Published: March 15, 2001.
Less Clicking, More Watching: Results from the User-Centered Design of a Multi-Institutional Web Site for Art and Culture
This paper summarizes a 10-month long research project conducted at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center aimed at developing the design concept of a multi-institutional art and culture web site. The work followed a user-centered design (UCD) approach, where interaction with prototypes and feedback from potential users of the web site were sought throughout all the phases of the design process. In the first phase of the research, we conducted interviews with museum curators, issued questionnaires to brick and mortar museum visitors, performed on-line surveys with users of museum web sites, ran focus groups, and performed usability walk-throughs of best-of-breed museum web sites and of our new web site design ideas.
The results showed a surprisingly strong interest in streaming multimedia, TV-like experiences where users watched experts and artists talk about art and culture, augmented by links to additional and in-depth information. Such a design strategy was clearly favored by our subjects over more interactive experiences such as chat rooms, information search systems, or user-curated tours. In other words, when users go to a web site of arts and culture looking for entertaining and educational content, they seem to be less interested in clicking to find information than in watching people, especially experts and celebrities, present and discuss artistic works from their perspective.
Based on the results of the first phase, we developed a prototype of a web site based on the concept of "tours" --- 5-10 minute streaming multimedia experiences led by experts and artists, accessible by users with normal telephone connections (56Kbps modems). The tours resemble a slide show enhanced by narration, music, occasional video clips, and hot spots for extra information. Two pilot tours were fully produced and tested with users who reported great satisfaction with the tours in terms of their entertainment, engagement, and educational values. We also observed that the most satisfied users were those who interacted and explored the least during a tour.
The research described in this paper suggests that people interested in art and culture have an affinity for web sites where they can have entertaining, curated experiences in many ways similar to short TV-like documentaries. Yet there are many other occasions when they are looking for engaging educational and entertaining experiences. In such situations, less interactive but narratively structured streaming experiences with a human voice seem to be a very appealing format to engage and satisfy such users. Importantly, they do not see such experiences as a substitute for actual visits to museums or attendance at live performances, but as an enriching and highly accessible way to augment the cultural experiences and performances they enjoy in brick and mortar cultural institutions around the world. People are often looking for specific information about artists and art works.