Make Me Want To Visit Your Exhibitions!

In 2010, AQ worked with the Setouchi International Art Festival, Tokyo Illustrators Society and Tokyo Art Beat to upgrade their digital communication strategies. In 2011, as we gear up for fresh challenges with new cultural institution partners, we highlight interesting event websites around the world.

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Late last year RMN, FaberNovel, Les 84 & Orange released a beautiful website for the Monet 2010 Exhibition, at the Grand Palais in Paris until the end of January 2011.

But for all its extensive content and masterful use of Flash, it did not make me want to visit the exhibition.

Let me use this casual review of the website, as an opportunity to highlight what museums can do to enhance potential visitors experience of an exhibition and get them to make the trip to the museum.

Why is this exhibition unique?

There are 2 mains sections of the site. The gallery, which lets you browse through an astounding 150 artworks produced between 1840 and 1926 grouped in 4 sections and 15 smart exhibition tours. The Journey section presents 27 amazing faux-3D animated artworks and 12 scripted interactions. This is some very impressive content and made my visit a very unique experience.

But actually, nothing made me feel that this was more than an online homage to the Master probably because it was both overwhelming and lacking the basic info I am used to reading online on an event’s website. As a potential visitor, I am expecting to:

  • Find an event introduction, a concept. And hopefully an explanation of makes this exhibition different from past Monet shows and an unmissable event.
  • Get a profile of the artist, a simple version and an in-depth look at his life and work.
  • Be teased! Don’t show everything right there, tease me! In that sense, the Journey section was much more successful in drawing me to visit the show than the Gallery section.

What’s the exhibition like?

While the Journey teaser was a great way to present the exhibition in ways that match the opportunities afforded by the digital medium, I think that there is also a risk to irremediably break the bond between the exhibition website and the actual event, the online experience and the actual visit.

As a potential visitor, I have legitimate questions about the show:

What is the exhibition space like? The Grand Palais is an amazing structure that commands a visit with or without a hosted exhibition. Will I be facing the same old exhibition layout or is this show layout as unique as its website?

  • Why not reveal of few pictures of the exhibition space on an ongoing basis, on the site and maybe the twitter feed.

What is the scale of Monet’s paintings? A personal favorite of mine. I have often shed tears in front of classic impressionist paintings suddenly realizing how big and how beautiful the strokes and colours were - after having only seen them in tiny online/print reproductions for years.

  • Allow users to zoom into some of the paintings and enjoy the strokes and colours up-close even before a visit in person.

What are other people saying about the event? I could just Google or Twitter the event name, but I believe that the event website should take the lead in offering visitor/journalist comments for all to read.

  • Offer an “Impressions” form on the website (that can double post to Twitter). Better than a raw stream of Tweets (often RTs of the site’s URL), an on-site form should result in higher quality comments.
  • Hand-select and list interesting comments from Twitter, blogs, and other social tools.
  • Blog/twitter thoughtful reviews from around the web. Share the data on the front page of the website for all to see.

What are the most popular pieces on show? If I only have a few minutes to devote to the site’s content, I want to be able to quickly see which pieces I shouldn’t miss during my visit.

  • Offer a visualization of the most popular artworks on the website by tracking how long visitors linger near each artwork. Such a tool might also help me make decisions on the most efficient routes, by identifying busy areas and nudging me towards less frequented ones (both online and at the event).

Localization is much more than translation

It’s great to see an event website translated in 5 languages, but be careful as poor translations will hurt the credibility of the website. As often with this type of websites, English feels rushed or less than native at times (the “sentence by sentence” translation syndrome).

A website of this size should also aim to take into consideration the reputation of the artist in the various communities. For a site to truly become global, it must care about what each country knows and likes about the artist.

Japan loves Monet and Japanese tourists in Paris probably lead foreign visits to the Musée de l’Orangerie. They are most likely much more knowledgeable about Monet than the average Frenchman and should be offered customized content to reflect this.

Moreover, at the visitor level, an exhibition website has the potential to develop special content for various types of users, from the Monet first-timers to the Monet-expert.

  • A few interviews with past Monet event curators and museums in the different countries speaking the languages of the localized versions of the site could have brought up interesting insights into how to hook the various audiences to the exhibition, both online and at the Grand Palais.
  • On top of the 15 existing exhibition virtual tours, why not add a few that cater to neophytes and experts and make all tours sharable online for added exposure.

La cerise sur le gâteau

Make it participatory. To make a website social and encourage people to interact with the content and promote it, one must think beyond tiny Twitter and Facebook icons on top of artworks in the Gallery section.

  • Invite users to collect artworks on the site into a personalized Gallery they can share with their social networks, both promoting the event as a whole and allowing people to curate personalized tours (“Print the tour and bring it with you to the exhibition”).

Make it real. Most of Monet’s landscapes and cityscapes are truly beautiful and begging to be paid a visit in person.

  • Link some of the paintings to Google images or maps of the real locations in France.
  • Offer an itinerary section that suggests places to visit in France based on the Monet paintings you liked (or added to your personalized gallery), perhaps integrated with a special Air France travel campaign package site.

Make it load fast The first screen should not take more than 10-20 seconds to load a big flash animation. 2 minutes to load any section from Tokyo on a fiber optic connection is pretty discouraging for anyone not a fan of Monet, or a web designer ready to put up with long waits to browse through a beautiful site.

Make it repeat-visit friendly. Take the Journey section. It’s long and very beautiful, but it’s very heavy to load.

  • Make it possible to restart in the middle or send a precise link to your friends.

In conclusion

At the end of the Journey section of the Monet 2010 website, I was presented with a survey. Here is Question 10 and my answers:

10) You talk about the “Journey” section with a friend. Do you agree with him/her? (Please rate from: 1 = I do not agree at all ; 6 = I totally agree)

  • It’s a beautiful staging of Monet’s paintings [5/6]
  • The website is easy to use [4/6]
  • This “Journey” gives a special insight in the paintings [1/6]
  • It is a unique experience ; I’ve never seen such thing before [3/6]
  • I learnt things about Monet thanks to the “Journey” [1/6]

All event organizers should strive to address four major challenges when building an online experience linked to an exhibition:

  • Convince web visitors to come to the physical exhibition
  • Address different groups of potential visitors in specific ways
  • Encourage audience to interact with the content in web specific ways
  • Help visitors promote the event to their peers.

January 12, 2011