The New Frontier: How Urban Insight Transformed the Cultural Arts Experience

The pandemic’s disruption rippled through the museum industry, which was already grappling with expanding its experiences from in-person to online. Learn how Urban Insight accelerated this digital transformation for prominent cultural art institutions. 

Hero image by Dannie Jing via Unsplash.

Tech Solutions Are Driving the Evolution of Cultural Arts 

When the pandemic first hit in March of 2020, cultural arts organizations closed their doors for public safety. As it became clearer the pandemic would be a sustained event over the following months, many cultural arts organizations pivoted to explore opportunities that extended reach well beyond their physical walls. 

However, even before the pandemic hit, the museum industry was grappling with expanding its experiences from in-person to online — to broaden its offerings to patrons looking to visit anywhere, anytime and promote a more accessible museum experience for everyone. The pandemic acted as an accelerant for this digital transformation, forcing these institutions to create engaging digital experiences, seemingly overnight.

Urban Insight is a Pioneer in Bringing Museums to Life in the Digital Realm

Urban Insight's mastery in pioneering digital experiences for cultural arts organizations in groundbreaking ways has redefined cultural arts encounters for a new era, and this agency sits at the forefront of this rapid shift to digital experiences for museums. 

For over 20 years, Urban Insight has provided website design and development services that help museums achieve their mission and reach new audiences by leveraging open source content management systems (CMSs) like Drupal and WordPress. 

The agency's user-focused strategy helped some of the nation's leading cultural arts organizations thrive in a digital environment. Two of their visionary projects of late include the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) and The Broad Museum in Los Angeles. 

Architecting the JANM's New Digital Reality

JANM’s core mission lies in the celebration and understanding of America's ethnic and cultural diversity through sharing the Japanese American experience. Since 1985, this legendary organization has served as a prominent voice for change in the community, and its uniquely hybrid museum and cultural space acts as a forum for all to learn, explore, and connect with their own culture and heritage. 

JANM is nestled in the heart of the Little Tokyo district of downtown Los Angeles, and this Smithsonian Affiliate museum has hosted over 80 exhibitions and curated over 20 exhibitions that have traveled to multiple regions across the globe.

When JANM committed to re-evaluating its mission and brand, rehauling its entire website design was an organic next step. It was also an important opportunity for the museum to create a world-class website that brings JANM's purpose and relevance as a national museum out from behind its walls and into a new space — one with the capacity to reach people around the world. 

Digital Tactics

"Our website was outdated; it hadn't been updated since we opened it almost 30 years ago. As a result, we needed a new site to engage a newer audience and help us get the word out about our organization." 

- Joseph Duong, Marketing & Communications Director, Japanese American National Museum

JANM was already well-known nationally and especially in California. However, to further extend the museum's reach, the new website needed to be available in both English and Japanese. Some of the most significant areas of the site Urban Insight sought to improve were:

  • Updating the site's design and adapting the museum's new branding

  • Optimizing the site for mobile usage and increasing accessibility for persons with disabilities

  • Empowering JANM’s team to quickly and seamlessly publish new content 

  • Employ WebOps methodologies to simplify website maintenance 

Urban Insight utilized Drupal features to build a multilingual platform, and Drupal's remote media management capabilities allowed the museum to highlight their deep archive of video content produced by their award-winning Frank H. Watase Media Arts Center

The museum also syndicated its official blog, First & Central, onto the homepage of their main website, utilizing the Drupal Feeds module. This provided an opportunity to cross-promote blog content and create greater exposure for current events and initiatives that support the JANM's core mission of broadening the understanding of the Japanese American experience.

User Experience (UX)

The generosity of JANM's friends and supporters is how the organization covers the enormous costs of providing programs and services to the community. Therefore, the organization needed to effectively engage with individuals and communities through delivering dynamic web content and a best-in-class user experience (UX) design. Urban Insight identified four key user personas the new website needed to engage with, including individuals and communities that resonate and directly engage with the Japanese American National Museum on a regular basis. 

The key user personas identified include: Out-of-state donors, parents and families, young people who frequent the Little Tokyo district of Los Angeles, and educators. Urban Insight established clear motivations and goals that drove the prioritization and decision-making process around content modeling, component design, site navigation, and information architecture. 

Early surveys done by Urban Insight showed that over 55% of users polled reported that what they were looking for on the outdated JANM website was not easy or not easy at all to find. This focused the agency’s attention on creating a new information architecture that would be clear and intuitive for users to quickly find what they are looking for. 

For example, since re-architecting the Donations (Giving Opportunities) page, JANM has seen a 230% increase in Pageviews, a 21% decrease in Bounce Rate, and 33% decrease in Exits.

Mobile Development

Having a defined mobile presence was another critical aspect of the project. Research showed over 65% of JANM visitors' first experience was on a mobile device. This data-driven acuity led Urban Insight teams to optimize experiences for mobile users. In fact, the agency is continuing to work with JANM on the redesign of a community website about Nikkei identity to provide an inviting space for the community to share, explore, and connect with each other through diverse Nikkei stories, experiences, and perspectives.

"Working with Urban Insight is like working with somebody within the museum; they serve as a true part of our staff. Their resources have integrated well with us and truly understand our needs, so we're pleased with their work." 

- Joseph Duong, Marketing & Communications Director, Japanese American National Museum

Bringing The Broad Museum Into the Modern Age

The Broad Museum was founded by Eli and Edythe Broad, and designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, a New York City-based interdisciplinary design studio, in collaboration with the global architecture and design firm Gensler. 

The museum is home to 2,000 works of art in the Broad collection, which is one of the world's leading collections of postwar and contemporary art. The 120,000 square-foot building houses two floors of gallery space and is the headquarters of The Broad Art Foundation's global lending library, which has been loaning collection works to museums across the globe since 1984. 

Urban Insight's goal was to update The Broad's visual design to keep the website consistent with the museum's expansion and reputation in the art world. To accomplish this task, the agency had to upgrade the underlying technology platform from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8 (before migrating to Drupal 9, later on) and retool their publishing processes so that content and collections could be added in mere minutes, instead of days. 

A Mobile-First Approach

A look at what the Broad’s new mobile-first experience looks like. 

Because a significant proportion of The Broad's visitors first experience the museum on a mobile device, Urban Insight made optimizing the experience for mobile users priority-one.

Urban Insight and The Broad reimagined their mobile app as a progressive web app. By utilizing the Gatsby open-source framework and integrating their existing Drupal 8 website as a dynamic data source, Urban Insight created an engaging in-gallery experience for museum visitors. The Broad Mobile Museum Guide offers on-demand audio tours via a customized React audio player, multilingual maps, an interactive scavenger hunt, a kid's tour, and comprehensive details about all artwork in the collection that is currently on view.

In addition, Zendesk live-chat is seamlessly integrated into the app experience, allowing visitors to directly communicate with museum staff in real-time. On the web management side, Urban Insight streamlined their content workflow to easily keep the app up-to-date, since all content and configuration updates are performed on their existing Drupal website.

The use of a progressive web app was selected over a native mobile app because it can be easily used by visitors currently in the museum and reduce ongoing operations costs by supporting native mobile apps for iOS and Android ecosystems.

Want to see the app in action? You can check it out at

WebOps in Action

When upgrading The Broad's website from Drupal 8 to Drupal 9, Urban Insight relied on Pantheon's multidev feature to maintain stable environments for completing the Drupal 9 upgrade while actively developing and deploying mission-critical features on the live Drupal 8 site. 

Once the Drupal 9 upgrade was tested and approved, Pantheon's multidev made it easy to merge updates back into the production deployment workflow. Since migrating The Broad's Drupal site to Pantheon, the average page load time has decreased by 24%.

"Working with Urban Insight, we've been able to stay ahead in terms of tech. It put us in good stead to have invested in this, especially as we look to reopen and are looking to share information with visitors on their own devices, rather than picking up a brochure."

- Alice Chung, Head of Marketing and Communications, The Broad Museum

What’s Next for Museums?

Urban Insight expects to see an increase in exhibitions that integrate technology through augmented reality or other design, art, and technology experiments. Additionally, far more web and mobile applications that help visitors explore physical spaces, listen to audio tours, understand exhibitions in multiple languages, and use analytics to customize the visitor experience will also likely be available for the public in the future. 

Finally, cultural arts enthusiasts should be on the lookout for a renewed focus on providing high-quality curated online versions of permanent collections and converging efforts to share related museum data published by organizations worldwide — all under an open license to foster new opportunities for discovery, research, and collaboration. 

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Topics Agency Partners, Development, Drupal