ICA/Boston Brings Mobile to the Museum Experience

Customer Experience
Customer Experience
For the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, an accessible mobile website offers the opportunity to showcase the museum, engage potential visitors, and encourage attendance.

For 75 years, the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston has stood at the forefront of modern art, offering visitors new ways to engage with artists, exhibitions, and the creative process. But, just as the ICA/Boston has transformed its Boston Harbor location into a social gathering space of modern, minimalist architecture, museum staff also recognized the need to revolutionize the institution's mobile presence. With the ICA/Boston's Web traffic increasingly coming from mobile devices, this emerging demographic represents the ideal subset for driving interest and foot traffic to the museum. However, the non-profit's greatest challenge derived from the ICA/Boston's lack of funds and technological expertise.

"All our visitor surveys are pointing to the website as the number one place that people get information about the museum," says Kelly Gifford, director of external affairs at ICA/Boston. "However, the general public doesn't recognize the difference between having a mobile experience or a desktop experience. They just want the information that they want. They want to know what is on view, who are the artists they are coming to see, and basic information, like how to get here."

With the help of Bluetrain Mobile's content management system, the ICA/Boston was able to begin its journey toward developing and launching a state-of-the-art mobile website that provides easy access to visitor and exhibition information on the go, while reflecting the brand's personality and showcasing the museum's current collections at the same time. Using Google Analytics, the ICA/Boston discovered that almost one-third of the site's monthly traffic came from mobile, triggering the museum's decision to pursue mobile solutions that would allow the institute to attract local tourists and Boston citizens with the right information at the right time in the right place to ultimately encourage attendance and make the museum more competitive.

After conducting numerous visitor surveys, the ICA/Boston discovered that an increasing number of people were no longer planning their visits in advance. Instead of making decisions a week or more in advance, today's visitors are more likely to visit on-the-fly, therefore spending less time on their desktop, indicating that a shrunk down version of the desktop site would no longer suffice on mobile. But, because of staffing and budget restrictions, the idea of creating and maintaining a successful mobile website was overwhelming and practically impossible.

"We launched the website that we have about six or seven years ago now," says Gifford. "I knew that we didn't have the time or the money to jump in and completely revamp our website, but our website is so important. And, with so many people moving to smartphones and tablets, what we decided to do-what we thought would be best and most valuable for the museum-would be to have a mobile site that was accessible and easy to use for our visitors. Knowing we had issues around our desktop site, we decided to go with a mobile site, put our investment in that, and get that going."

The ICA/Boston's primary goal was to satisfy the three questions most site visitors want answered: Where is the ICA located? What time is the museum open? What's on view? Because the "visits" and "exhibitions" tabs are the most frequently visited spots on the ICA/Boston's website, the museum sought to find a solution that would allow them to make this information readily accessible, while allowing the institution to infuse the mobile website with the brand's distinctive personality. The museum also wanted to ensure a rich experience reminiscent of the physical experience that would enable ease-of-use on both the visitor's and the staff's end, for the institution's limited expertise and funding required simplicity.

Partnering with Bluetrain Mobile allowed the ICA/Boston to begin developing a mobile website that will inevitably serve as the model for the museum's reinvented desktop site, which currently exists on a platform that's difficult to maintain. Gifford took the progressive "Mobile First" approach by using mobile as both the museum's main website and its launching pad for its future desktop redesign. Using Bluetrain Mobile's software as a service (SaaS) solution, the ICA/Boston no longer has to rely on an internal technical support team to update and maintain new versions of the platform, for Bluetrain Mobile offers a completely hosted solution, meaning the museum need not worry about maintaining servers for the mobile website. Also, with unlimited access to system updates, bug fixes, and support, the platform meets the institution's needs today and in the future.

To incorporate the information uncovered by visitor surveys and Google Analytics, the ICA/Boston needed to provide two primary types of information: basic visitor information and exhibit information. The museum wanted to be sure current and potential visitors had access to the institution's calendars so they'd be aware of that days' events, as well as upcoming programs and classes. The new mobile presence allows the ICA/Boston to directly feed its calendar content to the mobile site without having to update the information in each location. Bluetrain Mobile's solution also allowed the museum to incorporate videos, such as behind the scene tours with ICA curators, and two touch-activated calls to action-Map and Call. Located on the homepage, these features offer site visitors the tools they need to find what they're looking for, while promoting meaningful engagement.

During the four-month implementation period, Bluetrain Mobile helped the ICA/Boston optimize the mobile experience by partnering with the museum's in-house design team to create buttons and navigational strategies that adequately serve the content, while preserving the ICA personality. Since June 2012, when the new mobile site was launched, roughly 25,000 visitors per month-nearly one-third of all Web traffic-now choose to engage via smartphone or tablet, indicating that the ICA/Boston's efforts are firmly aligned with the wants and needs of local citizens and tourists. As the museum continues to develop and improve the overall visitor experience, Gifford expects to add more images, slideshow galleries, and social options, which will encourage visitors to take photos within the gallery and share these images on their favorite social networks.