Friday 17 July 2009

Big ups

I've been meaning to write about the Christchurch Art Gallery's website redesign for months now. With a graphic overhaul, an information architecture tweak, and the release of a properly searchable collections online (underpinned by Vernon), the Gallery has, I think, put itself streets ahead of other municipal galleries, which appear dark, cramped, and unnavigable in contrast.

For a reminder of what the CAG site used to look like, here's a February 2008 shot from the Internet Archive's way back machine (which I recommend: you'll discover things like; the GBAG has not changed its homepage layout since November 2002 (when records begin) - here's November 2004).

Between Feb 2008 and today there's been at least one refresh of the homepage, as I recall, and now this whole new treatment. Taking a lesson from MoMA and Apple, CAG have gone for the hero image treatment, banking that the major temporary exhibitions are the main reasons people are visiting the site. Inside, navigation has been shifted over the right-hand side, and the font size mercifully increased - pages are big, bright, and white.

A few little moans:

When I click on Exhibitions in the top-level nav on the homepage, then on Publications inside the second-level nav, I'm suddenly shunted off into a second-level page in the Shop section. I *know* people use their back buttons, but breadcrumbs could still be a useful orienting device here.

I'd love the News and Events section to have RSS feeds, so the information is pushed to me (I'm lazy, and I'm not local - this is the best way to get it to me).

I'm not convinced by the right-hand placement of the nav, and I'm not convinced that the designer is convinced either, when I see how the nav is being repeated in the body copy in the Education section. I wonder if the pale grey meets web standards guidelines for contrast, and I'd really like it if the navigation changed visually to reflect where I am in the site. Actually - I just double-checked that statement, and the background of the top-level nav does change ever so slightly to a more tomatoey shade of scarlet - I'd still consider using tabs at this level, and something else at the second and third.

What I am convinced by though is the improvement to the Collection search (no more browsing by artist name!) and the number of digitised publications that are available online (with sensible linking through to Christchurch City Libraries) . Like Auckland Art Gallery, Christchurch has really got its act together here.

The collection search, the publications, and dates of shows are the three reasons I visit the CAG site. I guess you could say my motivation is primarily 'research', not 'visit'. The site does a good job of delivering up content for schools, but not so much for the adult researcher; the content is all there (history, publications, exhibition archive, collection search) but the Library in particular is hard to find.

All up though - a please to use, a surprisingly deep reservoir of content, and a big improvement. Belated congrats to all responsible.

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