While the doors of the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) remain closed under the UK lockdown, the institution has launched a new digital platform that invites online users worldwide to delve into more than 1.2 million objects spanning 5,000 years of history in its collections of art, design and performance.
Explore the Collections has been in development for two years, since well before the pandemic, but its beta launch on 9 February “comes at a vital time when the way audiences engage with museums and their collections has changed dramatically”, says the V&A’s deputy director Tim Reeve in a statement. “We hope it’s a bit of a rabbit hole to get lost in the collection because there are so many wonderful stories that can be told,” says the museum’s head of digital media and publishing, Kati Price.
The platform has been designed to offer a “much more immersive experience” than the previous online collection catalogue, built in 2009, which hosted detailed object records separately from the V&A’s main website. That division meant that users often reached a “dead end” on a single record, Price says, whereas the new search engine encourages people to browse intuitively and “take more horizontal journeys across the collection”.
New features include autosuggested keywords in the search bar, the ability to filter and map objects that are currently on display in the museum’s physical locations, category tags and a “visual smorgasbord” at the end of every page that links to related objects in the collection.
The website aims to be a “one-stop shop”, Price says, uniting technical information, contemporary and historic photographs of over 500,000 objects—which can be downloaded for free or licensed if still in copyright—and the V&A’s editorial content, such as videos relating to special exhibitions.
For example, the object page for Mary Quant’s 1962 “Georgie” dress—acquired through a public collecting drive for the museum’s 2019 exhibition—includes a downloadable sewing pattern allowing makers at home to recreate the wraparound pleated design.
“Making is at the heart of the V&A mission: we want our collections to inspire people, and to stimulate their own creativity and creative practice,” Price wrote in a 2019 blog post about the website redesign. “We want to make it easier for people to find and engage with our collections online and to be inspired to make new objects.”