Sotheby’s UX Casestudy

Re-imagine the Catalogue Experience

A good art-buyer does his/her research. But the research can’t start until the auction catalogue is in hand.

The Current Catalog

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-evaluate the content model

current way of pushing content out is a slow-process

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.

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.

A good example of that is IMDB.

The marketing of a movie starts from its conception. You will hear about it online all the way throught its developement, to production, to release.

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.

First, let’s fix the Process

We devised a new internal content strategy flow.

Secondly, an improved web UX.

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)


We sketched out some alternative UX ideas.

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

So what have we done?

We were originally tasked to help develop a strategy that enlivens Sotheby’s digital experience. In this exercise, we developed a new content creation flow that helped Sotheby’s delight their current clients and attract new clients. Our new approach has enabled Sotheby’s to publish a wealth of unique stories in support of a global editorial strategy that puts fresh content in front of Sotheby’s audience daily.