Gagosian Case Study
Organizing information—and making it look good in the process—is ultimately the end goal when producing any art gallery website. Even for the smallest galleries, keeping everything easy to find, well-ordered, and efficient to navigate, while still properly representing the gallery’s image and stature, can be a heroic challenge.
Now consider a larger gallery—one with multiple locations, a significant stable of artists, and a long history of exhibitions, and that challenge quickly becomes compounded. Without a clear vision, and smart, effective use of design, the most important information can easily get overwhelmed in a sea of links, text, images, and all the other trappings of a standard gallery website.
That was the challenge facing Gagosian Gallery, when exhibit-E was tasked with redesigning the website, www.gagosian.com, in the fall of 2006, and even today, the site still looks fresh and equal to the stature of the best known and most visible contemporary art gallery in the world. How did exhibit-E create a design with such staying power?
With twelve locations (stretching from coast to coast and across the world's oceans to Hong Kong, London and Rome), Gagosian Gallery is unique among its peers in terms of scale, history, and complexity. Translating this online, and presenting the true depths of its content and archives, required a high level of design expertise. The difference is not in fanciful design conceits, the noise too often used in Web design. Rather, what sets this gallery website apart is its directness and simplicity. The site’s stream-lined navigation allows the user to easily process a dense amount of content within a remarkably restrained and elegant design. Browsing gagosian.com provides an up-close look at how gallery websites can be designed with an eye towards the future.
Upon first approaching gagosian.com, the site wastes little time getting to the most relevant information. Right there on the front page are the current exhibitions taking place at the different Gagosian locations, with an image from the exhibition, the gallery location, the artist’s name, exhibition dates, and a link to “View Exhibition.” One is immediately taken with the uniformity and restraint of the site. There are no visible bells and whistles.
For the user, browsing the Gagosian Gallery site is an engrossing experience; an art lover can easily spend hours digging through the amount of content contained within. And getting to the content is not a formidable challenge: it’s built to let the user navigate, and there are multiple “connections” throughout the site, i.e., there are no dead-ends where the user is left with nowhere else to go. It’s quick and easy to jump from artist to exhibitions to related multimedia.
The site uses a familiar but sleek top navigation bar to provide the user with a menu of areas to click to. The navigation menu is only revealed when the user needs to click to another portion of the site. When the mouse is not near the top of the site, it fades away. The effect is not only to clear up space on the page, but to encourage the user to spend time scanning the page they are currently looking at. With no links at the top to distract the eye, the user doesn’t feel like he/she has to rush off to another portion of the site.
The site itself features an all-white background and the only color comes from the art featured on the site; all links and text are either black or a soft grey, while exhibition images pop with contrast and color. The clean white background highlights the artists work; it doesn’t compete with background images or other navigational elements.
There are numerous methods of getting to the content. Users can browse by exhibitions—either current, past, or upcoming. Or, if a user is looking for information on a particular artist, there is an “Artists” page with the full list of exhibited artists featured. The artists currently being exhibited are featured with a thumbnail image at the top. The “Shop” section offers access to all the publications, editions, and catalogue raisonnés that Gagosian has produced; it’s an invaluable resource for collectors, art lovers, and historians alike.
But without sensible, clean navigation, all the engaging content would go to waste. So gagosian.com’s most important triumph is the way in which it links between the various, related pieces of content. For example, each artist is given their own page (with a biography and a sample of their work), and from that page, the user is given links to their exhibitions and publications on the left hand column. On the right hand column, a “more” box provides blog-like links (time stamped and dated) to the latest site updates that are relevant to the artist—a new exhibition or a new edition. Likewise, if a user enters into the content by browsing upcoming exhibitions, the page for each exhibition features links to the artist’s information. So no matter how a user dives into the site, they’re not going to miss the relevant content they’re looking for.
Gagosian.com also features a powerful—and quick—search box that’s featured right at the top of the page. The best part of the search is that it pre-sorts its own search results. Instead of just presenting the user with a meaningless list of links, the results are divided into artists, exhibitions, and publications (where appropriate). It is touches like this that make browsing the site an overall sensible and intelligent experience.
All of these ingredients collaborate seamlessly on gagosian.com, and the end result is a site which fully accomplishes its mission: to enhance usability, to increase the capability of the gallery to present the art and artists, to present the Gagosian Gallery in an innovative, informative fashion and ultimately to serve as an extension of the gallery online. It’s a reflection of durable truths in contemporary Internet design— usability, simplicity, and a focus on content.
There are still plenty of opportunities for what galleries can do with their most valuable resource—their content, namely the art and the artists who make it—and the design of gagosian.com is positioned to evolve as the art world further embraces the Internet as a means of doing business.
With over 15 locations (stretching from coast to coast and across the world's oceans to Hong Kong, London and Rome), Gagosian Gallery is unique among its peers in terms of scale, history, and complexity. Translating this online, and presenting the true depths of its content and archives, required a high level of design expertise.