Designing a Visitor-Centric, Mobile-First Homepage for the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History

MAH Homepage, desktop
Top of the MAH homepage, desktop view

We’re excited to have launched a new homepage for the Santa Cruz Museum of Art And History! It’s the fruit of a year of development, analytics and design.

Led by Executive Director Nina Simon, the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History is a participatory museum. Its mission is to ignite shared experiences and unexpected connections and, when we’re successful, our work helps build a stronger, more connected community. We start with the people and work back to the museum; everything from our programming to communications is premised on an understanding of our communities’ needs. So in redesigning our homepage we asked, “how can we use knowledge of our visitor’s motivations to deliver a focused, user-focused mobile web experience?”


MAH Homepage, phone
The MAH homepage, mobile scroll

In Mobile First, Luke Wroblewski wrote, “websites and applications should be designed and built for mobile first … the end result is an experience focused on the key tasks users want to accomplish.” To identify these key tasks, we began by focusing on the motivations of our visitors.

In his book Identity and the Museum Visitor Experience, John Falk outlined a predictive model of visitor experience designed to help museum professionals better meet their visitors’ needs. Through research with dozens of museums and thousands of visitors, Falk established his predictive model of visitor experience. While this work is now widely shared expertise in the field, most of the suggestions apply to facility and exhibition design. We took it to the web.

Falk’s framework identifies museum visitor motivations as:

  • Experience Seeker
  • Explorer
  • Socializer
  • Recharger
  • Hobbyist / Professional

We applied this research to our homepage redesign project, adjusting the visitor archetypes to fit our local audience. We created fleshed-out personas that included descriptions of how each intrinsic motivation tracks to museum programming and engagement opportunities; and what kinds of messaging and imagery they may positively respond to.


We mapped each motivation to an area on the new homepage. Each block contains a set of elements — a tagline, an image, an activity and a couple of links — that are populated with content tailored specifically to the motivation. This means that our choice of what events and activities to feature are driven by appeals to specific segments of our audience. But we also wanted to ensure support for the Museum’s broader marketing priorities, so included a “This Week at the MAH” block at the very top.

The previous website design was more scattered, event-heavy, and encouraged “click on what you know” rather than exploration. We hope that this new design will push fresh content specifically curated for each identity, encouraging a broader understanding of how visitors can engage with the MAH.

We’ll be closely watching the analytics to see how visitors are now using the site’s homepage.


This project was a collaboration between Marty Spellerberg, principal at Spellerberg Projects; and Elise Granata, marketing and engagement coordinator at the MAH. Thank you also to Joe Costello for usability contributions; and to Ahree Lee for persona consultation.

Posted November 2015

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