Design Critique: The LIFE Gallery of Photography Website


The LIFE Gallery of Photography is a web site whose purpose is to display, license, and sell the work of LIFE’s staff photographers during its 36 years as a weekly magazine, as well as other images in the Time Inc. Picture Collection. From 1936 to 1972, it covered the major news in politics, culture, and the worlds of fashion and celebrity in the U.S. and the world. The gallery showcases a vast array of work by the leading photographers of the 20th century. Many of its images are instantly recognizable.

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Design Problem #1: Bad affordance and signifiers, unclear homepage

It is hard to imagine a homepage that does less to explain the purpose and utility of its site. The only interactive button on it is “Filter Photographs”, which offers some options that are understandable only to people knowledgeable in the field or those who know exactly what they are looking for—a failure of both UX and marketing. The homepage reduces some of the best pictures LIFE ever published to thumbnails, and there is literally no indication to the viewer what the site is other than the word “Photos”.

Design Solution #1: Adding its name, “The LIFE Gallery of Photography,” to the top of the page would be a good place to start, and a subhead explaining what the site is for would be another. A prominent row of hot buttons (right or left column) for each of the various functions now listed behind the “Filter” button need to be put in plain view, each one labeled by a simple word or two, as well as an additional choice for FAQs or more information. At the level under each button, the options given should include a way of retrieving simple explanations of terms and concepts that might otherwise be obscure.

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Design Problem #2: Poor mapping and feedback on the navigation bar

At the top of the homepage, the left-most, therefore primary link is to My Gallery, which a first-time user would not understand.

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Design Solution #2:   The labels should be rearranged and made clearer (especially in the absence of a title and subhead for the page). From left they should read, perhaps, “About This Site,” “Your Selections”, and then “Contact Sales and Support” (as seen below). A better solution would be to rethink the hierarchy of the homepage and its elements once a title and short description are in place. These options might then work best in a row of hot buttons like the others. Also, the About page needs to be thoroughly rethought to make it a user guide to the functions of the site as well as a salute to LIFE photography.

About This Site                  My Selections                Contact Sales & Support    


Design Problem #3: Poor feedback  and absent signifiers

When clicking on an individual picture to select it, there is no signifier to indicate that the selection has been moved to the “My Gallery” page, nor even that that is what will happen. The “Share” button is a poor description of the function.

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Design Solution #3: There are many alternatives, given that there is no instruction at all on this page. At a minimum there should be a large call to action that tells the user what to do, for example, “Click to Add to My Saved Selections”. Once a picture is selected, there should be an animated movement that mimics the picture disappearing into the upper right box, which could be renamed “My Selections”. At the end of the brief animated movement, a message should appear, “Saved to My Selections.”