Driving Engagement for Art and Cultural Organizations

Connect communities through art and culture with relevant branding and user experiences

The world in which we live is constantly evolving at such a rapid pace. Seismic technological, social, political, and economic shifts occur so frequently that brands in nearly every sector must remain agile and apply critical strategies to adapt. Particularly challenged are art and cultural institutions whose rich history and purpose must be communicated with the utmost integrity, while also appealing to a broader demographic in order to drive engagement and grow their audience.

Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History’s Executive Director Nina Simon recently published The Art of Relevance, in which she “explores how mission-driven organizations can matter more to more people.” Throughout Simon’s book and in her TEDx talk, she methodically examines the concept that museums and other cultural institutions can become connectors within their communities when they measure and deepen their relevance.

From a business perspective, further cultivating this relevance with the public requires an effective brand and digital strategy that accommodates the demands of our current culture and puts the user and their connection to community at the forefront. At Zehner, we’ve served as both the creative and technology partner to leading art and cultural organizations. Be it the museum space, film and live entertainment venues, or one of the most comprehensive public transit systems in our country, our team comprises experts that understand how to engage the community through the intersection of savvy design and user experience that delivers real results.

Recent, notable examples include our rebrand and site redesign for the San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA). As San Antonio continues to gain recognition for its buzzing tech, art, and cultural scene, SAMA has emerged as one of the country’s leading museums. SAMA approached Zehner to deliver a new brand and design experience that would drive deeper engagement within the community and educate the public on the transformational experiences the museum provides.

[To read more of Matthew Zehner’s thought leadership click here]

Additionally, we’ve supported the rebirth of public transportation in Los Angeles with our ongoing work with LA Metro. Our user-experience support has helped drive community ridership and improve the quality of life for its now 39 million monthly riders.

Here are leading-edge methods for these vital organizations to attract new audiences, drive demand, and increase engagement.

Elevated Branding

Illuminating art, culture, and history through an elevated experience is key to fulfilling a multifaceted vision that can be sustained over time. Modernizing the embodiment of an organization’s brand is an important first step. However, establishing a new brand identity and strategy for an institution that serves the public often requires a delicate balance of heritage and innovation. Attracting new audiences is crucial, while also remaining mindful that the contemporary iteration of the brand maintains a connection with current constituencies.

Teamwork and A Collaborative Approach

Turning an idea into something that you can see, feel, and be proud of is no simple task. When a large institution can remain nimble and committed to cross-functional teamwork, this can help uncover valuable insights and elevate the spirit of partnership with their agency arm or among their internal personnel. If opting to work with an agency, it’s important to select a partner that can remain empathetic to an organization’s challenges and work collaboratively to deliver optimum results.

Keen focus should be concentrated on building a vibrant digital space that not only highlights the organization’s significant work, but also immerses userS in a community center where they learn about additional opportunities to connect in meaningful ways.

Creating A Comprehensive Styleguide

When reimagining a new identity for an organization, creating a comprehensive style guide ensures the integrity of the brand is preserved at the highest level and consistently carried across all touch points, both digital and physical. Visual relevance and the correct usage of the logomark and logotype all play a pivotal role in delivering consistent branding on an everyday basis that will advance and retain awareness and loyalty.

Crafting A Strategy That Realizes and Executes on Long-Term Goals

In order to grow an organization’s audience, the new brand, design, and communications strategy should actively speak to its city’s residents and tourism industry and the institution’s loyal advocates. This requires that an agency partner or in-house team take a holistic approach to their work and remain focused on sustainable growth. By leveraging all customer data and audience segments, the team can develop an initiative that emotionally connects with their constituencies and drives impressive ROI.

User Experience

Focus on the heart of the art and cultural organization—its people. In today’s digital landscape, it’s a user’s market. Creating a best-in-class user experience is paramount to the success of a digital property. Whether an organization’s reach is local, national, or international, their audience of visitors, artists, scholars, and members should all be carefully considered throughout the architecture of the user journey.

Establish First-Rate Information Architecture

Putting everything in its right place when designing a website or digital platform can often present a challenging task. But establishing solid IA is imperative to crafting the best possible user experience and paths for each visitor type and goal. Have a team that’s willing to get their hands dirty in this process and utilize all tools wisely, from the card sort through to the site map and wireframe.

Responsive Design

Aesthetics are very important, and the visual design of an interactive experience should be carefully examined. Everything from colors, images, typography, icons, and buttons must be strategically implemented in order to engage users. A beautiful website alone is no longer sufficient however. In a mobile-first world, users have different needs depending upon platform and interaction type. Responsive design has reached a critical juncture, and an organization’s site must be able to adapt to any device. Prototyping and user testing are also essential to optimizing the experience, and effective teams understand that these are fundamental components of a comprehensive UX design process.

Engage and Educate Your Community Through Experience Design

Keen focus should be concentrated on building a vibrant digital space that not only highlights the organization’s significant work, but also immerses users in a community center where they learn about additional opportunities to connect in meaningful ways. UX should help narrow the gap between the institution and its audience by clearly celebrating the array of offerings provided to the public. When an initiative is properly featured on the site, it no longer flies under the radar and instead experiences a significant uptick in attendance. Carefully consider all that the organization contributes to the community at large, whether it be in the form of educational programs, film series, shopping experiences, food and beverage options, lecture series, and much more. Then go about ensuring these are taken into consideration early in the creative process and observed in a dynamic manner on the site.


At Zehner, we support the overall vision for a variety of community-based organizations. Our team comprises  experts that excel in developing member acquisition, sustaining lifetime membership value, and increasing ticket sales by leveraging analytics.

A compelling digital product that fully reimagines the user journey can deliver significant ROI for purpose-driven organizations. In tandem with a modern and sustainable brand, art and cultural institutions can connect with multiple demographics and redefine their relevance as a must-see destination for the community at large.

[For more on Zehner’s approach to Digital Marketing click here]