3Rd Friday Beyond Borders 17888076256 O

Thu, Feb 21, 2019

Building a Community-First Website

If you were to pull back the curtain on what fuels the MAH, you’d find 154,000 excited, curious, creative people who are engaged in their community.

This is the community that makes the MAH tick. They’re made up of tinkerers ready to share their creative work, families excited to check out a new hands-on craft event, and UCSC students looking to connect more deeply with Santa Cruz by volunteering in an exhibition.

Maybe you’re one of them. You became a part of this community somehow– through some door– that welcomed you in.

At the MAH, we open new doors every day. Doors for volunteers to give their time, doors for members to contribute their support, doors for artists to share their ideas.

But two years ago, we realized that our website wasn’t making it easy to find these doors in the first place. It wasn’t always clear how to get involved, or check out what’s going on next week. As a community hub that is made better by thousands of people rushing through these doors, that was a problem.

We realized we needed a website that felt just as inviting to you online as our in-person experience is at the MAH.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking you on a journey of reimagining what a museum website could be, and how we applied the MAH’s community-first approach in our creative partnership with Cosmic every step of the way.

Opening New Doors

In 2016, our dreams of a creative plaza were about to become a reality with the opening of Abbott Square. Not only was the MAH going to get a serious upgrade with new food, drinks, and a gorgeous outdoor space– we were also going to inject this new community space with life via weekly festivals, crafternoons, and danceable music.

The short version? A lot more was about to be happening at the MAH, and it was about to become harder to make it all easy to discover.

The event calendar was confusing. Signing up as a volunteer was mysterious. Even tracking down our correct hours was tricky. The doors were there, but the website made them hard– or impossible– to find.

We knew there was a serious problem when MAH staff couldn’t even find what we were looking for. As challenging as the website was to navigate for you, it became increasingly chaotic for our team to update the volume of new events, opportunities, and updates being added every week. Something had to change.


A Partner Who “Gets It”

The search began for the right partner to guide us in this work. We craved an outside perspective that could help us, like a digital Marie Kondo, to sort through our mess and help us get to where we knew we needed to be.

There were some key areas where we needed to find alignment. It was important that this partner understood the MAH. We’re not a typical museum, and weren’t interested in a typical website. We hoped to approach this work with the same lens as our events and exhibitions: designing with community at the top of mind while pulling inspiration from wherever we can get it– even outside of the arts.

After an extensive search from the smallest agencies to the biggest national firms, we found the perfect partner in a lucky place: just next door.

Cosmic, a social purpose marketing agency based just around the corner from the MAH, were cheerleaders of our work from the start– especially around the Abbott Square project. With jackhammer ambiance from the plaza construction as our soundtrack, we began talking with them about the challenges ahead of us in 2016. They listened with firsthand experience as frequent guests, members, and sponsors of the museum.

Their experience with other powerful projects also drew us in. They had recently completed inspiring work with projects like Lakota People’s Law Project, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, and Jacobs Farm. These three projects, while different, all share the same roots in social purpose. The MAH needed this kind of insight for our work.

More than anything, we knew Cosmic was the right partner for the website because of their community-centric proposal. Together, we knew we had the opportunity to make more than just a website. They were prepared to cultivate our storytelling, level up our branding, and throw doors wide open for hundreds of new partners to get involved with the MAH.

The challenges were clear. The partnership was in place. The journey was underway.

In the coming weeks we’ll be publishing part 2 of this 3 part blog series where we’ll go behind the scenes of the project itself. From the teams coming together for the kickoff to the roadblocks and revelations we experienced along the way, you’ll learn how we got to the website experience you see today.

For more information, images, and behind the scenes stuff check out the case study on the Cosmic site. And stay tuned for our next post.