The Metropolitan Museum of Art User Research

Discovering how users interact with online collection

The Met User Testing

My role

User research, Moderated user testing


I was part of a team of four usability researchers from Pratt Institute School of Information and Library Science. We conducted a series of eight in-person user tests to understand how two target user groups, Browsers and Researchers, are interacting with the online collection on The Met website.


We gathered project requirements from our client. The client was seeking to understand how key user groups were interacting with the online collection on The Met website. A series of eight in-person user tests were conducted and analyzed by the team, where were analyzed to develop key findings and recommendations intended to encourage interaction with The Met collection. A final product was a full report delivered personally to the client where the report was delivered and discussed in more detail, with even more brainstorming taking place.


The structure of the user test for The Met website was designed to discover what motivates users to engage with The Met online collection of historical works. We sought to find answers for the following questions:

  1. What drives users deeper into the collection?
  2. What information on the page gets the most attention?
  3. What information are users looking for, and are they able to find it?
  4. What kinds of links on the page are getting the most attention? What do people expect to see?
  5. What intrigued them to the website in the first place, and how does that influence their browsing?
The Met online collection page The Met online collection page

Participant Recruitment

This study included two user types, Browsers (4 participants) and Researchers (4 participants) represent a broad set of actual users of The Met website collection. These users were screened using a survey, and only those who matched the screener profile exactly were asked to participate in the study. The survey was sent via a google forms link and/or printed.


Characterized by a general set of art-related knowledge and seeks to use The Met collection for personal inspiration.


Characterized by a specialized set of art-related knowledge and seeks to use The Met collection for specific information.

How much knowledge of art do you have?
  • Little knowledge = screened out
  • General knowledge = Browser
  • Specialist = Researcher
How many times a year do you visit museums?
  • 0 = screened out
  • 1-3 times a year = Browser
  • 4 or more times a year = Researcher
Which reason best describes your use of online art resources?
  • To look something up = Researcher
  • To find inspiration = Browser
  • I don’t use online art resources
  • Other

User Test Scenario & Tasks

Each test was administered by at least one member of the team, sometimes two in order to assist with note-taking and analysis. The tools used to record findings included the screen capture programs Silverback (Mac) and Flashback Express (Windows), as well as note-taking by hand or tablet.

I instructed users to begin navigation from The Met Pinterest board then walked them through a series of tasks. In order to better understand user behavior in relationship to the collection, it was important to ask users why they selected objects from The Met collection. I inquired what their expectations were for each page and whether their expectations were met. These tasks revealed key locations in the interface where user’s felt notably satisfied or notably confused and from here the team and I pin-pointed key findings and recommendations.

Each participant was given a scenario for context, followed by a set of navigation-based tasks.


Imagine that you’re considering subjects for your next project, and you happen across The Met Pinterest social media account. I would like you to begin by browsing these boards. Please select an object or painting that you would like to learn more about, but don’t click through to The Met website yet.

  • The participant selects an item they like.
  • The participant clicks through to The Met object page.
  • The participant is asked to find another object they would like to learn about.
  • The participant selects another object.
  • The participant is guided to the Art > Collection page.
  • The participant runs a search for something that interests them.
  • The participant is asked to find an object they would use for their next project.

Measurement Criteria

The focus of this study was to learn what motivated participants to interact with objects in the collection, what information they hoped to find (and whether they were able to find it), and what methods Browsers and Researchers used to navigate the collection. The usability team collectively pinpointed key findings and recommendations from all 8 user tests based on measurement criteria to encourage engagement with The Met collection.

  • What information is the participant looking for?
  • Did they find it?
  • What information distracted them from exploring further into the collection?What attracted them to the object in the first place?
  • What made them click on it?
  • What did they like about this page?
  • What didn’t they like about this page?
  • Did they mention if anything was missing?
  • Did they have any desires for this page?

Three key findings were revealed

Finding #1 Users navigate the collection via object images

Given the importance of object images to attract users deeper into The Met collection, it was recommended to emphasize object images at every opportunity in order to better promote visual navigation.

Expanded view of Additional Images Expanded view of Additional Images
Expand the Additional Images heading by default.

Most participants cited the desire for additional images as a reason for navigating to an object page.

Enlarge the thumbnails in the Related Objects section

Enlarge the thumbnail size in the Related Objects section in order to ease the browsing experience.

Enlarge the thumbnails on the All Results search tab

This would increase ease of use and interaction between user and interface as some images were a little bit smaller in size.

Finding #2 Users seek to understand an object’s context

When selecting objects to learn about in The Met collection, many participants shared personal stories explaining why they were inspired to learn more about an object.

“I happen to like this extra large white space in ink drawings, and my dad did one very much like that, actually.” — Researcher

Results of a “Korea” search with the “Lacquer” filter Results of a “Korea” search with the “Lacquer” filter
Organize the Related Objects as a timeline

The team recommended organizing the Recommended Objects section as a timeline, featuring the currently selected work in relationship to works from neighboring decades. Our user research revealed this helps users navigate the collection.This places the artwork in context with surrounding works, catering to the Researcher’s enjoyment of navigating via the Timeline of Art History and increasing the chance that a Browser will spot a visual trend in their selected era.

Hyperlink key categories to search results

Hyperlink categories, such as artist’s names, to search results. Participants were observed hovering their cursor over items in the general information located under the work’s title to see if they could navigate to more works by the same artist or from the same time period.

Hyperlinked search suggestions Hyperlinked search suggestions

Finding #3 Users begin their search with a broad scope and progressively narrow their focus.

When asked to “search for an object that you would actually use for your next project,” many Researchers and Browsers hesitated when faced with the task.

“Having categories is really useful to me. One of my main issues is I usually don’t know where to start.” — Browser

The Met online collection page The Met online collection page
Clarify that the Collections page is a list of broad recommended searches for the Collection

Users landing on collection page were not to clear as to what the page actually was. Using thumbnails with multiple images will help the user visualize what the results of clicking on the link will be.

Mockup of “Collection Categories Mockup of “Collection Categories
Clarify the behavior of search categories

Enlarge the thumbnail size in the Related Objects section in order to ease the browsing experience.

Enlarge the thumbnails on the All Results search tab

Clarify the relationship between the Collection topic link and the given search results. We suggested this comes in two parts, first by pinning the featured objects to the top of the search results and secondly, populating the search bar with the topic’s search phrase.

Solution/Key Takeaways

Results proved there is opportunity for online visitors to become more engaged with the online collection. User tests show that users are drawn to navigate via images and will dive deeper into the collection if provided with recommendations that match the context of their curiosity. Incorporating larger images and providing recommendations based on the history of relevant items can ensure attention is being drawn towards works in the online collection.

View Report

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