Navigate this

(Reading time: 2m, 55s)

I was reading about MoMA’s renovations in the Times on Saturday:

When the museum reopens in October, general admission will begin at 10 a.m. Members will have a new “dedicated entrance” and be permitted to enter at 9:30 a.m. most days.

I wondered how this information wound up in front of me, a man of somewhat short stature — but who also won a trophy for the most assists in basketball in 7th grade — living in the village of Huntington, New York.

I imagined all the work that may have happened for those two sentences to be born: People in visitor services observing long lines and registering complaints; Membership folks running satisfaction surveys; Researchers interviewing members to uncover their pain points; Marketing and content teams working to communicate upcoming benefits with current and prospective members and the press … And all this is just a piece of a larger plan to show more of the museum’s collection.

I find all that organizational machinery impressive.

Next, I dribbled the ball over to MoMA’s website and was struck by the gorgeous navigation.

Praise the gods — Just look at it:

MoMA’s site navigation: 4 items on the main menu

It’s as if Peter Morville and Christopher Wool had sex and gave birth to a sitemap.

Oh, yes — choices have been made.

More complex menus have been struck down. Department heads have complained and then rolled.

Looking at that navigation, you can sense an audience-oriented autocrat at work.

Who are you?

Come forward and be recognized.

See that plastic trophy from 1992 shining so brightly above the fireplace? I’m going to melt it down and mold it into a crown worthy of your honor.

Look at that navigation — Notice how “Buy tickets” and “Become a member” are purple items in the corners? They’ve given those links special status by placing them in the corners and making them basically the only elements that aren’t black and white. These are likely the two most common ways visitors support the museum online. You won’t find a link to donate here. Someone recognized that that’s a less common task, and I bet they had to explain more than once why all the options to support the museum aren’t presented up top.

Now, look at how the navigation disappears once you click the “Become a Member” link and then click “Join or Renew” to see membership options (Slide to view main navigation on the left and membership navigation on the right):

They’re removing elements to help focus the visitor on completing the task. I’d love to see the results of the tests they ran to make this decision. How did removing the navigation impact membership conversions?

But look below the navigation on the homepage, and you’ll find Hades back in control — a writhing pit of image carousels on the homepage.

MoMA image carousel

I should write an entire email (series) on carousels. If God were to curse humankind with 10 plagues today, surely one of them would be a plague of website carousels.

Carousels harm usability. They’re always moving too fast for some people and too slow for others. The one thing this first carousel has going for it is that it contains very little text — carousels with text have their own circle in hell. (You don’t have to take my word for it, see for yourself.)

There are only two items in the first carousel. Why —why? — put these in a carousel at all? Scroll down and you’ll see they’ve placed two items side by side elsewhere on the homepage:

MoMA events, side by side

Did someone lose an argument? What bargaining led to this?

Satan: “Let’s put a rotating banner of images on the homepage to make it look more exciting.”

God: “A carousel will just distract and frustrate users.”

Satan: “If we don’t have stuff that moves on the homepage people will get bored.”

God, feeling tired after a big lunch: “Fine, but we can only have four main navigation items.”

Satan: “K, but I want at least two carousels on the homepage.”

God: “You can have two, but then we switch to placing items side by side and let people view things at their own pace.”

Satan: “Let’s make a full-screen pop-up window to subscribe to the newsletter the moment the page loads.”

There is quite a bit more to talk about on MoMA’s site. Stay tuned.

Thanks for reading,


teardownKyle BowenMoMA