Formal Assignment 1 – Coins

Introduction to coins

The website coins is a pile of coins. Specifically it is a pile of around 26,000 coins from the collection held by Münzkabinett, a museum in Berlin. When first opening the website one is met with a loading screen. Depending on the quality of one’s computer this screen may take a while. The screen is visually interesting and does convey the point of the website well. It is a good introduction to the site showing high resolution photos of coins on a white backdrop. Once loaded, the individual coins are replaced by a haphazard pile of silver and gold. Due to the affordances of website design users will either zoom into the pile or click it. Through doing this the nature of the pile is revealed. Every coin in the pile is an intractable object. They can be moved and when clicked on they will be centered and an information sheet will appear for that coin describing it. All the other coins will be spread away toward the edge. Coins most like the one in the center will be closer to the center. The best way to illustrate this is to choose a golden coin and see how it forms a ring of golden coins around it. The information given for the selected coin is its name, material, weight, size, location of origin and an estimate of when it was made. This is all information that one is likely to wonder while looking at a coin but it brings up the question of what is the point of this website. According to the information popup found in at the top right of the screen the website is to make the “selection of about 26 000 coins explorable” It is likened to how one might examine these coins at the physical museum in Berlin. In some ways this is an improvement to how one might explore the museum. The interactivity of the website and the many ways the coins can be organized creates more usability then can be found in a museum. Coins is not a practical tool. It is instead intended to be used as a novel way to explore coins.


The accessibility of Coins is nebulous. People with perfect eyesight would not be able to find a specific coin in the unorganized pile. People without Sight would be unable to use this site entirely because of its non linear nature. Accessibility tools may be able to read the name of the coin the mouse is hovering over but the names of the coins are analytical not descriptive. The names are also in german. When I attempted to examine the accessibility of Coins using WAVE web accessories all that was returned was an error. This might be due to the large number of pictures or how the site is designed. There is not much text on this website. I used WebAIM to test the contrast of the text that does exist.

Screenshots from WebAIM

It mostly passed but the more faded text on the information sheet failed the AAA test for normal text. Coins in its current state is not accessible to the blind. To remedy this might require a total redesign of the website as the randomness of a pile of coins with scientific names is not conducive to high accessibility.


Coins is about exploration and there are some clever features to help enable the user to explore. The most central of these features is the two axis organization in the bottom left of the screen. Every coin is assigned a country, region, minting place, period, material, weight, diameter and date. The site allows users to choose two of these data points to make up the x and y axis of a graph. By representing the data visually in a graph exploration is improved. 

a graph made by coins displaying weight over time. there is a large peak at the beginning of the graph.
Screenshot from Coins

Here is a set of coins ordered by weight and date. There is a strange peek in the weight of the coins right before the 200s BC. By clicking on the coins it can be seen that the heavy coins are made of bronze. This leads the user to question and wonder why bronze coins made in 300 BC were heavy. A strange question that one likely would not have asked if they had not been presented with a peek of bronze coins on a graph. Questions like this are the exploration that Coins wishes to enable. 

There is an issue with how far the user is able to zoom into the coins. I feel that the user should be able to zoom into a single coin to the point that it takes up a large portion of the screen. While fully zoomed in it is possible to comfortably fit 41 coins in a line across the screen. 

A line of coins. they are small and line up from one end of the screen to the other.
Screenshot from Coins

It is difficult to see the details of the coins from this far view. It is likely that this is a design choice made to compromise the detail of the coins and how well the sight runs. To enable further zoom would require that the sight uses higher resolution scans which would negatively impact the performance of the site. Higher resolution images of the coins can be found by choosing a coin and going to the Münzkabinett catalog. There are incredibly detailed images of the coins in the catalog but having to go through this middle step is inconvenient.

Web Only Design

Another method to show this much information about these many coins would be a museum, which would be unable to show this many,  or an encyclopedia. The noninteractivity of these two greatly diminishes the exploration aesthetic the website is going for. The ability to display this number of coins while keeping the information about them close at hand could only be done through the internet. Being able to click on each coin and be given a link to the museum page for that coin is much like Wikipedia. It is a direct Improvement to an encyclopedia. 

There is a function which enables users to compare the coins statistics to each other that could not be done as conveniently in any other medium. This function was described in the usability section. is a good example as to how the functionality and the aesthetic of the website can work together, but often on this site it seems many of the decisions were a compromise between Aesthetics and usability.

Aesthetics vs Function.

The aesthetic design of coins is quite good. The clean white background having a massive pile of coins haphazardly poured on it is visually interesting. The site tries its best to give the coins depth. having coins cover each other and get buried. In the default pile of coins there are a large number completely obscured. This is a horrible design if the point of the website was to look at coins, but that is not the point. Coins is made as an exploration of a massive collection. It is made to mimic the sense of discovery that one would feel digging through a pile of coins. To obtain this aesthetic some functionally was sacrificed, but ultimately this decision was to the benefit of Coins. 

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