by Lozana Rossenova



Discovery & User Research Phase: 2017–2019


The ArtBase archive was established in 1999. Its vision and conception at the time was closely tied with Rhizome’s position as an influential mailing list with an active community, including some of the first artists working on the internet. The ArtBase is also an international and diverse archive (with over 2000 artworks), primarily hosting works of net art, but also including “works that employ materials such as software, code, websites, moving images, games, and browsers,” as stated on the ArtBase homepage. With its expansion in size and scope as well as complexity over the years, the commitment to preservation in the ArtBase has become an increasingly conscious effort at Rhizome. This report traces some key historical developments with regards to the ArtBase establishment, database structure and interface design, in order to set out the scope and ambition for a multi-year redesign process beginning with this PhD research project and continuing under the direction of the preservation team at Rhizome.


Structure of the report

The first part of the report looks at the historic setup of the archive, its founding goals, the structure, and accession policies. This part of the report does not aim to trace a complete organizational and archival history, but rather to study which points in that history were translated into decisions that impacted the archive’s interface and interaction design. The second part of the report looks at the development of preservation strategies at Rhizome since 2015, which can be divided into three primary areas of focus: software preservation, network preservation, and structured preservation metadata. The final, third section of the report sets out a series of propositions to be explored further, in lieu of a fixed brief for the redesign of the ArtBase. It includes feedback and insights from past and current staff members, identifies some key areas of concern with regards to organizational policies, the infrastructure setup of the archive and the interaction design challenges for the frontend interface.

NB: If reading the report as a PDF on a relatively large screen, the following settings in Acrobat Reader are recommended for optimal vieweing: View > Page Display > ✓Two Page View & ✓Show Cover Page in Two Page View.

▍ Cite as: Rossenova, L (2020) “ArtBase Archive—Context and History: Discovery Phase and User Research 2017–2019”. Available from:

✦ About the report series ✦ This report is part #1 in a series documenting the research process and practice of Lozana Rossenova, a PhD researcher embedded at Rhizome between 2016–2020. These reports trace the development of a practice-based interaction design research project, starting with a Discovery and User Research Phase. This phase includes the study of the organizational context and history, documented in Report #1; gathering information about past and current use-cases and user expectations, documented in Report #2, as well as a review of the current landscape of digital design for cultural heritage archives and collections, documented in Report #3. The next phase—Design Exploration, including low-fidelity sketches and prototypes and continuing the conversations with users, is documented in Report #4. This report also includes a summary of the Evaluation Phase, since it is an iterative process throughout the other phases, rather than one final step. The final outcomes of the Design Specification Phase, wherein the initial design proposals are transformed into interactive prototypes and specific recommendations for a data model schema, can be found under the Prototypes and Data Models sections of this website, respectively.