Making visitor information easier for mobile phone users

Digital Media
October 31, 2013

In October 2013, we overhauled the Visitor Information pages to make them easier to use on a mobile phone. With as many as 30% of all web visits including the visit information pages, this was a priority. This post looks at how you can quickly make your web pages easier to use on a mobile phone for your visitors, just by simplifying site structure and content.

V&A visitor information

Visit information was a priority for mobile access

The V&A attracts around three million visits a year. Obviously, it is important to make it as easy as possible for visitors to find the information they need to get to the Museum. Of course, mobile phones are an essential means of finding information for many people. From national statistics and our own research we knew that:

  • 50% of the UK population access the web on a mobile phone
  • More than half of UK adults own a touch screen “smart” phone
  • Two thirds of visitors to the V&A own a smartphone and carry it with them in daily life and on their visit to the Museum
  • Mobile phone access to the Visitor Information pages approaches 30% in a month (and additionally 15+% via tablet)
  • 17% of social referral traffic is on a mobile phone

Using a mobile phone affects how people look for information

There are a number of fairly obvious ways in which using a mobile phone affects visitor behaviour:

  • Phones have small screens, which makes basic things like reading small text or following links hard to do. Steve Hoober’s great article on how people use their phones is essential reading on this subject.
  • Phones have limited battery life. This means users have to make rationing decisions about how long they will use their phone for and prioritise what it is that they look at (leisure content versus making calls or texting etc.). When surveyed, our visitors had specifically told us battery life affects whether they will use their phone. 
  • Connection speed and reliability affects usability of phone access services
  • People make decisions based on the potential cost of data charges. As many as 50% of visitors to the V&A can be overseas visitors. When surveyed, our visitors told us that concern over data charges deters them from using their phone. 

Use of fingers and thumbs to operate a mobile phone

A quick win – simplifying structure and content makes mobile use easier 

Given what we knew about the use of mobile phones as above, we looked at the visit information pages. The “Visit Us” pages were split into six separate pages (one each for “getting here”, “facilities”, “opening hours” and so on). We looked at the pages using mobile phones and in doing so, it quickly became obvious this structure created immediate problems when accessed this way.

The solution was simple. Combining the six visitor information pages into one single page would make the experience immediately better for people on their mobiles. Here’s why…

Problem 1 – It was hard work getting to the content
Having to navigate to six pages was much harder than it needed to be because it meant having to repeatedly look for navigation and then use a link. Of course navigating between pages by following links is hard work on a phone as it requires precise touching of links with a finger.

Improvement to user experience 1 – SCROLL FRIENDLY
Having all the visitor information on one page meant a simple scroll with a single finger gesture – much faster and easier!

Problem 2 – data-connection fluctuations could interfere with access to multiple pages
As well as  making it unnecessarily difficult to get to the content, selecting each of the six pages meant making a new connection to the site. When you travel, signal strength changes. In London, people travel to the Museum by underground trains. This could mean that if travelling with the phone, there might be a connection for one page, but the not for the next page. This introduced risk of a disjointed experience.

Improvement to user experience 2 – CONNECTIVITY LOSS NOT A PROBLEM ONCE LOADED
All the essential content was now on one page, so once loaded it was not necessary to have a further data connection to read it all. In practice, if a page was loaded at a Tube station, it could then be used inside a tunnel e whether there was still a connection or not.

Problem 3 – download time was higher than necessary
Loading data takes time. Waiting is irritating. There was duplication of content between pages required for them to make sense as standalone pages, not needed if combined. There were also many more images on six pages than were necessary on a single page. 

Improvement to user experience 3 – 83% FASTER DOWNLOAD
After combining, the file size of the final single page was the same (around 1.4Mb) as each of the previous six pages. This meant the single page was 1/6 of what it was to download six separate pages. That is 83% faster! 

Content changes based on user-behaviour evidence

As well as streamlining and deduplicating the text and drastically reducing the number of unnecessary images, the nature and balance of the page content was considered. To do this we studied the evidence about what our web visitors do on the website, when they are planning a physical visit to the Museum.

Studying what people do on site when they are planning a visit

We studied data from a survey of online users undertaken within a Culture24-led research project in November 2012. This allowed us to isolate the behaviour of people who specifically said they were planning a visit from other users. Using our navigational tracking data from our web statistics, we could see exactly what types of content people were navigating to on the site when planning a visit.

Navigational behaviour of people planning a visit

Adding promotional features to practical information

The data was very clear. People planning a visit were overwhelmingly doing one of two things. They were either seeing what is here, or  finding out how to do something about it. Previously the page content had been more about practical information and had not had promotional features based on an assumption tha at this point people were after just the facts.  In light of the data, we also added image-led promotional features highlighting exhibitions, shop products and events.

User-evidence considered when making these changes

1. Ofcom. Communications Market Report 2013. 1 August 2013
p.19. Proportion of people who use their mobile to access the internet – 49% 
p.12 Fifty-one per cent of UK adults now own a smartphone. Smartphone sales made up three-quarters (74%) of all handset sales in Q1 2013, and overall take-up rose to 51% in the same period. However, among mobile internet users take-up is even higher, with 96% of users owning a smartphone. 
2. Fusion/Frankly Green and Webb. Understanding the Mobile V&A Visitor: Autumn 2012Visitor survey, V&A Digital Media and Learning departments. 2012.  For discussion and to download the report visit:
V&A Digital Media blog. What do visitors say about using mobile devices in museums?. 13 March 2013
3. Culture24. Let’s Get Real 2. Research Report. 2013.
The pre-visit motivation survey in this research project was used to segment people who were planning a visit to the V&A, to allow their navigationnal behaviour to be analysed. Report available from
4. Steven Hoober. How Do Users Really Hold Mobile Devices? on UX Matters. 18 February 2013
5. V&A web statistics reports based upon default reporting tools (e.g. device use trends, see below) and custom-designed behaviour tracking, specific to the V&A site navigation. For more details on designing behaviour-tracking, see this post :
V&A Digital Media blog. How to use Google Analytics Event Tracking to capture navigational behaviour on your website. 21 August 2013

Use of V&A visitor information pages by device

About the author

Digital Media
October 31, 2013

Digital Content Delivery Manager at the V&A. Information scientist at work and hacky maker of strange things out of it.

More from Andrew Lewis
4 comments so far, view or add yours


This is a great post! Its amazing how quickly internet mobile phone use has grown over the last few years. I remember the days of WAP and thinking this will never work. However we have come a long way since then. Now we have google working on promoting AMP HTML which is solely targeted at mobile phones and such. Everything we do these days is on mobile.

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