Usability in DAM Systems

This semester, I am enrolled in Pratt’s Digital Asset Management (DAM) class, and decided to compare my usability understanding with the DAM system development process. I first read three different articles that each approached the DAM usability topic differently. Monahan’s “DAM Good? Yes, It Can Be! – How to Make Users Love Your Digital Asset Management System” claimed that a simple, intuitive DAM system user interface is a requirement, and that users will not use the DAM if they cannot easily access its holdings. Windsor’s “Usability and User Experience in DAM” (2014) played devil’s advocate to Monahan’s argument, claiming that the DAM’s main function is productivity, and that the wide variety of users (with different skill sets) will ultimately lead to many interface complaints, some of which simply cannot be consolidated. Rourke’s “DAM for Beginners: User Interface and Experience” (2014) took a vendor approach to usability, suggesting that vendors promote DAM customization- especially in terms of branding and dashboard personalization- and prepare visually appealing user interface proposals. Both Rourke and Monahan stressed the importance of a current, clean approach to DAM, while Windsor stressed the difficulties in DAM simplicity.

To compare my initial research to a real-life reference, I interviewed my internship supervisor, who happens to be in the process of developing and implementing a DAM system. For some context, I intern in the Archives department at Carnegie Hall. My supervisor and two other archivists are working with an outside vendor, Orange Logic, to create an easily accessible and manageable system via the DAM software Cortex. To summarize the interview, I asked my supervisor the following questions:

  1. Who are the DAM system’s main intended users?
  2. Did a Carnegie Hall staff member work with the outside vendor to design the DAM system user interface?
  3. Is the DAM mostly for archival assets, or for other departments’ assets as well?
  4. Is the current DAM system prototype intuitive to your own needs? Have you noted any major usability issues?
  5. Do you have any design or usability suggestions and does Orange Logic consider suggestions?
  6. Is usability one of the DAM system’s main development concerns?

Her response to these questions proved that usability is a large concern for Carnegie Hall’s DAM system development, but not the most important. She noted that the DAM development process has focused primarily on the smooth archival data and metadata transition from the old database and how to create the most appropriate search function to display this transferred information.

Cortex by Orange Logic
Cortex Interface

In terms of usability, Orange Logic provides an UX expert who is constantly available to customize the interface, allowing the Archives department to test different designs and make suggestions and changes. While most of the initial assets will be archival, and the Archives department will manage the DAM system, the Carnegie Hall DAM users will include varied internal staff members in multiple departments (archives, e-strategy, education, marketing, public relations) as well outside or contracted staff (photographers, videographers), all of whom will need to upload and download content. The DAM will eventually lead to the creation of a separate, publicly accessed web portal. My supervisor claimed that although usability is not an initial priority, it will be a big area of concern when the DAM system is launched throughout multiple Carnegie Hall departments and when the DAM system reaches public users via a web portal. She also claimed that when the time comes to create said public-facing web portal, the DAM system will undergo user testing to determine which functions are user-intuitive and which are for trained professionals.

I agree with my supervisor that the initial DAM system development cannot be based entirely on a good-looking user interface. For Carnegie Hall, and for most institutions, digital asset management is primarily about the assets and their metadata and the efficiency in ingesting and downloading these assets. While efficiency does involve the user being able to quickly navigate an interface, it also involves other factors such as network and file storage management. However, Carnegie Hall will eventually implement a usability test to make sure that the DAM system is as user accessible as it organized.


Monahan, N. DAM good? Yes, it can be! – How to make users love your digital asset management system. Digital Asset Management News. Retrieved from

Rourke, J. (4 February 2014). DAM for beginners: User interface and experience. DAM Foundation. Retrieved from

Windsor, R. (24 April 2014). Usability and user experience in DAM. Digital Asset Management News. Retrieved from