A Heuristic Evaluation of the Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze

The Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze, also known as the Gallery of the Academy of Florence, is the home to many of the prized artistic possessions of Italy. It is most well known for housing the beloved symbol of Florence, Michelangelo’s statue of David. Established in 1784, this gallery is located at the heart of the city and is symbolic of the late Italian Renaissance. The Accademia amassed over 1,700,000 visitors in 2019 and continues to hold high accord in the European art scene.

Despite its popularity to in-person visitors, the online presence of the Galleria dell’Accademia has not gained much traction from its onset. There is room to improve the user experience of the gallery website, and the findings within this report address how to approach the issue. This report contains an in-depth review of a Heuristic Evaluation conducted by three usability experts on the Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze website. Evaluators were asked to perform a series of four tasks; (1) finding the price of a ticket, (2) booking a ticket, (3) finding out where the statue of David is in the museum, and (4) finding out if photography is permitted inside the museum. Assessments of usability were done using standardized metrics defined in Jakob Nielsen’s Ten Usability Heuristics for Interface Design and ranked using Nielsen’s Severity Ratings for Usability Problems.

Top 3 Findings

  1. Ticket options and pricing are unclear.
  2. Search results are not all-inclusive.
  3. Text language is inconsistent.

Top 3 Recommendations

  1. Provide understandable explanations of ticket options and make the pricing structure clear.
  2. Link to map on artwork pages and include physical object location.
  3. Prevent sudden language changes & include iconography with language selection.
Home Page of Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze Website
Figure 1: Home Page of Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze Website

Introduction

The Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze is a northern Italian museum located in the region of Tuscany, in the city of Florence. This gallery houses many famous artworks from the late Italian Renaissance and is beloved by locals and tourists alike. The Accademia houses masterpieces by Michelangelo, Giambologna, Botticelli, Veronese, and many more acclaimed artists. In 2018, the Galleria dell’Accademia first published its website to supplement the museum experience. Today, the museum’s website gives users the ability to book tickets, preview exhibitions, peruse the collections and learn about the history of the artwork and artists.

Though users casually browsing the website may be a rarity, museum visitors are required to prebook their tickets — thus are more than likely to find themselves on the website at some point before their visit. There is room to improve the user experience of the gallery website and the recommendations within this report address the findings that led to this conclusion and how to approach the issue. This report contains an in-depth review of a heuristic evaluation conducted by three usability experts on the Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze website. Evaluators were asked to perform a series of four tasks; (1) finding the price of a ticket, (2) booking a ticket, (3) finding out where the statue of David is in the museum, and (4) finding out if photography is permitted inside the museum. Usability assessments were done using standardized metrics defined in Jakob Nielsen’s Ten Usability Heuristics for Interface Design and ranked using Nielsen’s Severity Ratings for Usability Problems.

Methodology

The Heuristic Evaluation is a UX methodology created by Jakob Nielsen and Rolf Molich in the 1990s. It is a process in which 3 to 5 usability experts independently evaluate a user interface and identify any usability issues with the current design. The interface is unbiasedly judged based on a predefined set of heuristics: Jakob Nielsen’s Ten Usability Heuristics for Interface Design (Figure 2). After running through the interface multiple times, evaluators identify violations of the heuristics in the interface.

“Assigning the correct heuristic can help suggest the best corrective measures to designers.”

Jakob Nielsen’s Ten Usability Heuristics for Interface Design
Figure 2: Jakob Nielsen’s Ten Usability Heuristics for Interface Design

Once identified, evaluators weigh their findings with severity ratings based on Nielsen’s Severity Ratings for Usability Problems (Figure 3). When this process is run by multiple usability experts evaluating the interface, presumably, a majority of the usability issues will become apparent. The categorized and aggregated data resulting from this type of evaluation highlights patterns in usability flaws. Once these findings are aggregated and analyzed by the primary evaluator of the study, they are used in the iterative design process to improve the product UX.

Nielsen’s Severity Ratings for Usability Problems
Figure 3: Nielsen’s Severity Ratings for Usability Problems

This evaluation method is apt for this project because of its efficiency and relative speed. This discount usability engineering has a high ROI because the likelihood that major usability issues are identified when using 3–5 experts to evaluate a user interface is high. Though the method does not produce actionable recommendations, using the data collected from the study, it will be easy for the primary evaluator to develop recommendations to improve usability and quality of design.

In our case study here, we have used three evaluators to assess the usability of the Galleria dell’Accademia’s website. After being introduced to the museum and its claim to fame, the evaluators were given the URL for the Accademia home page, https://www.galleriaaccademiafirenze.it/en/, asked to access it from their personal computers, given brief context and asked to complete the series of tasks within an allotted 30 minutes while in a video conference in case any doubts arose. Evaluators were given a template to input their observations and take note of heuristic violations during their exploration.

USER CONTEXT:

You are an American tourist looking to visit the Accademia in Florence and see the statue of David by Michelangelo! You need to book a ticket to go and learn a few logistics.

USER TASKS:

  1. Find the price of a ticket for not EU citizen visitors over the age of 18.
  2. Book a ticket.
  3. Find out where in the museum the statue of David is located.
  4. Learn more about Michelangelo, his statue of David, and other related artworks.
  5. Find out if photography is permitted inside the museum.

The three evaluators went through the series of tasks on the website and for each usability issue they encountered they noted in the template the problem description, where the problem occurred, the heuristics violated, and the severity rating for the problem. Once the collected data was reviewed and aggregated, patterns of difficulty and catastrophic usability issues became very apparent. We will go through these findings and potential recommendations for improvement in the next section.

Findings and Recommendations

The evaluators were generally pleased with the Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze’s website. They found the minimalistic design appealing and the simplified navigation easy to use. Though there was much praise for the Accademia website, the evaluators were able to identify a total of
15 violations of heuristics. 67% (10/15) of these violations were reported by multiple evaluators and 53% (8/15) of the findings were rated with a severity of 3 or above.

When the data was aggregated and analyzed, patterns became apparent in pain points noted by the usability experts. After analysis and consolidation of the findings, three main actionable weaknesses became prevalent. These aspects of the current website, though functional, have room for improvement and the following recommendations could significantly improve the overall user experience of the Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze’s website.

FINDING 1: Ticket options and pricing are unclear.

Users can book tickets to the museum in advance by visiting the ticketing page (Figure 4) on the website. When faced with the issue of selecting an appropriate ticket and booking a reservation, users are left confused. This issue is two-fold. The first half of the problem has to do with users being unable to discern between the three options that the gallery provides.

Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze Website Ticketing Page
Figure 4: Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze Website Ticketing Page

Being that the tickets are named as “Prices” and their titles pertain to the cost of the ticket, it is not immediately apparent which ticket one would choose to purchase. This layout violates the heuristic of a match between system and real-world (H2) because users do not relate to the naming convention utilized here. Identifying each ticket type with a price number does not assist the decision-making process on this page.

Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze Website Free Ticket Option
Figure 5: Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze Website Free Ticket Option

Also addressed on this page is the presence of a B-Ticket. Users would not know that B-Ticket is a ticket vending website unless they were to do some independent investigation. Misplaced text related to B-Tickets, MiBAC, and museum timings make this section difficult to interpret by the user.

Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze Website Ticketing Header
Figure 6: Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze Website Ticketing Header

RECOMMENDATION 1: Provide understandable explanations of ticket options and make the pricing structure clear.

Purchasing a ticket is among the top actions users of the Galleria dell’Accademia website pursue. This page on the site is easily findable, but since it is displayed prominently on the home page, users can even arrive at the page without perusing the navigation. Once on this page, users may have difficulty determining which ticket to purchase and how exactly to do so. Reorganizing the text hierarchy within ticket choices and renaming them in a more commonly understandable manner will help to alleviate this.

Have one primary CTA since both links direct to the same external page — do not trick the user into believing they have completed that step.

Ticketing Page Redesign
Figure 7: Ticketing Page Redesign

FINDING 2: Search results are not all-inclusive.

Rather than looking through the navigation for a page, users often use a search bar and type in keywords to find the content they seek on a website. There is a high likelihood that a user would be looking for a specific artwork on a museum website. The most intuitive way to find the physical location of the artwork in the museum is to look for a museum map or search for the artwork’s name. The Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze website has both of these functionalities in place however the results of the search seem to lack a connection to the physical museum.

When searching for an artwork, if the name of the artwork is properly spelled out, the resulting page shows relevant results in a card format listing images, titles, and artists (Figure 8). The heuristic violation occurs on a page for a specific artwork. In this case, we can observe the page for Michelangelo’s Statue of David (Figure 9).

Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze Website Search Results Page
Figure 8: Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze Website Search Results Page
Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze Website David by Michelangelo Buonarroti Page
Figure 9: Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze Website David by Michelangelo Buonarroti Page

These artwork pages are very well curated and present information about the work’s history and provenance well. There seems to be a lack of connection between these individual artwork pages and the in-person museum experience. Since the context of artwork location is missing from these pages, this violates the heuristic of visibility of system status (H1). Upon reading through the page content, it is evident that the page lists an inventory number (Figure 10), but this is not understandable to most website users, so this violates the heuristic of a match between system and real-world (H2).

Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze Website David by Michelangelo Buonarroti Page Details
Figure 10: Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze Website David by Michelangelo Buonarroti Page Details

Upon further exploration of the site, one may find the museum map (Figure 11). This map clearly shows the location of some famous artworks in the museum, but one would not know this information from the artwork page alone. This violates the heuristic of flexibility and ease of use because the novice user may not realize that they cannot search to find the object’s location.

Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze Website Museum Map Page
Figure 11: Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze Website Museum Map Page

RECOMMENDATION 2: Link to map on artwork pages and include physical object location.

To make the online and in-person experience of the museum more seamless and provide context upfront to the novice user, the individual artwork pages on the Accademia website should have links to the museum map and a text-based indication of the physical object’s location in the museum (Figure 12).

Artwork Page Data Sheet Redesign
Figure 12: Artwork Page Data Sheet Redesign

FINDING 3: Text language is inconsistent.

Since the Galleria dell’Accademia is in Italy, the website language is Italian by default. Some discrepancies in language exist for non-native users. Many site users are indeed tourists looking to visit the museum from abroad, so the ability to switch languages is vital. This website has a language switch, designed with the idea of inclusion, in the utility menu above the main site navigation (Figure 13) that toggles between Italiano and English. While users are on the Accademia website, there are inconsistencies on certain pages when switching from displaying the page in Italian to English. When navigating to new pages on the site, there often seems to be no memory of the language selected, and the site defaults to Italian. Due to frequent bugs in this toggle, this is a violation of the heuristic for consistency and standards.

The language toggle’s subtle typeface and its being in Italian make it not easily identifiable; this is a violation of the heuristic for visibility of system status (H1).

Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze Website Home Page
Figure 13: Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze Website Home Page

RECOMMENDATION 3: Prevent sudden language changes & include iconography with language selection.

Although designed with good intentions, there may be some back-end software issues causing inconsistencies in the display language of the website.

Some recommendations could help improve the visibility of this feature on the website. Many popular sites use language switchers in the footer, but tourism sites such as this museum site would prioritize this feature. The addition of iconography in the form of a country flag, and a switch to a bolder variety of the same typeface, make the option to change language, kept above the navigation bar, much more prominent and understandable to the user (Figure 14). There may be some controversy related to correlating a language with the flag of a nation, but since this site only displays in two languages, it may be excusable. Although there is no standard definition regarding what icon would designate a language, there are some potential options like a globe or letter.

Language Switch Redesign
Figure 13: Language Switch Redesign

Conclusion

The Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze houses some of Italy’s prized artistic possessions. Serving as the home of the beloved symbol of Florence, Michelangelo’s statue of David, this museum has established itself well within the realm of European cultural institutions.

After evaluation by usability experts, it is clear that the Accademia website has room for improvement in its usability. The findings within this report detail a Heuristic Evaluation conducted by three usability experts on the Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze website and the observations and recommendations that arose from it. Evaluators were asked to perform a series of four tasks; (1) finding the price of a ticket, (2) booking a ticket, (3) finding out where the statue of David is in the museum, and (4) finding out if photography is permitted inside the museum. Usability assessments were done using standardized metrics defined in Jakob Nielsen’s Ten Usability Heuristics for Interface Design and ranked using Nielsen’s Severity Ratings for Usability Problems.

Appendix — Collected Data

References

World Leaders in Research-Based User Experience. “10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design.” Nielsen Norman Group. https://www.nngroup.com/articles/ten-usability-heuristics/

World Leaders in Research-Based User Experience. “Heuristic Evaluation: How-To: Article by Jakob Nielsen.” Nielsen Norman Group. https://www.nngroup.com/articles/how-to-conduct-a-heuristic-evaluation/

World Leaders in Research-Based User Experience. “Severity Ratings for Usability Problems: Article by Jakob Nielsen.” Nielsen Norman Group. https://www.nngroup.com/articles/how-to-rate-the-severity-of-usability-problems/

Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs. “Heuristic Evaluations and Expert Reviews.” Department of Health and Human Services, October 9, 2013. https://www.usability.gov/how-to-and-tools/methods/heuristic-evaluation.html

The Interaction Design Foundation. “What is Heuristic Evaluation?” https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/topics/heuristic-evaluation

Statista. “Visitors to the Gallery of the Academy in Florence 2020.” https://www.statista.com/statistics/1034447/number-of-visitors-to-the-gallery-of-the-academy-in-florence/

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Designer | Artist | Engineer

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