Better Know a Digital Museum – Los Angeles County Museum of Art

2) Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) – Los Angeles, CA

The Ahmanson Building...photo provided by Wikicommons

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) holds a special place in my heart for several reasons:  first, my initial experience there was on a Valentine’s Day, where my wife and I saw the opening of their expansive modern art wing; second, my current research interests are in large part thanks to a curator-led LACMA tour of both Tim Burton’s illustrious 2011 exhibit as well as a sojourn through their European Art wing.  The real space of the museum is nestled in the Miracle Mile area of Los Angeles, and is next to the La Brea Tar Pits, and the area is visited by some of the nation’s best food trucks during luncheon hours.

User Interface – The site’s design reflects the modern & postmodern considerations of one of the museum’s collection strengths, the Broad Contemporary Arts Museum.  The splash page is loud and busy, with numerous links, media types, and scrolling pictures bringing attention to the traveling exhibits as well as membership opportunities.  Most of the links provide information about real space exhibits, and gaining access to the online catalog of artifacts is a multi-step task.

Once into the collection section, you can view the numerous collections.  The layout for the sections is similar; a paragraph of information followed by picture links representing selected topics or a random search. Several of the collections have multiple search options: for example, German Expressionism can be searched by artist, subject, or date; while Art of the Ancient Americas can be searched by culture, place or type.  Interplay between collections does not exist.  A basic search engine exists, and while its algorithm separates news and content, both appear on the same page and the design layout is confusing.  A complicated advanced search engine exists, but is daunting to utilize.

The layout of collections is not uniform.  If you follow provided links, the display engages in one manner, but if you utilize a search, it engages in another, and if you follow supplemental links the UI is in a third strata.

The LACMA has an iPhone app that includes the day’s activities at the real location, a selection of digital images from the collection, a map of the museum grounds (you can click on some of the buildings to see selected artworks in the building), and a tour section where patrons can enter codes listed next to the real paintings in the real museum to gain more information.  Museums 2 Go gave the LACMA iPhone app a rating of 2 out of 5.

A screenshot of the German Expressionism splash page from http://www.lacma.org

Artifact Content – The difficulty of finding artifacts via LACMA’s user interface extends to engaging them online.  There are pages for artifacts where you can view the artifact as well as learn about its cultural history, its location in the museum, its reference in artistic texts, the subject groupings a curator organizes it under, the history in exhibitions, and on occasion write-ups about the art’s cultural significance.  However, it takes multiple clicks and navigations to arrive at these pages, and depending on where you are starting (from the collection splash page, from an exhibit write-up, or from a search), you may not be able to access these informative pages.

A number of artworks are not available for viewing online past thumbnail; the LACMA provides information to contact the education department for further discussion.  There is a viewer for images found via the subset links, but when I click “more information” using Google Chrome, it will not let me scroll to read the information.

The iPad app is not searchable.  A select number of artifacts are displayed, with an information write up similar to that seen hanging next to an artifact in a real museum.  You can map where the artifact is, but the map provided is not detailed nor a floor plan, so its layout is confusing.

Historical & Cultural Context – For specific artifacts, the only information provided is listed under artifact content.  For collections, however, there are numerous links to events and happenings in the real museum space.  There are also videos and blogs that reference the collection.  The iPad app only links to the events in the real space.

Interactivity – The most noteworthy interactive aspect of the LACMA is the Image Viewer.  A user can click on various items and pull them into personal library.  This is not unique, but LACMA is the first website I have worked with that allows the user to freely drag and manipulate the images to put some next to others and create their own museum wall, providing an authentic interaction experience worth heralding.  The problem I had in Google Chrome was that I could not scroll on the library.  Thus, if I clicked “More Information” and more information was provided, there was no way to read it or to move the artifact at that time.

The iPad app provides options to use social media such as Twitter or Facebook to share the limited collection pieces provided there.

Community – The LACMA website promotes its real space community to great lengths.  However, digital community is limited.  Users can post replies to blog posts in the various collections, and the iPad offers the social media as mentioned above.

Overall – The LACMA’s digital footprint has great potential that is severely limited by its difficult navigation and user interface.  The Image Viewer is a unique and important technology in fostering authentic interactive experiences between subject and object, but its obscurity on the site and its difficulty in usage through web browsers leaves it a largely untapped resource.  To summarize the overall experience, I would say the site shares a common aesthetic, but does not share a common organization or a linking of divergent topics and interests; in order for the site to achieve its goals the various branches of LACMA, which are seemingly well-organized in reality, need to achieve the same organization in digital spaces.

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