by Lozana Rossenova



Discovery & User Research Phase: 2018


Research around interface design for online collections and digital cultural heritage preservation is already being carried out, even if remaining somewhat fragmented (see Bibliography). The surveys which aim to be comprehensive, by necessity tend to be focused on a specific direction of enquiry—e.g. the use of data visualization; design for serendipitous discoveries and browsing; design for advanced search utilities. While all of these topics are interesting in their own right, looked at in isolation, they do not provide the necessary points for benchmark evaluation needed for the redesign process of the ArtBase.

This report reviews the landscape of digital collection interfaces (as of 2018) and asks questions such as: what are the common visual and interaction design paradigms in the field; and how forms of information architecture and choice of databases and content management systems inform user interactions with these interfaces. Of particular interest are areas in the design of interfaces focusing on the presentation of complex born-digital artefacts; metadata around temporal and historical context; as well as discovery and search within the framework of a linked data database.


Structure of the report

The report presents a “scan” of the landscape divided across a few specific directions of enquiry. These are articulated in the following sections:

1) Interfaces for net art archives—looking at how other net art archives present artworks and metadata.

2) Interfaces for artwork records in institutional collections—broadening the scope beyond net-art-only collections to include collections in large institutions which may have some net art or software-based art pieces.

3) Interfaces for collection entry points—looking at how collections and archives can be accessed, i.e. taking a step back from the individual record page.

4) Interfaces utilising collection overview visualizations—focusing on the use of various data visualization approaches towards providing “alternative” collection or archive entry points.

5) Interfaces for linked data cultural projects—focusing on the use of applications built around a linked data database.

6) Interfaces utilising data visualizations to express relationships in collections—looking at how collection data visualizations can provide ways of expressing complex relationships between various items (or concepts) in collection and archive interfaces.

7) Interfaces for net art exhibitions—looking at how net art can be exhibited online and what paradigms are typically used.

The report concludes with a summary of key findings from the review of 46 different interfaces ranging from institutional to experimental projects and a list of recommendations proposing what design patterns and features should be implemented during the design and prototyping stages of the redesign process.

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) “Design Landscape—Online Collection Interfaces: Discovery Phase and User Research 2018”. Available from:

✦ About the report series ✦ This report is part #3 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.