Elena Villaespesa, Digital Analyst, and Emily Fildes, Digital Producer, explore how the way digital audiences consume information can help our thinking in presenting art online

Different users come to the website with different motivations, knowledge of art, and have different preferences to browse websites. Therefore, content needs vary and we need to provide different ways for users to find and navigate through this content, as well as options for users to create their own experience and meanings.

The first step is to understand this users’ needs and expectations. The research we’ve done for Art & artists shows that most of the visitors come to the section for research purposes which encompases a range of motivations, educational levels and habits. However, some other visitors come to the site seeking inspiration and a more aesthetic and emotional experience browsing through images of the artworks. Combining these two poles, intellectual and emotional, we can add another variable to the mix - the level of knowledge of art - creating a four-way type of visit matrix.

Type of audiences matrix

This matrix has given us a new way to think about how we serve up the content to these four groups of motivations. We’ve done a quick analysis in relation to how this helps us to understand how to present the content from our collection, particularly as we are re-developing this section of the site for the Archives & Access project.


As an art gallery, it comes as no surprise that a key motivation is to come to see large pictures and engage visually with our content. We already have a slideshow functionality that you can use to explore artworks from the collection from different search terms (such as all the ‘Roses’ in our collection), and a functionality to dive into one of J.M.W. Turner’s sketchbooks (like the Fire at the Tower of London Sketchbook).

However, we need to investigate better ways of making sure users can find images quickly online by introducing a ‘show me records with images only’ filter, enhancing our grid-view to make the images more prominent. As part of the Archives & access project, some images in the collection will be released with a Creative Commons License, and we’re hoping that you’ll be able to search for this straight away too – so users who want to find images they can use straight away can do this.


What surprised us was the number of people specifically looking for information alongside the images. Whilst we have a huge volume of content on our website, within our collection we don’t make that very easy to find, such as the amount of information we have on the Camden Town Group.

We’ll be looking at different ways to satisfy these users, such as a introducing a ‘show me records with text’ filter and enhancing our list-view to have more detailed information about artwork and archive records. From artworks, archive records and artists we will also be linking to associated learning resources, videos and other material from the rest of our site to satisfy information-hungry users.

J.M.W. Turner

We can also use this user matrix to understand how different people might be looking for information about an artwork or artist on our website. J.M.W. Turner is a popularly searched artist on our site with an average of 5,000 unique searches every month, as we have the largest collection of Turner works.

Heatmap art and artists landing page
Wordcloud of search terms related to J.M.W. Turner

Having this user matrix helps us to think about the best way to surface our information about Turner to different users. At the moment, we ask people to find it themselves, but we could do a much better job in matching the content to the users. So thinking about art explorers, we can show an immersive sketchbook experience (an example). For self-improvers, we can point them in the direction of a biography and timeline, or our online course. For art enthusiasts, they can watch a video critically engaging with Turner (like this interview with film director Mike Leigh) or read the interactive How to Paint Like Turner ibook. Finally for researchers we can surface the J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours research texts.

Joseph Mallord William Turner, 'Shields, on the River Tyne' 1823
Joseph Mallord William Turner
Shields, on the River Tyne 1823
Watercolour on paper
support: 154 x 216 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856

Museums and galleries are big content producers but now we need to get this content to the audiences and present it in a way that fulfills the different users motivation modes. The website offers a good opportunity to package the content produced by various departments at different times in the Tate history in a more creative and useful way. This could be done for instance grouping the content or adding new ways of browsing or using technology and design to present it in a more interactive format. This way this exceptional content not only reaches people but also creates unique new experiences for them.