What art works
A visit to New York’s Museum of Modern Art online produces interesting insights into the corporate website movement, David Bowen discovers.
|Museum of Modern Art||FastLane Blog|
|Where holidaymakers go||What happened to sound?|
It’s a good time of year to let the mind wander away from the world of big organisations, and see if we can pick up ideas from Out There. Before I went on holiday I looked at tourism sites, and got some thoughts from them. Having come back, I am all excited about art galleries.
My few hours in New York’s Museum of Modern Art – MoMA – were fascinating. but left me wondering about a few things. The level of explanation varied wildly from exhibit to exhibit, from a choice of audio descriptions to a simple title on the wall. This prompted a definite task: one of Magritte’s famous ‘bowler hat’ pictures was called The Menaced Assassin, according to the piece of paper on the wall. But as to what on earth was it about… would the website tell me?
First, I had to work through the site, picking up tips (or things to avoid) as I went.
So to the home page, a series of bold picture blocks with a frame running along the bottom to hold the main navigation. Why the frame? Why not put the navigation at the top? The argument must be that it stays always in view; but to me it is clunky and crowds the screen unnecessarily. One to avoid.
I do, however, think the idea of big blocks of colour, divided by white lines, can work well. It is very art gallery, of course, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be quite corporate as well. Companies have been searching for new looks recently, and ‘big and bold’ is one of the routes they have taken (Goldman Sachs and Rio Tinto come to mind). MoMA’s home page is one example, its Collection landing page (under Explore) is another; mentally expunge the navigation bar and see what it does for you.
Another bit of trendiness is the way a panel darkens as you mouse over it. More often it stays bright and everything else fades to grey. Either can work well; but if you use this device, make a note to drop it as soon as it feels the slightest bit over-popular.
An orange bar in the navigation panel at the bottom of pages has a ‘Welcome. Are you…?’ block that launches a ‘choose your perspective’ menu which lets you say if you are a first time visitor, a returning visitor, a student, etc. It took a while to realise that this simply changed the elements in the rest of the bar – rather than the page above. Like much of the navigation on the site, a bit too clever for its own benefit. But the idea of providing different routes to the same information is a good one. I clicked one of the links generated by selecting ‘visiting with a family’, and found an informative and mercifully motionless page. Again, this is potentially useful; not unique, of course, but quite rare on corporate sites.
One of the things I liked most about MoMA were the audio guides. Where a painting left me stumped, I looked to see if there was a ‘kids’ version of the description on the listening device. Instead of earnest adults trying to baffle me even more about Jackson Pollock, I was told how he would throw paint around while listening to jazz. His pictures made a lot more sense after that.
So I was happy to find – buried in Learn> Online activities> MoMA Audio – the same audio tracks. While I had enjoyed the kids audio about Mr Pollock’s One: Number 1 1950, it was good to find a teenage track for another of his paintings, narrated by teenagers and aimed roughly at my level.
In the last newsletter we had a guest commentary about sound on websites. It is underexploited, but getting excited about podcasts is not easy: they are usually at the worthy but dull end of the sound spectrum. Do they have to be? Not really. Do you have technology you want to show off? Why not produce a lively audio track explaining it? Do you work for a pharmaceutical company? Why not explain what you are doing about swine flu? Go further, copy MoMA and produce versions for children, teenagers and grown-ups. Given the ubiquity of iPods, doesn’t it make sense to try to get a little space on them?
Then there is all the social media stuff, which is in Explore> Online Communities. The most interesting element here is the simplest – take photographs at MoMA and put them up on its Flickr pages. The problem with Flickr, as I said in my last column, is often that you have an awful lot of pictures that are much the same. It is not an issue here, presumably because MoMA visitors are an artistic lot, and the selection is surprisingly varied. Best of all for the museum, it can pick the few it really likes and put them on its site. General Motors does something similar with its FastLane Blog. I’m surprised more companies don’t do the same.
Many companies have databases of products, and so does MoMA (30,713 works online). Its way of allowing visitors to search and display them is quite neat. Go to Explore> The Collection, then click Filter a Selection of Works. Columns let you choose by decade, artists and so on. Click again and you see all relevant items; and once again to see the page that describes an exhibit in detail.
Which is how I came to learn who was menacing Magritte’s assassin. Not why, of course, but I doubt I was supposed to know that.
First published on 19 August, 2009