Explore the Collections

Explore the Collections is a new online experience that offers new ways for people to browse, search and discover stories of the 1.2m objects in the V&A’s collections. For the first time we’ve brought together object data alongside stories of those objects, through a beautiful new user interface that provides more seamless ways to browse, search and engage with the V&A’s collections online.

The problem:

Back in 2009, the V&A launched Search the Collections which for the first time saw the V&A’s collections data available online. It was a great product of its time, but a decade on it was time for change. After all, technology, design and user expectations have moved on in the intervening decade or so. It was built on an ageing and fragile technical architecture – the software frameworks were on the edge of security support and using languages that are out of date now. The user experience left a lot to be desired – most of our traffic was to object pages which had a high exit rate. They had become dead ends for many user journeys, with users completely unaware of the wealth of editorial content about those objects on the main website. Search the Collections had become a large, unloved silo for our collections data.

The solution:

As well as rebuilding the technical and information architecture, we have completely redesigned the user experience to create more fluid journeys between the data we hold about our objects and a wealth of story-led content.

Having released an internal alpha version – which involved the redesign of object pages and a lightweight search functionality – we launched a public beta in February 2021. The beta has involved replacing the whole of Search the Collections (object pages, search functionality and landing page) and incorporating editorial content on to the new object pages. Eventually, that will grow into the fully fledged Explore the Collections later in 2021, which will see us bringing together the V&A’s objects, editorial content and a suite of new pages that will show the many themes, techniques, genres, places and people that link our collections together.

For the beta, we’ve developed a new feature called ‘You May Also Like’, which helps people serendipitously discover other objects by presenting a smorgasbord of linked objects. We also have a better display of links to faceted terms from our controlled vocabulary, to help offer more onward journeys from the new object pages.

Our user research revealed that people wanted more and bigger pictures. So, we’ve improved the object imagery by making it more prominent on the page. And we’ve also used this opportunity to include information about how you can use and license images, should you want to.

In other words, we’ve worked hard to improve discoverability, making it easier for people to find the objects they’re looking for, but also offering them new ways to explore other related themes and content.

Search was a fundamental aspect of Search the Collections and it continues to be for Explore the Collections. We’ve developed new search features that help people sift through our objects in smarter, more efficient ways.

We’ve also explored how best to join up all our collections data with editorial content – so you can get the bigger picture when exploring an object or theme. We’ve found ways to extend user journeys, making them more useful by connecting object pages with other objects and content.

In first month since launch (9th Feb – 8th March):

  • Page views to object pages is up 23% (from 425,746 to 525,762)
  • Image view interactions on object pages have increased 280%
  • Increase in traffic to articles from collection pages
  • Sessions up 12% on year and 4% on previous month
  • On average people are looking at 2 object pages per session which is up 13% previous year and 15% on previous month.
  • Average time on page (dwell) has increased 83% from previous year, and 76% on previous month.