Computer History Museum

Mapping out the future for an iconic museum

When the Computer History Museum (CHM) in Silicon Valley, Calif., approached us with a project, it was with a very clear aim in mind: to improve its online experience in order to become the premier institution of computer history and technology in the world.

It sounded straightforward: fix the problem to achieve the goal. But in true Fjord style, we weren’t quite ready to accept the problem at face value – at least not without taking a look at the museum experience as a whole. We didn’t want to dive into a website redesign without understanding who was visiting the museum, online and in person, and what they wanted to gain from the experience.

The importance of discovery

The work we do in the Discovery phase of any project is critical. For CHM, a range of in-depth interviews with key stakeholders provided some interesting insights. First, the museum’s physical and digital experiences were not properly aligned, so its target audiences were confused about what the museum stood for, what it had to offer, and why it was valuable.

But there was something else going on. Computer history was made – and is still being made – in Silicon Valley. Here was a museum dedicated to the subject, situated at the very heart of the scene, yet lacking a true connection to the community. This fascinated us, and gave us the confidence to push the brief further.

We couldn’t possibly limit our thinking to just digital customer journeys when a large number of potential visitors and donors might be missing out on some important new ways to engage with the museum. Our thinking had shifted and now we needed to show the client the potential of what we’d uncovered.

Know your audience

First up was a rethink about the museum’s key audiences. We’d moved beyond planning for digital journeys, so we identified three key new groups: teachers, donors and “CHM curious” (the young techies working just around the corner at places like Apple and Google).

Working with the client in one of our trademark Rumbles, we created in-depth user journey maps for each group. The maps showed how they currently interacted with the museum, from initial awareness to staying connected afterwards. And we plotted their pain points within the maps, so that we had a clear list of things to fix and a clear future state we wanted to achieve.

Winning the long game

This work was the foundation for our final deliverable – three journey maps, each designed around a specific persona, outlining the experience we wanted to provide for each of our key audiences. It’s safe to say this wasn’t the deliverable we’d been expecting when we started the project. But instead of moving straight into an expensive web redesign, our ability to look at the problem holistically had created something much more valuable for CHM.

By applying our Fjord process to the problem we actually shifted the mindset of the entire organization from thinking about digital ecosystems, to understanding the importance of engaging communities and coordinating online and offline experiences.

These journey maps now form the bedrock of the organization’s long-term strategy, showing them what to change and how to improve their links with the local tech community. With these maps in place the museum is aligned, focused and a step closer to becoming the world’s premier institution of computer history and technology. And that, after all, was the real brief.