Monterey Bay Aquarium

The mission of the Monterey Bay Aquarium is to inspire the conservation of the ocean. With over 200 exhibits and 80,000 plants and animals, the Aquarium is a window to the wonders of the sea. Since 1984, more than 2.5 million students have visited the Aquarium for educational purposes.

The purpose of this project was to design a welcome back user flow that could help customers feel safe returning to the Aquarium and improve their experience of purchasing tickets. The need of the project was also to enhance the usability of the navigation on the website.

Project Details


David Bradshaw,
Mie Jin,
Nora Gordon,
Yuan Ma,
Raunak Jangid

My role

User Journey,
User Interface Design

Tools used

Proven By Users,


January, 2021 to May, 2021

Three desktop screens displaying different sections of Monterey Bay Aquarium

Project Brief

As the first step, we met with the clients to discuss the project. It was a virtual meeting, where we had ice breakers, discussions, and activities to know more about the client and understand their needs.

The project's need was to improve any potential issues of the UX or content of the mega navigation. Also, suggest recommendations on how to improve the UX and content in the global navigation.

The aim was to -
  • Improve the usability and information architecture for the navigation.
  • Create a user flow that provides users with the information, excitement, and confidence while returning to the museum upon reopening.

We also learned that three days after Monterey Bay Aquarium launched its new website, they closed because of COVID-19. This insight gave us an excellent opportunity to work on the website that best suited the post-pandemic situation.

Zoom meeting with team members and clients for Monterey Bay Aquarium

User Research

We used multiple research methods for this project and mainly aligned these research methods with the project's needs. Firstly we started with Competitive Analysis to check on how other websites are doing during the pandemic.

Later we moved to in-depth research that included first-click test, card sorting, and Usability testing. These tests were more task-focused, and the findings from these helped us shape the user flow and information architecture.

Recruiting participants -
We sent out a google form to our connections, asking them how they feel going out during the pandemic and their concerns. We also recruited individual participants from this google form for our in-depth user testing of the welcome-back flow and mega navigation.
Portrait shot of a bald man smiling at camera

Jacob Smith (37)

Jacob is a consultant residing in Salinas, CA. He makes $80K per year through his work. Jacob is married to his partner and has two children. He is a family man and loves to go on a long drive with his family.

Needs and requirements

  • Explicit safety measures
  • Children-focused
  • Planning ahead

First click test

First-click user testing was about understanding the participant's thinking and how they see information on the website. Heat maps supported this test to learn about where the user clicks first and which section of the website gets the most clicks.

Findings -

  • 84% of the participant felt confident about their first click test.
  • 32% of the participant clicked on image cards rather than text links.
  • Most participants also felt that the font was too small to read.

Card sorting

We did card sorting with our participants to understand the information architecture of the current website. Card Sorting was exclusively for the mega navigation as there were many opportunities to improve the structure. This card sorting exercise also guided us in grouping content for the mega navigation during the redesign.

Findings -

  • Most users thought that Monterey Bay Aquarium could remove many unnecessary contents within the mega navigation.
  • 40% of the participant think live cam should be under visit.
  • There were also content that the users were not aware of and needed clarification.

Usability testing

For the usability testing, we gave specific tasks to each participant to understand their thinking of the website. We also did usability testing with the redesigned website for validating the design and assuring the user flow.

Findings -

  • Design choices frustrate the users - font size, font color, white space, and all caps.
  • For planning the journey, users would love to see the COVID-19 safety information.
  • Users are also interested in secondary information such as dining, shopping, parking, directions, and hours on the website.
Heatmap of the home page for Monterey Bay Aquarium

User Journey

After finishing the research phase, the design phase started by creating a user journey. This user journey was base on the user persona for the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The user journey is about how a user would come to know about the aquarium, purchase the tickets, visit the aquarium and later return home. We divided the user journey into different phases, which helped us to build a story around each section for the design.

Major takeaways from the user research -
  • Users would love to see the COVID-19 safety information.
  • Showcasing open exhibits to the users.
  • Users could reserve tickets for the visit.
  • Keeping the flow going by providing secondary information to the user such as dining, shopping, parking, and directions on the website.
Flow diagram explaining the welcome back user flow for Monterey Bay Aquarium

FInal Design

Now that we had all the necessary data and insights, it was essential to make the website as per the client's needs and follow ADA laws. It was also crucial to reflect all our findings, design goals, and design principles.

The aim was to -
Implement the findings onto the website without deviating from the original design language.

Take-Aways and Next Steps

This project was great learning in terms of process and collaborating within the team. Through this project, I understood the value of research in a project and how trade-offs are necessary. Practicing various research methods within this project were a great experience to learn new things. Even though the team consisted of many members, we completed this project without any hindrances.

The next step for this project would be to publish this newly designed website and get real-time data. It would help us understand how the real customers perceive the new design and what are their feedback. The team can also consider adapting this design for mobile devices and make the design responsive across various screens.

Three desktop screen displaying different sections of Monterey Bay Aquarium

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