A Critique of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Website

Overall, The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum website  has a nice layout. I found it very easy to navigate and find critical information.  I enjoyed being able to explore what the museum has to offer, from the collections to educational outlets.  From the main page the you can easily find information such as hours and admission, directions, visiting tips, suggestions on what you can do and see at the museum, a floor plan, as well as a search box to find out what objects are on display in either the Washington D.C. or Chantilly VA, museums. The main tabs include Collections, Exhibitions, Restoration and Research. There are also tabs that catch the audience’s interest such as Spotlight Event, How Do Things Fly and On the Blog.  One thing I found initially confusing was that you could click on the images under each of the tabs, but they didn’t bring you to the tab’s main site. Instead it brought the visitor to the featured category under the tab.

Collections and Exhibitions

The collections page highlights the museums popular artifacts, such as the Wright Flyer and the Apollo 11 Command Module.  I found that you can browse through the displayed artifacts, but not every item has a link and the page itself is slow to load. Their exhibition page  features many online exhibitions.  For example, the exhibit on the main page is focused on the renovation of the main exhibit the Boeing Milestone of Flight Hall. The renovation seems to embody several of the changes we have been discussing. For example, they are trying to tie their objects together using a narrative, which includes cultural and political background and information. Instead of just presenting the audience with the artifact and the facts, the exhibit designers are trying to give some historical context to the objects, which I think is a step in the right direction as far as reinventing museums.

Trends in Social Media

The exhibit page also has a link to the milestone twitter page, where followers can receive up to date progress on the renovation. I find it funny that the biggest news on their twitter is the fact that the museum took the Starship Enterprise studio model off display. Of all the artifacts the museum has, the most popular is a science fiction set. The museums blog is also focused on the Star Trek set where they detail that their goal is conservation over preservation. I find this kind of odd, I’ve always felt that preservation was more important but maybe it depends on what kind of artifacts there are.  For example, it makes more sense to conserve pieces of a spacecraft but to preserve unique paintings.

Research and Artifacts

The museum researches many areas such as Aeronautics, Space History, and Earth and Planetary Studies. You can search and learn about different projects, but the information on the main page is focused on Mars and the Mars rover Curiosity. The museum has over 60,000 artifacts and over 20,000 of them are searchable on their online data base. Of the museum’s 60,000 artifacts only 20% of them are on display, and most of the 20% are the large air and space crafts. While most of the unseen objects are in storage a number of them are on loan to other institutions.

Engaging the Audience

The Spotlight Event page features events that the museum puts on.  For example, this Saturday they are sponsoring a stargazing event with astronomers which includes a program for children and access to telescopes. The How Things Fly tab focuses on educating children through interactive activities and also features “Explainers” who are high school and college students who can answer questions about flight. The idea of the “Explainers” is cool; I think it is a great idea to encourage young adults to be a part of the scientific community.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I liked the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Website.  I found their organization easy to follow and the information interesting.  It made me want to go back to the museum and find the specific artifacts that were featured on the website.  I think the main goal of the museum’s website is to bring visitors to the museum.  They do this by providing information on interesting subjects that leave you wanting to learn more.  The major flaw for me was the collections page, it wouldn’t always load correctly, and you couldn’t use the search boxes to narrow down your search without the page freezing.  Something else that bothered me was that they liked to showcase exhibits that the general public knows about.  For example, they focus on the Mars Rover and Apollo 11.  Most people who are going to attend the museum already know a little about these subjects, while I find them both very interesting I would maybe like to learn more about less known artifacts and current research.

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5 thoughts on “A Critique of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Website

  1. Completely agree with your assessment of this website. After reading your post and checking it out for myself, this website is definitely one of the better ones I have seen, or we have looked at as a class. It is clearly up to date. There is not too many words and the pictures incorporated make it easy to connect ideas with images. I agree that it makes everything easy to navigate with the drop down tabs functioning the way it does on this website. In terms of collections, it all loaded for me but I still agree that this section is a weak spot. There is far too much information and things to view so I just wish they made it slightly easier for a typical viewer (non researcher/professional) to filter certain collections the museum has.

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  2. The home website itself is kind of simple but all the important information is there which is convenient for the visitor it makes the whole rocket science thing kind of simple. I also wanted to add that star trek is awesome it is probably the only reason a guy like me would go to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Then I’d stare at it for twenty minutes and realize there is a whole bunch of other cool stuff to look at. It is a shame that they took it down I hope it doesn’t effect their attendance. It is unfortunate about the search engine on the website, incase a expert wanted to search for something in particular is be a loss if the page froze while searching for something important. I enjoyed the post it reminded me off the type of museums that are still relevant to study and are enjoyable to visit.

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  3. This is an interesting discussion on what the museum does and doesn’t do well with their website. When first opening the page I was struck by how much content the website immediately offers through all of the boxes on the bottom. While the general layout isn’t that exciting, it also seems like it is easy to find content on it.
    The research page is interesting and it’s something that I haven’t noticed on any other websites. I assume it’s more pointed towards researchers. I appreciate that they give audiences ways to find more information about the objects they own. Being that this is a science museum, this is a good way for people to learn more about the objects in different ways.

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  4. I agree that overall the Smithsonian National Space and Air Museum is successful. The navigational “tiles” are visually appealing and easy to navigate. I appreciate the fact that you took the time to investigate the entire website and do some critiques. I was left to wonder though how the website could be improved and would have liked to have heard your input on the matter. I also think it would have been interesting to elaborate on the intended audience for the different sections of the website. For example, who is twitter targeting verses the research page? In general, I feel like you did a good job reviewing the website. The main adjustment I would suggest would be for a more analytical critique.

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  5. I think you do a great job of describing the website. Before even clicking on the website I had a good idea of what to expect. The homepage does seem to have a lot to click on which is good but slightly overwhelming at the same time because there are so many directions to go. However, they do make it easy to navigate. I like how you brought up how the the website tends to show only exhibitions that the general public already knows. To me personally I do like to go to a museums website to see what I already somewhat know about but then also see what else is there that I do not know about.

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