Sorting through

MoMA’s website has been undergoing a redesign process for over a year. Maybe you’ve noticed some changes to the collection, calendar or ticketing pages? Traditionally, when museums overhauled their websites they would redesign the entire site and possibly get feedback after everything was launched, leaving little budget or room for changes. In contrast, MoMA has been using an agile approach to its website redesign, working on specific sections of the website and gathering user feedback continually to help inform decisions.

Most recently the Audience Advocates, a cross-departmental team including representatives from Digital Media, Education, Visitor Services, Membership, and Marketing, which leads user testing and offers insights about visitor behaviors, conducted an open card-sort activity to help inform the information architecture of

Over the course of two weeks, eight participants (of various ages, genders, interests, and connectedness to MoMA) took part in this card sort. Each session took between 60 and 90 minutes, followed by additional time to document and analyze the data. The card sort had three basic steps. Participants were asked to sort 67 cards (pulled from the top two tiers of navigation) into categories that made sense to them; label/title the categories; and arrange the categories as they would want to see them displayed on the website (keeping accessibility of content in mind). Throughout the process participants were encouraged to ask questions and share their thoughts and comments.

Perhaps not surprisingly, some of the categories that most users created were for MoMA PS1, visiting MoMA (e.g. tickets, hours and admission, etc.), learning (research resources, classes), shopping, and an “about MoMA” section (Museum history, a letter from the Director, etc.). Many of these categories already exist in the top-level navigation of the current site, but user testing confirmed these are areas that all users expect to see on a museum website.

Photo by: Alex Roediger

There were also sub-headings which users felt needed to stand out, without being placed within a category, such as the Inside/Out blog, contact information, an FAQ, and an “about the site” section. Users reasoned that others might not want to go digging for that information and that it needed to be readily available. Many users pointed out that if we wanted traffic to our blog it needed to be prominently displayed.

Perhaps some of the most interesting insights came when users attempted to place MoMA’s collection, artists, and exhibitions within a hierarchy. Some users felt these needed to be stand-alone categories, while others placed them under categories related to learning, the calendar, and a general category about MoMA. Since the collection is so central to the Museum’s mission, we were surprised at how users seemed to have difficulty placing it. (This seems related to onsite visitor research we have conducted, in which visitors don’t see the distinction between “collection” and “exhibitions”).

Photo by: Sara Bodinson

Another eye-opening aspect of this card sort was the confusion users expressed over some of the sub-heading titles; there were several titles that proved unclear to the majority of participants. Uncertainties over what specific titles meant had an impact on what content users expected to find and where they expected to find it. Examples of titles that users found unclear included Mobile, Neighborhood, At the Museum, International Program, and MoMA R&D. Granted, in the card-sort scenario, these sub-headings were out of their usual context, but the feedback we received suggests that rethinking some of these titles might be helpful to future users.

Although we have a lot more feedback to gather around specific questions, and more work needs to be done related to the information architecture of the site, this card-sort activity was a good starting point, and it provided some useful feedback for next steps.

One other thing worth pointing out, especially if you are interested in trying this approach at your own museum, is that users enjoyed participating in this activity, and those of us who helped facilitate the sessions had fun as well. All of the users expressed how much they enjoyed themselves — and that’s always welcome feedback.

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