Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt's new beta website lets you browse the online collection by color.

The Addictive New Museum Website That Lets You Browse by Color

The Addictive New Museum Website That Lets You Browse by Color

The Eye
Slate’s design blog.
Nov. 19 2013 5:29 PM

The Addictive New Museum Website That Lets You Browse by Color

The Cooper-Hewitt museum's new beta website allows users to browse the online collections by clicking on a 117-color grid.

Screen shot of Cooper-Hewitt's new beta website

The Cooper-Hewitt, the Smithsonian’s design museum based in NYC, is closed for renovations until 2014. But the country’s premier museum dedicated to historic and contemporary design just released a new beta version of its website that offers innovative ways to browse its online collection.

So far, approximately 55 percent of the museum collection is in the online database. Nine different browsing categories include the period the object dates from (86 represented), country (84 represented, with France leading at 20.68 percent), people (1,934 individuals connected in one or more ways to objects in the online collection), and perhaps most excitingly, color.

The interactive website design was inspired by the site of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam in that at first glimpse each item appears in close-up rather than in its entirety, an approach that encourages people to start with details to discover works of art and design, rather than zooming in after the fact.


To plunge into the collection using color as a point of departure, you click on a grid of 117 different colors taken from the CSS3 palette and naming conventions. Each object has up to five representative colors attached to it, selected by what the site calls "robotic eye machines," which scan each object to register color averages.

Click on “steel blue” and you will be taken to dozens of pages of objects that share the hue, from 15th-century silk roundels to 17th-century fabric swatches to a 19th-century beaded purse.

A few of the 400-plus objects in the Cooper-Hewitt's online collection that contain the color "steel blue."

Screen shot of Cooper-Hewitt's new beta website

Moving your cursor over the image will reveal the purse in its entirety, and you can follow it to its own page to learn more about it:

Steel blue as seen on a 19th-century beaded purse decorated with roses and forget-me-nots.

Screen shot of Cooper-Hewitt's new beta website

And then you can click on one of the other four dominant colors in the purse to lead you somewhere else, and down the color-searching rabbit hole you go.

Kristin Hohenadel's writing on design has appeared in publications including the New York Times, Fast Company, Vogue, Elle Decor, Lonny, and Apartment Therapy.