Search Navigation at the Walker Art Center

Having spent a decent amount of time in my academic career with search functionality, and studying/designing archives and library search functionality, I’ve become extremely picky and vocal about good and bad examples of search.

Time and time again, my favorite example of great search in museums circles back to the Walker Art Center. Not only do they have an amazing, highly engaging and interactive site to begin with, but their collections are easily accessible, and the search is outstanding. Why? A few reasons:

  • The Walker Art Center uses spell check to recognize when you enter something wrong (or they have no results for your query). Where they go beyond the average repository is: instead of just offering suggestions (i.e. ‘Did you mean ____?”) for you to run another search, they automatically re-run the search for what you most likely searched for. Most users probably don’t even notice their spelling mistake, or the amaze-balls design that makes this happen, which is exactly what makes it great!
  • The Walker uses mnemonic auto-suggestions that display terms with similar spelling in a drop-down menu.
  • They have high-level search faceting available via left-hand nav. tools once you pass the initial search interface.
  • They display categories the term appears in – and these are not listed alphabetically by default, but reorder based on the relevance, determined by the number of matched results each of those categories reflected.
  • They’ve built in color-coded hovering mechanisms. When you toggle over specific types of results, the typeface turns blue, red, etc., according to what type of information it reflects (i.e. “performing arts” or “education & community programs”). These categories are abbreviated in a small box to the right of the title/main entry, which also expands when you hover over it.
  • The interface is simple, and matches like conventions (ala Nielsen’s ‘Metaphor’ UI concept) in other search indexes like Google (i.e. displays 10 results per page). This lets you find information faster, and requires less clicks.
  • Thumbnails are always shown where applicable, but are displayed as secondary to other metadata.
  • Search content has also been made into a social experience. Results can be ‘liked’ or ‘commented on’ by patrons, the public, etc. which adds collection interaction and social tagging/crowd sourced experiences around the art, extending a social media arm to the site without the need for the platforms we’re used to. Beautiful.

I could go on, but that hits he basics. Most museum sites don’t have the advantage of an amazing web and media technology team like the Walker, but the difference (and level of success) between low and high quality can clearly be seen here. And I’m sure the analytics reflect higher participation, more time spent on the site, better audience engagement with the museum overall, and a higher number of visits to the actual collections to boot.

Anyone else love it as much as I do? What do you love most about their site? Or a different one?

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