Artsy is an online hub for discovering, researching about, and collecting art. Their iOS app allows users to browse works for sale, find specific pieces, learn about upcoming art shows, submit inquiries to galleries about purchasing artwork, and more. It’s a fascinating tool—one that masterfully brings the once-clandestine world of art exchange into the open for everyone, from the art student simply interested in learning more about the industry to folks on the prowl for the next piece to add to their collections.
As useful as the app may be, a quick usability test exposed some pain points around content discoverability. In this case study, I will explore those issues and offer design solutions.
Who: First-time Artsy users
What: Artsy iOS mobile app
Where: Virtually, through Lookback
Why: To reveal where users struggle to use Artsy’s core features
Usability Test Details
I wrote five tasks and conducted a short usability test with first-time Artsy iOS app users who verbally expressed interest in Artsy and shared some commonalities with Anna’s persona. Participants were asked to:
Find work by an artist in a specific museum or gallery. For example, find all of the pieces by Pablo Picasso that are in the online auction gallery.
Send an inquiry to a museum or gallery about purchasing a piece of artwork.
Find a piece of postmodern art that you like and add it to your Favorites list.
Find Artsy’s most recent podcast, or read a The Mag post that’s interesting to you.
Follow an African art gallery.
To discover potential pain points, I tested these tasks with eight people.
Learnings and Themes
Participants shared some similar pain points when attempting to accomplish the above tasks. I collected the pain points for each of the eight participants, then grouped those issues to identify themes.
To make design recommendations, I placed each theme on a 2x2 matrix to determine what pain points are the most important to both Artsy and its users.
Challenges for Designers
Most participants were able to save artwork to their Favorites, and all participants contacted galleries successfully. However, most participants experienced difficulty when attempting to:
Find artwork within a particular gallery or museum. Participants spent significant time searching and scrolling for specific artists, but they either took a long time to complete the task, or they entirely gave up on the task. “I wish I was able to just do a quick search through their collections.”
Find relevant stories in The Mag. Participants found it difficult to quickly find content about topics that interested them (e.g. upcoming art shows, stories on specific artists, stories on specific art genres). “I feel like I have to scroll forever until I find something that piques my interest. It seems like I should be able to click on a clear label once I land on the blog.”
Distinguish which pieces are or are not for sale. When participants browsed through works of a specific genre, they often couldn’t tell which works were actually for sale. This point has the potential to add friction for potential collectors. “Wait, no. That’s just on display. Why couldn’t I clearly tell, from the beginning, that it wasn’t for sale?"
All three pain points, although in different ways, point to content discoverability. Content discoverability is key to Artsy’s goal of making art accessible to anyone with access to internet connection. If it’s cumbersome—or even slightly confusing—for users to explore a museum’s collection, find posts they’re interested to read, or find artwork for sale, then Artsy is missing their goal.
To address the three pain points, or challenges, listed above, I recommend designers to create functionality that enables users to:
Search within a specific gallery, online exhibition, or museum.
One way to do this may be to add a search bar that is just above the fold so users can explore collections in depth.
Filter The Mag posts by topic, so they can personalize news to their interests.
An option may be to organize stories into five umbrella topics (Events, Opinion, News, Exhibitions, and Podcasts may be appropriate, judging by the existing content), then add filtering functionality so users can quickly select what they’re interested in.
Filter lists of genres or mediums to more clearly highlight what items are actually for sale.
An intuitive direction may be to add a toggle button above the fold that empowers users to choose between viewing all works and only works for sale. For collectors in particular, this method simplifies the process of finding items to buy.
Artsy is a wonderful resource that connects all people—not just those with fat wallets—to the art world, and it makes it incredibly easy to purchase great artwork online. Because there are over 300,000 items available through Artsy, content discoverability is an undoubtedly difficult thing to design for. My hope is that my three recommendations make it easier for users—real people with real thoughts, feelings, and motivations—to find art that inspires them. The Artsy team dreams of a world where physical art is as popular and accessible as music. I think, as long as they continue to provide and improve upon solid offerings like their iOS app, they will make a significant dent in that journey.
Note: I don’t work for or represent Artsy. I’m simply an art enthusiast, and Artsy is one of my favorite websites. One of my broader personal missions is to make the art world more accessible to and inclusive of the general public, and I think Artsy is an incredible resource that supports that goal.