By Alyssa Cupp and Annelise McKechnie
The website for the Smithsonian Natural History Museum (http://www.mnh.si.edu/) is well designed. The format of their website is clear and easy to navigate. The information is also laid out concisely giving the viewer easy access to the information they are seeking. There are good overviews of the different exhibits; which are informative, easy to understand and leave you wanting to visit the exhibit. Another interesting ability the website has is that you can search different disciplines that are in the museum and see what artifacts the museum has pertaining to said discipline. For example, if you were to look under archaeology you could find pictures and basic information on artifacts such as; where the artifact was found, who found it and when it was made.
In class we’ve discussed how education is playing a greater role in museums than it has in the past and like other museums we have talked about The Natural History Museum has integrated education into their website (http://www.mnh.si.edu/education/index.html). The Museum uses a website called Q?rius, which is a site specifically for teachers to help them plan visits to the museum. There are suggestions on lesson plans to help create activities for students while at the different exhibits as well as online activities. There are also links to more information on the exhibits that you can read before visiting the actual museums. There are also different fieldtrip programs for classes to go on. There are also different online mini tutorials about specific subjects pertaining to such topics as volcanic ash and tectonic plates. I personally like the Natural History Museums setup, I like the straight forward way the information is available and accessible.
The Hirshhorn is another example of a museum website that was well put together (http://www.hirshhorn.si.edu/collection/home/). As blouinartinfo.com states, “as the most recent of the high-profile museum Web site overhauls, the Hirshhorn’s feels the most of-the-moment.” The site has an eye-catching square tile format that scrolls horizontally which resembles that of Windows 8. The website also has many images to give it a Pinterest vibe, which is a refreshing change. Even though it appeals more to the new generation it has a simplicity that the older generations would be able to grasp just as well. This format does a great job at representing the Hirshhorn for what it is-a contemporary art museum. The simple but bright white text and quotes on the wide range of tiles adds a nice clear touch as well.
The horizontal scrolling can become overwhelming and seem to never end, but if you utilize the tabs it can be an easy source to navigate. Any information one might want about the history of Hirshhorn is right there and easy to access. Two of the many useful tools the website provides are a collection search and also a library catalogue to further research materials and artists. Due to the Hirshhorn being part of the Smithsonian Institution the link (http://library.si.edu/research) to access the Hirshhorn’s library catalogue directs the user straight to the Smithsonian Library web page. This feature is nice to have, but may become confusing if the user is not aware of the connection between the two museums. The Hirshhorn has information on not only current exhibits but also past and future ones as well. Interviews of the artists can also be found and give the viewers a personal and in-depth description of the artists’ works. The museum itself is very interactive with Artlab+ (http://artlabplus.si.edu/ a program to support teens in building their own creative communities), education programs for teachers, and work, intern, and volunteer opportunities.
The differences between the Smithsonian and the Hirshhorn museum websites are the ways they attract their audiences. The Smithsonian is a professional institution so it reflects that of its reputation on its website. The Hirshhorn on the other hand is up to date on technological advances, which is also a reflection of the museum. The Smithsonian focuses on student education, whereas the Hirshhorn works toward educating teachers. Although their layouts are different they are both easy to navigate and informative. Both museums did a fine job at knowing who their audience is and designed their websites accordingly.