Sotheby’s UX Casestudy

Re-imagine the Catalogue Experience

In 2015, Vaudeville was originally tasked by Sotheby’s to help develop a strategy that enlivens Sotheby’s digital experience. There were many parts to the overall engagement, and the part I participated in was centered around their catalogue experience.


The Current Catalog

A good art-buyer does his/her research. But the research can’t start until the auction catalogue is in hand. If you visit Sotheby’s in Midtown Manhattan, you’d get a print copy. If you’re are subscribed to their newsletter, you’d get a link to the e-book. If neither, you probably would never notice it on the website.

The Current Catalog as a e-book

The design of the catalog looks very elegant but it takes so long to turn-around & fails to reach the customers effectively.

Not just a “we need a web version” problem

In fact, we have a web version, the auction page.

a dissection of the current catalogue experience

Unfortunately, the auction page, with detailed info of all on-sale items, comes out after the print catalogue is finalized. And that means, sometimes, only a week before the real auction. #notsospeedy

The art buyers are hungry to know what’s for sale and they expect to have it as soon as possible.

Re-invent the Content Model

The way Sotheby’s put together content is very in-efficient, first all the content regarding each lot are gathered, and then they are edited and sent to the auction bucket, and then when the auctions are curated, they are put together into series.

current way of pushing content out is a slow-process

The result of that is, potential buyers are kept in the dark until a week before the auction.To solve this problem, we proposed the “Hollywood” Model. The marketing of a movie starts from its conception. You will hear about it online all the way through its development, to production, to release.

a WIP IMDB page would be put up right from the beginning that would keep collecting content.

Similarly, we should engage our audiences as soon as the lots are announced.In fact, there are always plenty exciting content about lots, and it’d be a shame for them to be buried in a deep catalog and confusing web navigation.Better yet, they can be presented as “behind the scene access” & insider peak. Here was the a new internal content strategy flow our team devised.

A Re-imagined User Experience

As the UX specialist of the group, I started digging in with an assessment of the current web pages and user flows.

The current auction related pages are very content heavy with lots of elements and mixed call-to-actions. There’s no way to represent a grouping of events(sales, editorial, events, etc) in a single page experience.

The editorial on catalog and lot pages doesn’t create a clear path to transaction.

Our competitor, Christie’s does a much better job.

They have:

1.Side-by-side layout vs strictly vertical

2.Clear, color-coded action buttons

3.Tabs for Overview & Lot Notes (for those who want deeper engagement)


I sketched out some alternative UX ideas.

Collection Pages
Collection Page ideas
Auction Pages
Auction page ideas
Lot Pages

The Presentation

I created an overall UX roadmap and for the final presentation, I blew up this detailed map on a large poster and put it up on the conference room wall. It’s a bit old-school — but this made everyone gather around the map and became a lot more engaged and we got immediate buy-in from the clients.

Our new approach ended up enabling Sotheby’s to publish a wealth of unique stories in support of their brand-new global editorial strategy that puts fresh content in front of Sotheby’s audience daily.

My Takeaway

Teams within a big company like Sotheby’s tend to seek routine and repetition — hoping to avoid changes in priorities, team members, or resource allocation. Luckily, the executives were willing to proactively fight these natural headwinds and hired us to explore possibilities from a different perspective — and eventually drive changes, in order to keep their organizations on the leading edge. As a part of that team, I was happy to have contributed my knowledge and creativity to drive that change.

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