Traditional vs. New Museum Website Formats

By Alyssa Cupp and Annelise McKechnie


The website for the Smithsonian Natural History Museum ( 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 (  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 ( As 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 ( 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+ ( 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.


4 thoughts on “Traditional vs. New Museum Website Formats

  1. I think it was a smart decision to compare two types of web designs for museums. In a sense the lay out of the web page is almost a reflection of the traditional or modern aspect of the museums themselves. However, I think the blog could have benefited greatly with a bit of restructuring. First, I think there should have been an explanation for what traditional and new mean in this context. Although the reader gets the gist of their meanings in the blog, it would have been nice to have a definite idea with which to begin. In addition, an introduction is greatly needed in this blog (the conclusion is nice!). Since you only had one example of a “new” web design, I’d suggest leaving out the mention of the Natural History Museum in the “traditional” section, just to keep it balanced. Overall, I think there were some good ideas in this blog and with some tweaking, it would be great!


  2. I think that you both are making good points and I like that you are comparing two different museum websites. It seems that websites for museums vary in how they want their collections and exhibitions to come across. Although, in my opinion, just because one may be older does not necessarily make it traditional as there is so many variations between the different types of websites. I think that a museum may have different intentions in displaying their collections. Websites tend to go out of date very fast. Thus, the Hirshorn website may have been tying to have an attempt to get ahead of the time.The two websites that are being talked about in this post are completely different. In my opinion there is no correct way for a museum to format their websites.


  3. I agree with MikeMiller that defining ‘new’ and ‘traditional’ in this context is necessary for understanding the post. I do really enjoy the ideas you are both writing about and I think it’s very important to discuss what works and doesn’t work for museum sites. I’ve found that the Hirshhorn site looks and feels a little more like being in a gallery because of the horizontal scrolling–It’s almost like walking past the different pieces. The website seems to be set up for a younger audience, but ultimately it helps you stay on the site longer because there are so many new things to click. Your take on the Smithsonian website is useful and I agree that it’s more education focused. It would be interesting to look at which age range is more likely to stay on each site longer. It seems that they are both focused on catering to different kinds of audiences.


  4. It is interesting to hear the review of both sides of the spectrum on these different formats of web design. In my opinion, it is just a matter of time before the traditional format is a thing of the past. Being in this digital age (if that’s what we call it), things are constantly getting upgraded for the next best thing and it is all about what the people want. I think that soon enough, this traditional style will bore more people than not and this new style, like the Hirshorn website, will slowly take over. I don’t know if it will be as “out there” as Hirshorn’s, but I feel that most online exhibits will definitely go down a similar path.


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