Lean and mean online collections from the Rijksstudio

Culture Geek logoLast Friday I was lucky enough to attend the Culture Geek conference, in London. Once again, there was a stellar line up of speakers. One of the sessions that really stood out for me was Peter Gorgels from the Rijkmuseum. Peter presented the museum’s new website and special project the Rijksstudio, which launched in October 2012. Put simply, this is probably THE best site for online collections to date, so I thought I’d share some of the thinking behind the developments (with the help of tweets from the conference!)

In a nutshell, the Rijksmuseum released 125,000 high resolution images and everyone is free to download them to use as they wish. Not only are you able to access the resources, but the whole look of the site is beyond sleek.

The presentation described how the project stemmed from several key trends in the digital landscape. Sites such as the Google Art Project and the Guardian EyeWitness app provided the museum with the inspiration for the ‘image focused’ direction they wanted to go. The Rijksmuseum’s Director was keen  that the art was the main focus, and any associated information was secondary

A further key trend was the rise of mobile. Peter described how, although they were keen on the simplicity of an app, they felt a responsive  ‘app-style’ website would be more popular with their target audience ‘the culture snacker’! They also designed the site for tablets first and desktop was secondary. The resulting site has very few navigation options, and is clean and easy to use, or as Peter stated ‘lean and mean’!

An important concept in the design was ‘closeness’, allowing the viewer to develop a personal relationship with the objects. When using the site, you will notice that the art is always full screen.

To celebrate and promote the launch of the Rijksstudio, the museum partnered with artists and designers to show the creative ways in which the collections could be used. For example, this animation was created from 211 artworks in the museum’s collection:

One of my favourite features of the Rijksstudio is the Mastermatcher, which encourages serendipitous discovery via a few quick multiple choice questions. In about 20 seconds, I created this lovely selection of images from the collection using the Mastermatcher tool, which can easily be shared with friends via Facebook and twitter.

The overall experience of the site can be likened to Pinterest, in that you can ‘like’ artworks and add them to different themed ‘boards’ of your choosing. You can also crop the image to focus on details before adding it to your collection. I find this cropping function to be a simple but surprisingly powerful tool which encourages deeper engagement with the collections.  There are also large social media sharing buttons throughout the site. If the copyright status of an artwork prohibits this, the buttons do not appear to the viewer.

The Rijksstudio displays the artworks full screen with a small button for more information. Visitors are able to download a high resolution copies to inspire their own creativity or order prints from an online shop.

As a result of this project and the creation of the Rijksstudio, visits to the site have grown by 34%, with visits from mobile devices (including tablets) increasing by 100%. More importantly, the average time spent on the site is 10 minutes and this increases to 19 minutes for visitors using an iPad! So that leaves me to pose the challenge set by Timothy Powell, from Historic Royal Palaces:

So, what do you think? Should this be the direction Scottish museums take when putting collections online? I’d love to hear what you think of the Rijksstudio, just leave a comment below or tweet me @MuseumsGalScot

If you are interested in finding out more about the other speakers at the Culture Geek conference, Lizzy Bullock from the V&A has written a handy summary blog post of the day. 

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