don’t differentiate between
exhibitions and the permanent collection, and they aren’t even
aware that the Museum programs events.
Insight: Users just want to find out “what’s going on”—whether it’s
a temporary exhibition, the permanent collection, or a public
program—so they can plan a visit to the Museum.
Example 1. What’s going on? (cont.)
Design Idea: Create a one-stop section called “Exhibitions +
Events.” De-emphasize the collection in the main nav, and make it
part of the specialized auxiliary navigation.
Example 2. Breadth and depth
Finding: Our audiences aren’t aware of all we have to offer, both
onsite and online.
Insight: We have an opportunity to showcase our public programs and
rich online resources.
Design Idea: New promotional areas and lots of cross-linking.
Example 3. Web 2.0
Finding: Our current users expressed surprisingly little interest in Web 2.0 features.
Insight: Any features we incorporate into the site can’t rely too heavily on user
participation. We have to keep in mind that our ultimate goal is to make the artwork more
Design Idea: Bring in informal, outside voices and perspectives that can succeed with
minimal user participation.
Example 4. Layering information for diverse users
Finding: Our audience is
incredibly diverse: how can
we serve their needs?
Insight: General site visitors
are looking for very different
information than scholars and
academics. We must serve
Design Idea: Add detailed
information in tabs and
• Just four examples of many of our findings
• Research methods can be applied in your own institution
• There are low-budget ways to do this yourself
• Please take a hand-out!
Dana Mitroff, SFMOMA, email@example.com
Katrina Alcorn, Hot Studio, firstname.lastname@example.org
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