Concerning museum opening times on websites.

You know how you occasionally have a spare day and you don’t know what to do with it? Like a bank holiday, or something like that? Well, we’ve got a few bank holidays coming up and it might be worth doing a little bit of planning if you fancy a museum day.

I came across Feeling Listless’ blog about finding visitor information (go & read it, I’ll wait). He has concentrated on “how accessible is the visitor information on Liverpool’s museum websites?” making the very important point that these are physical spaces which people need to find and get into. You can’t do that without knowing (i) where they are and (ii) what time they open.

Long-term readers of my ramblings may remember that I visited five museums in one day a few years back. So, shall we do something similar for Leeds?

LCC-run websites.
Abbey House Museum

The majority of museums in Leeds are run by Leeds City Council, so the websites all use the same back-end and style sheets. These all follow a similar pattern. “Visitor information” is on the first or second row of fairly clear buttons in the centre of the front page. Its positioning is quite interesting, though: reading left-to-right, top-to-bottom the visitor information can be in any, from the first to the fifth spot, occasionally behind “Shop” and “Celebrations and Corporate”. Read what you like into that.

Leeds Art Gallery

The visitor information itself is good; opening times are shown by default in the bottom half of the page while directions, as well as public transport and parking info are shown at the top. There’s a map which can be a bit confusing to navigate at first, too. But how hard would it be to have a “we are open at these times” box on the front page? Click-and-scroll – especially on a page that has a strange map on it that might take ages to load (if at all) and eat bandwidth – is no use to smartphone users who just want to know “is it open?” while trying to marshal three bored children who are hitting each other with plastic stegasauruses. Is there too much information in the top half of the page, too?

Visitor Information

Also, the map occasionally did really strange things, and that’s on my desktop with a standard up-to-date browser.

Visitor Information

Ok, I won’t belabour the point; the LCC-run sites are ok, could be better laid out and have a strange map that could confuse smartphone browsers, but you can find opening times with a click and a scroll and I thought that wasn’t too bad. You may disagree. They’re all the same so I don’t need to perform detailed analysis on them.

Others
Let’s start with the Thackeray Medical Museum.
Thackray Museum

Opening times and “how to find us” are on separate pages. Once you’re on the opening times page actually finding out the location requires a few clicks – it’s not tremendously clear. Is it on “plan your visit”? Nope, it’s another page off there. They advertise online ticket sales, except the link that tells you that you can buy tickets online isn’t actually a link, it’s an underlined bit of text that looks like it should be a link. The “buy your tickets” link is actually at the bottom of the page and apparently that bit isn’t working yet anyway.

The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery.
Art Gallery

Click a link, it’s the top link and it’s on an easily spottable bit of the page. And once you’ve clicked the opening times are in the main body in bold text. Not a bad effort.

The Henry Moore Institute
Henry Moore Institute - Henry Moore Institute - Mozilla Firefox 05042013 125950

Oh! Look at that! It’s on the front page, in the highlighted text body, and it’s reasonably easy to spot! It also shows you what the outside of the building looks like now, so if you have an idea of how Leeds is laid out you can guess the location even if you’ve never seen it before.

The Royal Armouries at Leeds
Home  Royal Armouries - Mozilla Firefox 05042013 125817

Also, the Armouries wins with opening times on a low-bandwidth front page which is the same no matter which site you want to visit. There are multiple Armouries sites across the UK and they all observe the same opening times. That seems like such a simple thing but it’s great, because they can advertise this on the front page of their whole site and then if you need to know more about locations you can drill down a bit.

Finally, The Leeds Gallery
Leeds Gallery

If you look at this what you get is a banner image for the current exhibition, and the menus have a “location” spot. Hm. Nothing here about opening times. Except if you scroll down a little…

Leeds Gallery

There they are! If the info box was a little narrower then the opening times box could fit in a bit higher up. But the times and admission detail is all on the front page if you’re prepared to look beneath the fold.

Have I missed anything out? Smaller galleries, undoubtably. Places like Pavilion and PSL who don’t have a real physical home at the moment. But it’s interesting to think about this sort of UX stuff (especially when you don’t work in UX but are a consumer of it) where it relates to real-world, physical spaces. The website should advertise the space, not be more important than it.

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