Fowler Museum

The Fowler Museum is an institution that focuses on global arts and cultures from Africa, Asia, the Pacific, and the Indigenous Americas, and is located on the campus of UCLA. Like so many other brick and mortar art institutions over the course of the pandemic, the Fowler realized that it needed to improve its digital presence in order to reach – and resonate with – its newly remote audience.

With this sudden shift in importance from physical to digital, I took the initiative to perform a comprehensive analysis of the Fowler’s current site – including both content and navigation – and proposed a series of changes to help better serve both new and returning visitors.
UX Researcher
Fowler Museum at UCLA
Research
Content Audit
By 2020, the Fowler’s website design hadn’t been updated for nearly a decade and the organization was struggling to reach a younger audience – two issues that hadn’t been prioritized over the last few years. The stay-at-home order in LA led to a sharp rise in monthly online programming that reached a virtual global audience, which in turn meant that the Fowler’s website and social accounts were driving more traffic than ever before.
To get a better sense of which pages most needed updating, I conducted a content audit of the entire Fowler site. I organized the hierarchy of each page, its content quality, and its value to both the organization and to visitors in a spreadsheet which helped to identify duplicate content and opportunities across the site to add clarification or additional features.
I decided that the best way to clearly communicate my findings would be to compile some of the major issues I discovered into a presentation that I then delivered to key stakeholders at the museum. Some of the key insights from this audit are listed below.
Key Insights
1
The need for new images across the board was apparent, as well as the need for more of them overall and to make them larger in most cases when possible to help drive visual interest among site visitors
2
Many page titles and where they were located within the information architecture of the site needed to be reconsidered in order to help users navigate the site
3
Additional features like a Google map on the Hours/Directions page and a filter option for the calendar on the Programs page would provide users with more specific, helpful content
4
Some pages contained an overwhelming amount of content; recommendation was to cut down content on main pages and put additional info on pages deeper down so that users could access if needed
5
Outdated content needed to either be updated or removed
6
Certain page features like sliders are not always the best way to display content and should be reconsidered on a case-by-case basis
Since the presentation of these findings resulted primarily in thoughtful discussion (rather than decision making), I decided to create a Google Form to poll stakeholders involved in the original meeting on the points we had discussed. Breaking down each item in a brief, direct way and asking everyone to select a simple “Agree” or “Disagree” radio button made the decision-making process as easy as possible. Overall, implementing this form helped ensure that concrete next steps were democratically determined and changes could be implemented immediately rather than staying stuck in the realm of possibility.
Competitive Analysis
While I conducted the content audit, I decided to simultaneously perform an abbreviated competitive analysis of other museum websites in order to familiarize myself with the navigation industry standards for art institutions online. I primarily looked at the desktop navigation bar across 11 different museums, focusing on major institutions across the country that included everything from the Met and LACMA to the de Young and the Walker.

After exploring these sites and collecting screenshots of their nav bars, it was apparent that there was a relatively common organizational structure to these sites that would most likely benefit the Fowler to emulate when possible. For instance, we realized that having a “Learn” menu category for things like University and Family Programming was potentially confusing because it sounded like it was potentially about the Fowler itself and less about programming. Most museums placed these pages under Programs, but to help differentiate these from our events we decided on an “Education & Engagement” category.
This process also helped reveal opportunities to move certain pages out of the main navigation and into the footer or other secondary menu area. We had our Press page nested under the About tab, whereas most museum sites placed it in the footer. While this brought up some discussion regarding how accessible we wanted a page like Press to be, ultimately it was decided that we could move it out of the About section since it didn’t pertain to the majority of our site visitors. Having concrete examples from other institutions helped in instances like this because it showed that my recommendations were in line with what users were expecting based on their experience navigating other museum websites.
Results
Proposed Site Map
Based on both the content audit and competitive analysis – and the internal discussions that followed – I constructed a new site map for the Fowler that I proposed to the larger team. While not all of the changes from this site map were ultimately implemented,  a few of the key changes that were incorporated into the new site – in addition to those listed earlier – include the following: 
  • “Collections” was made its own menu item. On the old site it was only accessible from the bottom of the homepage or buried under Learn > Digital Resources > Collections Online. This helped to bring the Fowler’s diverse collections to the forefront and help introduce new visitors to what the Fowler is all about
  • Pages like “Rights & Reproductions” and “Audio” – which contained audio guides to past shows – were removed because they didn’t contain information that users would find useful or necessary
Website Redesign
As a direct result of the research I conducted, key museum stakeholders realized that there were major issues with the navigability and interest of our website and agreed that we needed to invest more time and money into the museum’s digital presence. An external team was hired to redesign the site and took the first steps to implement some of the navigation changes I had proposed.
New Fowler Site
Next Steps
While we were able to make quite a few significant changes to the site’s navigation based on the initial UX research I had done, an important next step would be to test the navigation on the new site with a group of demographically diverse users who have never been to the site before. The Fowler’s audience tends to skew toward the older side so it is of particular importance that the site is easy to navigate for an older user. Since all of our earlier discussions about the new site map were only internal, decisions were made based only on what individual stakeholders believed and what other museums were doing. User feedback is therefore an essential next step to help either validate (or invalidate) the decisions that were made and ensure that the new site is as user-friendly as possible.