MoMA.org is in the process of being redesigned. While it’s not unusual for a museum to tweak and even overhaul a website, it is the first time MoMA is using agile evaluation to help inform the redesign. Perhaps even more unique to this process, is the input from a group of “Audience Advocates” representing various departments at MoMA (including Digital Media, Education, Membership, Visitor Services, Management Information, and Marketing).
The role of the audience advocates in this project is to help ensure that the redesigned website will provide an excellent and accessible experience for a range of users by sharing their knowledge of MoMA’s public and conducting user testing of the website redesign.
Members of this group all engage with MoMA’s online and on-site audience in various ways and as a result they are able to share their insights, experiences, and information with the larger group. The group meets and conducts user testing biweekly. This frequency provides a regular feedback loop for the developers throughout the process. This timeline helps set deadlines for testing assumptions—and the prototypes can be anything from paper to software to other museum websites, to eventually working software. The continuous research, user testing, and sharing of information not only helps to move the project forward but also ensures that users’ voices are taken into account throughout development.
Often user testing of a website happens further down the road or even when work on a website is complete. In this case, the process is very iterative, helping to inform decision making around each step in the redesign.
At this early phase in the process, user testing is fairly simple, focusing on big picture design and interface preferences. One of the first sessions we conducted was to ascertain whether people preferred a one- or two-column view of the online collections. Audience Advocates dispersed into the galleries and approached visitors who used mobile devices to share their thoughts about what they saw, things they liked or didn’t like, and then asked them to select a preference and explain why they made their choice. During testing, users are encouraged to talk aloud about what they are doing and share any thoughts or questions they have while exploring a site or feature. It’s important to have two people facilitate the testing so that all observational and verbal data can be captured.
The most recent session got at more qualitative preferences. We recruited users from the MoMA Library (since scholars and researchers represent a large portion of users of MoMA’s online collection), to look at two different museum online collections to provide their thoughts about the search functions of both. Interestingly, even though half of the users preferred one site and half the other, there were a lot of definite preferences in terms of the features and search capabilities. A big search box, large and good quality images, and a clear hierarchy of information were three features that all of the users greatly valued.
The redesign of MoMA.org is an exciting project to work on, but what I think makes this project more interesting and significant is the approach to its development. As someone who spends a lot of time thinking about visitors and how they experience things, it’s great to know the users will have their voices heard at every stage of this project.