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Tools & Resources

Fri, Mar 08, 2019

Elise Granata

Elise Granata - Brand & Community Experience Manager

Designing a Community-First Website

Welcome to part two of this three-part blog series about creating a new, community-first MAH website. Last time, we shared our search for the right partner. Ultimately, we decided to work with Cosmic right next door. You can read Cosmic’s full case study about our work together here and read on for the MAH’s perspective.

The idea of a “community-first” museum may seem out of place. Or ambitious. Or a little too kumbaya.

For the MAH, it is the heart of how we do what we do. Our exhibitions, events, and even our new website were all designed with the community-first mindset.

It’s a pretty radical idea for a museum. Most museums use an “art-first” approach, where everything centers around the visual works they present to the world.

But the MAH is a different kind of museum, one that prioritizes human moments and interactions. When designing our new website, our approach was no different from how we plan community-centric exhibitions like We’re Still Here or GLOW—our annual fire festival.

Early on in the project with Cosmic, we both embraced each other’s community-centered approach to decision making, always keeping the needs of the community, MAH members, and those who were new to the MAH in mind.

Museum Of, By, and For You

The MAH isn’t a museum for passive experience. You walk into Guided by Ghosts—an exhibition about ancestry—and play a conversational card game with friends that explores your family history. You check out an event and get hands-on with a new craft to take home.

Our website needed to reflect our approach to community involvement and engagement while also placing opportunities to get involved front and center. We wanted it to:

  • Make involvement opportunities easy to discover: Whether you want to rent the MAH for your kid’s epic birthday party or co-create an awesome weaving event, it’s important that you can easily discover opportunities to share your ideas, time, or support.
  • Introduce you to something new: Maybe you’re a live music fanatic and go to Abbott Square every weekend...but you’ve never stepped inside the museum. We wanted it to be easy for you to stumble across exciting exhibition descriptions.
  • Get you inspired to support the MAH: There’s a lot of exciting stuff going on here, but we weren’t always the best at describing it in a compelling way– or at all. By shifting how we communicate, it highlights the feel-good MAH stories that spark donations, memberships, and new friends.
Get-Involved-At-MAH

By combining inspiring quotes with calls to get involved, we elevated great MAH opportunities to the community.

A Community-First Design Process


At the MAH, we’ve been known to go through a pack or fourteen of post-it notes in a brainstorm. And we brainstorm a lot. We move quickly and iterate often.

So it was a welcome surprise when Cosmic laid out what our project plan would look like: over the course of the next 12 weeks, we would meet weekly for one-hour sprints.

To start, we looked over dozens of website examples that inspired us. We pulled in inspiration from subscription razor services to busy college campuses and Minnesotan museums. While all of these pages are pretty, we also liked them for their use of people-focused pictures, easy-to-navigate menus, and big, compelling language everywhere on the site.

In every meeting, the Cosmic team brought a fresh and insightful perspective to an old website that had become a behemoth of information, buried pages, and mysterious opportunities. We found ourselves asking questions like “How would a collaborator describe this?” more than “How do we describe this?”

At one point, we even organized a big card-sorting exercise at the MAH—laying out dozens of index cards with core elements of the MAH sitemap on it for staff, community and even a member of the Cosmic team to intuitively sort themselves. This played a huge role in understanding how real people actually use our site and informed the final site menu structure.

By running every decision—big and small—through a community-first filter, our behind-the-scenes process with Cosmic ultimately began to generate a website that felt seamlessly connected to everything the MAH does.

In the coming weeks we’ll be publishing the final part of this three-part series looking behind-the-process of creating this new website. For more information, images, and behind-the- stuff, check out the case study on the Cosmic site. And stay tuned for our next post.

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