Digital journey mapping at The National Gallery: Understanding the role of digital touchpoints in a real world or online only visitor journey.

Katie Moffat, The Audience Agency, UK, Casey Scott-Songin, The National Gallery, London, UK


This paper will present the findings of primary research conducted for The National Gallery London, which examined the exact role of digital in the visitor experience and exploring audiences' digital behaviours, motivations, and content needs. Customer journey mapping to improve visitor experience is not a new process, but understanding the role of digital, at every stage of a customer journey, adds in a layer of additional complexity. We will discuss the challenges of this type of research, explore different methodologies for creating digital journey maps, and review the benefits of having this type of view of the visitor. In line with an increasingly audience-centric approach to their digital strategy, the National Gallery wanted to better understand digital behaviours – whether as part of an on-site visit or with a digital only journey (including interactions with online collections and/or the online shop). We will explain the process used to map how different types of visitors use digital, their perception of the role of digital touchpoints and the quality of the experience. The research outputs, which were used to help inform the redevelopment of the digital strategy and digital product development, included individual digital journey maps for four audience segments, to give teams at the Gallery a visual and accessible view of digital behaviours.

Keywords: journey mapping, visitor studies, user experience, research, digital


Understanding digital or physical touch points along a visitor journey has been a topic of conversation and research for years at cultural institutions – and one the National Gallery in London is no stranger to. However, the holistic picture of how digital and physical touchpoints integrate before, during, and after a visit to a physical location is a more complex proposition. The National Gallery sought to better understand this relationship in order to design better integrated projects for their audiences.

With the development of the new digital services program in 2016, a new audience segmentation was launched, bringing an audience-centred practice to the National Gallery through a segmentation model that highlighted four key demographic audiences: 

  • Young British Adults (YBA): British residents between the ages of 18 and 34
  • British over 60’s (BO60): British residents over the age of 60
  • New World Sightseers (NWS): Residents of the United States of America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. (We acknowledge the title of this group is not explicit and uses outdated language which we are looking to change).
  • European Adults (EA): European residents over the age of 18

In January 2018, the National Gallery in London formed the Data & Insight team within the digital services department. Comprised of a Senior Manager, data & insight, a data analyst, and a user researcher, the function of the team is to deliver quantitative and qualitative research and insight that are useful across the whole organisation. For one of their first projects, they sought to better understand their digital audiences, and most critically, to expand their understanding of the role digital played in all of the various visitor experience touchpoints at the National Gallery. This encompassed both visitors who visited the physical location as well as those who only visited digital properties owned by the National Gallery (via social media or the website). The purpose of this research was to enable the creation of an end-to-end digital visitor journey online and in-gallery and provide actionable insights for the development of the new website, as well as onsite digital (such as VR & AR) and mobile experiences. 

The National Gallery partnered with The Audience Agency to deliver a mixed-method approach in order to define the key digital behaviours and motivations for users of the Gallery’s online properties, define visitor journeys with digital touch points to inform digital strategy and digital product development, and provide recommendations to the wider organisation on digital audience development.

This paper will outline the methodology and approach taken by the Audience Agency and the National Gallery to address the project question. It will then discuss key research findings of this project, explain how the results were used at the Gallery and share key learnings from the project.



A visitor journey map is a diagram or visualisation of the steps a visitor goes through in their interaction with an organisation, helping the organisation to understand the journey a visitor takes and the quality of the experience. In a purely commercial world customer journey maps are used to map the route to sale, identifying critical interaction points. Journey mapping is not new in museums (Chan 2015, Devine 2015, Grohe/Mann 2019, Paqua 2018) but sometimes the term is used to focus on how a visitor moves through a physical space or their engagement with a particular in-venue experience.

Digital journey mapping in this context, is an attempt to combine physical journey maps with digital interactions, to more accurately reflect the modern visitor experience which is likely to include digital touchpoints, not only during a physical visit but also before and after. In addition, for many museums, a visitor may only ever visit online and therefore understanding “typical” online-only journeys can be valuable to inform priority planning, website development, and marketing.

To develop a digital journey map, particularly for specific audience segments, requires a mixed methodology and some traditional methods for assessing elements such as, for example, quality of website experience, may need to be adapted. For example, true intent studies can be used to assess an individual’s motivation for visiting a website, together with their (spontaneous) behaviour on the site and the quality of the experience; however, typically users are either chosen randomly or every user is asked until a certain sample size is reached. The nature of true intent studies means that you may end up with one visitor type or motivation disproportionately represented, for example, 90% of your feedback comes from people from one demographic or those who have come to visit the website only to check the opening times. If you want to ensure you receive feedback across a range of audience types and motivations, then adaptations to traditional approaches are needed.

Previous work in the sector has identified some common motivations amongst visitors to museum websites (Fantoni/Stein/Bowman 2012) and these are useful to help inform planning for this type of research.

Another challenge of digital journey mapping is how to visualise the results. In physical visit journey maps the experience is often represented room by room or as a map of the journey through an exhibition, for example, with high and low points marked according to visitor feedback. A digital journey map also reflects the behaviour of the visitor outside of the museum (i.e., pre- and post-visit) and conveys the “typical” journey of an online-only visitor, this can be a challenge to present visually in a meaningful way.


Overall, a mixed methodological approach was produced to piece together elements of users’ journeys and create a comprehensive view of how National Gallery audiences use digital tools in their interactions with the Gallery. It was designed to understand not only the weight of different digital touch-points (in terms of numbers of users and audience segments) but also the areas where there was deepest engagement (where users obtained most value). 

The research consisted of the following stages:

  1. Workshop: A workshop with the National Gallery team to identify the available digital touch-points at every stage of a visitor journey and across different scenarios. 
  2. Survey: A pop-up survey on the National Gallery website and shared via social media channels. 
  3. In-venue journey mapping: Journey mapping interviews with visitors to the physical Gallery. 
  4. Digital scenario mapping: A set of online, task based scenarios were created in order to assess the digital journey experience in detail and to help provide more insight about the role of digital touch-points across a variety of audience motivations. 
  5. One-to-one follow up interviews: A selection of participants from the online mapping were selected for follow up one-to-one interviews to probe themes in further depth.

For the National Gallery digital journey maps, the weight of information about what people actually do, or had done, was generated from the surveys and onsite interviews, and the insights about the quality of the experience of doing those things was gathered through the scenario testing and follow up interviews. By mixing quantitative and qualitative data the journey maps provided insight not only into what visitors do but why they do it. This layered behavioural and motivational understanding of a visitor journey allowed the Gallery to dig deeper to inspire products that are not just replicating current behaviours, but are actually better answering motivations.

Research Recruitment

The purpose of this project was to better understand digital behaviours and motivations of the four key audience segments YBAs, BO60s, EAs, and NWS. However, since the focus of this research was behavioural rather than demographic, it was recognised that not all participants would fall into one of the key demographic segments. In order to avoid skewing a holistic picture of digital behaviors, while the focus was on what participants in these four key segments experienced, participants who fell outside of these four categories were not excluded from the research. Rather, they were included as an “other” category in the research findings, where appropriate. This decision was taken to narrow the scope of the research, as it was assumed that the experience of some groups not included in the primary segmentation for this work, namely Asian adults, would vary significantly due to differences in digital platform use and would require additional time and budget to appropriately capture.

Research Stages – in detail  

1. Workshop

This was used to help inform the primary research, including developing the online task-based scenarios, and included representatives from departments across the museum, such as marketing, customer relationship management (CRM), visitor experience, digital, and social media. The group identified all possible digital touchpoints, from social media and the website, to digital interpretation within the gallery and apps such as Smartify They then discussed and mapped out what they would imagine to be a typical digital journey. Outlining initial assumptions helped define specific areas to investigate and challenge and were consequently used as a starting point for developing the questions in the on-site journey mapping exercise and the digital journey scenarios.These insights were used as a starting point for developing the questions in the on-site journey mapping exercise and the digital journey scenarios.

2. Survey – website & social media

A short survey was devised to establish, by robust quantitative sample, the profile of visitors to the National Gallery website, or National Gallery social media properties, their motivation and needs. It also captured the capacity in which people were engaging (i.e., personal, academic, professional and assessing levels of previous engagement with the Gallery, either in person or online. The survey ran for four weeks via a pop-up on the National Gallery website and a slightly amended version was shared via the Gallery’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. The resulting sample size was 5,966 from the website pop-up and 1,149 from social media (giving a margin of error of 2% and 3% respectively).

3. In-venue journey mapping

Over the course of two days, one-to-one, 30 minute interviews were conducted with 19 visitors to the National Gallery. Participants were selected at random as they entered or left (those who agreed to take part in the research on the way in, conducted their interview after they had concluded their visit). Participants were shown screengrabs of the website and social media alongside images of digital touchpoints, e.g. Smartify within the gallery, and were invited to select touchpoints they had encountered or used before the visit, during, and those they expected to use after their visit. These were then set out across a timeline. Any other digital touchpoints visitors encountered that are not part of the stimulus, but that they saw as significant were included by writing them on post-it notes. 

For each digital touchpoint the facilitator asked about the motivation for engaging with that particular touchpoint, how engaged it made them feel and asked them to rate the quality of the experience. Participants were also asked a series of general questions about their use of digital as it pertained to interactions with museums and galleries generally. Examples of questions as follows:

  • Are you aware that you can sign up to the National Gallery email newsletter on the website? and if so, have you signed up to it? (If not covered in timeline) 
  • If yes, can you tell me a bit about why you were prompted to sign up for the newsletter? 
  • Have you subscribed to any other gallery’s newsletter? Can you tell me a bit about why you decided to do so? 
  • Did you know that you can donate to the National Gallery online? If so, have you ever donated in this way? (If not covered in timeline) 
  • Do you follow any other galleries on social media? Can you tell me a bit about your motivations for doing so? 
  • Are there any aspects of any gallery social media accounts that have impressed you, or that you’ve found engaging, why was that? 
  • Apart from what you have described to me for the timeline (if applicable), can you tell me about a time you have used social media during a trip to a gallery, can you tell me a bit about that? 

4. Digital scenario mapping 

Individuals were recruited to take part in this stage, via the survey and other channels (participants were selected that fitted into one of the existing visitor segments plus a group categorised as non-segments). They were asked to undertake one of five scenarios (the scenarios were developed based on the output of the workshop and the survey findings about stated motivations to visit the website):

  1. Plan a visit and/or find practical information to support the visit
  2. Find out more about the paintings that the National Gallery has in its collection
  3. Browse with the motivation of buying a gift, explore the National Gallery online shop to see what is available (continue up to the point of purchase)
  4. Look for ways to support the National Gallery, either by donating or volunteering
  5. Find something interesting or entertaining to share to your social media account/s

This part of the research was designed to capture an authentic browsing experience in that although they were not spontaneous visits, participants were not given prescriptive instructions but instead were left to decide how they completed their task, for example, whether it was relevant or useful to use other sites to help them, such as Google and/or social media platforms. 

Participants were asked to capture and share the journey that they took and then respond to follow up questions to rate aspects such as ease of task completion, clarity of information, and any particularly noteworthy points (positive or negative).

It may be useful to note that Google Analytics data was used to provide insights both around user flow and most visited pages (this helped to inform the specified tasks) but it was not used to build the resulting maps, since it could not be linked to the specific audience segments.

5. One-to-one follow up interviews

A sample of individuals from the digital journey scenarios were chosen to take part in follow up interviews (conducted by telephone). Interviewers explored in more depth the journeys taken by participants, asked them to expand on comments they may have made during the task and discussed more generally their digital interactions with cultural organisations. These interviews provided additional qualitative feedback to further inform the research findings and journey maps.

Survey/sample Sample size Margin of error
Website survey Overall sample size = 5,966

YBA – 4%
BoS – 18%
EA – 14%
NWS – 12%
Not in a segment – 52%

2% *Based on 9,000,000

digital visits – March 2017 annual report


Social media survey Overall sample size: 1,154   YBA – 8%
BoS – 8%
EA – 16%
NWS – 12%
Not in a segment – 56%
3% *Based on 2,000,000

followers – March 2017 annual report


In-venue journey mapping


Overall sample size: 19 N/A
Digital scenario mapping Overall sample size: 45

Scenario 1: Visit planning
(11 participants)
Scenario 2: Supporting the NG
(5 participants)
Scenario 3: Using the online shop
(14 participants)
Scenario 4: Collections
(11 participants)
Scenario 5: Social Media sharing
(4 participants)

Follow-up telephone interviews
(14 participants)


Table 1: Overview of research stages with participant numbers


“Typical” User Journeys & Digital Touch-points

The National Gallery has approximately six million visits a year to the Gallery and nine million to digital channels . It is liked by nearly one million on Facebook and by similar numbers on Twitter and Instagram. As is clear from previous research conducted in order to develop the audience segmentation, those audiences include a wide range of different audience types, with varying motivations and objectives. However, it is possible, even which such a large, diverse group, to identify common patterns for how people use digital in their engagements with the Gallery.


A bespoke approach was taken to developing the journey maps whereby the research findings were analysed in detail, distilled into meaningful constituent steps and mapped onto a “timeline” journey. Although journey maps can be created using dedicated software, mapping software is often designed primarily to visualise the commercial “route to sale” experience and not to cater for the multifaceted way visitors interact with museums. Added to this, software templates can sometimes be restrictive in allowing for the capture of unexpected behaviours. For these reasons and to allow for flexibility in the presentation of the results, a bespoke format was chosen.

journey map made with post-it notes

Figure 1: Creating the journey maps example 1

journey map with post-it notes

Figure 2: Creating the journey maps example 2



infographic showing the typical journey

Figure 3: A typical digital journey


While it was assumed that various channels (i.e. social media, website, and Smartify) would create siloed engagement with the National Gallery, in actuality the inclusion of the website as part of a visitors digital journey was critical and almost universal.

For the National Gallery, the typical journey starts with a search engine, usually Google, and it should not be underestimated how prominent a touch-point this is; it was mentioned universally. The homepage of the National Gallery is also part of the typical journey. Most visitors are using the website in a personal interest capacity (79% of survey respondents) and the primary purpose is to plan a visit (51%) followed by looking at the collection online (37%).

From the homepage of the National Gallery there are two branches to the typical journey, which, at a point, converge again.

Branch one relates to people who are planning a visit: they visit the What’s On page followed by the Visiting page, and at this point they often visit the Paintings page (this is the convergent point with Branch two of the typical journey). At this stage a touch-point is posting about their intention to visit on social media (typically Facebook). They also book a ticket if relevant. The next stage of the journey happens on-site when they share on social media photos they take while visiting (typically to Instagram). Sharing to social media also happens post visit.

Branch two of the typical journey relates to people who are only visiting online. They are typically there to explore the collection online and their starting point is Paintings followed by collection highlight pages such as 30 “must-see” paintings or Painting of the Month (the convergent point between Branches one and two). The final digital touch-point relates to engaging with interactive content, such as watching a video or sharing images.

Highlights and low points – Throughout this typical user journey there were points identified as being of most value, these included for visit planning, the Visiting page and, for online-only journeys, the Channel page (a page that collated multimedia content about the collection). The collection highlights pages were identified as a high point on both branches of the typical journey.
The only significant low point of the journey appeared to be the National Gallery homepage (which has been updated since this research), which attracted comments that it was cluttered and could be more clearly laid out.

“While the website is very well done it could be a little bit less cluttered. Lots of information on display when first opening the page” (YBA)
“Cleaner pages with less information all at once. Perhaps fewer tiles on a landing page?” (NWS)
“I found the website kind of ‘messy’. Too much things and the format doesn’t help to find the things or to surf the site in an organized way” (EA)

Segment Specific Journeys
When analysing the journeys by segment there were some clear differences to the path they take and the digital touch-points they use. The segment infographic illustrates the fact that while all journeys start from a common point, each segment is likely to take slightly a different path and exhibit some distinctive behaviours.


Figure 4: Segment digital journeys

Young British Adults

Both YBSs  and BO60s predominately use digital as part of visit planning. After the homepage their next point is the What’s On page, followed by Visiting and Paintings. This segment is most likely to take photos on site and to post them on Instagram after their visit. Comments indicated that there was uncertainty as to whether taking photos was “allowed” within the Gallery.

“[I] wanted to take photos but didn’t know if I was allowed to” (YBA)

“[Instagram] is a better way to share. I’ll probably post some photos from The National Gallery on Instagram or on Instagram Stories later” (YBA)

“No  ‘That’s cool! [the Smartify app] – That’s really not publicised at all.’ Should be posters in gallery” (YBA)

British Over 60s

From the common starting point, the BO60s also moved to What’s On, a touch-point that attracted some negative comments in terms of the layout. 

The collection highlights featured again in this segment’s journey followed by ticket booking (46% of BO60s have booked a ticket online, compared to 27% of YBAs and 11% each for the non-UK segments). The online shop also featured in this journey, with 12% of BO60s having made an online shop purchase compared to 7% of YBAs and 5% of each of the other two segments.  This typifies the generally deeper engagement and loyalty of this segment; 24% said they had signed up to receive the National Gallery newsletter, compared to the 14% average overall.

“I am a member and am just having a look around to see what is/will be on” (BoS)

“[I am also here today] to renew my membership” (BoS)

“I received an e-mail from you and something caught my attention” (BoS)

“[I am also here today] to buy a present” (BoS)

European Adults

For non-UK visitors, the main purpose for digital engagement was to look at the National Gallery collection online. In the website survey, 48% of EAs cited looking at the collection as a reason for being on the website that day (compared to 37% overall average).

The EAs typically moved from the Collection to the Learning Page and along with the New World Sightseers, the scenario testing indicated that their journey was likely to involve a deeper engagement such as watching a video. The survey supports this, demonstrating that visitors who visit the website for the purpose of exploring the collection are more likely to have a more in-depth experience; 60% of website survey respondents who had looked at the collections online had also looked at other National Gallery online resources.

Social media was part of their overall journey, typically sharing content to Instagram that they had found on National Gallery website; 15% of EA had liked or shared online content. 

“I visit every day (sometimes more than once) both the NG’s website and the fb link. At this moment: in conn with Civilisations: The Inside Story conversation” (EA)

“[I am also here today] Trying to look at a streaming event” (EA) 

New World Sightseers

This journey is similar to the EAs although the Channel section is more prominent and the Learning page less so. There is notable engagement with rich media content, such as participating in live-stream events and downloading content to support shared learning activities. 

“It [the Channel section] has great video presentations that I would very much like to watch at leisure.” (NWS)

“I LOVED the 30 highlight paintings” (NWS)

“[I am also here today to] Connect my High school students in Loomis California to the Collection through the art in the classroom” (NWS)

“[I am also here today to] Download Caravaggio’s ‘The Supper at Emmaus’ for a Bible study group in the USA” (NWS)



Since the completion of this project, the National Gallery has undergone a significant redesign of the website. Done in stages, the first project was a redesign of the homepage, in large part to address concerns flagged by the research and to make the key aspects of the defined visitor journeys more accessible directly from the homepage. A subsequent restructure within the organisation meant that digital content was incorporated into the digital services team, which has allowed for the organisation to be more aligned and focused in all of the digital content they produce, regardless of channel. This work also became a critical starting point for a project run internally in November 2018 identifying key painpoints and recommendations for wayfinding onsite at the Gallery. Understanding where they were within their journey allowed the Gallery to better understand what information was critical for delivery upon arrival to continue their journey.

While this research has helped the organisation align its thinking on digital and physical audiences, the National Gallery has more work to do to align these audiences when delivering digital or physical experiences onsite. This research acted as a starting point to look at how existing products overlap, with the focus on the idea of a linked pre-, during- and post- visit journey. However, this ended up limiting the understanding of how digital products might be used when only available as part of the defined journey. It was therefore difficult to use the research findings to help shape digital products that had a one-off function in themselves, that may have enhanced engagement in a particular way but did not help a visitor continue their journey in a linear fashion. One example of this was a painting specific VR/AR installation meant to enhance curation of a particular painting. Because the research focused on those who might have only used digital or used digital as part of their larger journey (i.e., to plan their visit) it was difficult to understand what visitor expectations would be around a site specific digital installation. Future research joining digital and physical journey mapping will frame digital not as an extension of the experience in time, but frame it as an additional tool to tell stories. This would change the focus of the research to better understand the underlying expectations and competencies of visitors which would better predict adoption rates at any point within a visit (online or on-site). 


This research was one of the first projects commissioned by the newly formed Data & Insight team at the National Gallery, and consequently set the tone within the organisation for what to expect from a centralised audience data team. The drive to understand visitors beyond traditional organisational silos (such as the digital and onsite experiences) has led to a more unified approach to audience research across the Gallery, which has deepened the knowledge of their audiences considerably and resulted in greater understanding of audience segments across the organisation. It has also provided staff with a better understanding of what a journey map is and how it can be used to address where there are gaps or where touchpoints are not working hard enough to support the visitor.

The decision to partner with the Audience Agency to deliver this project helped prevent potential departmental barriers between digital and onsite experience from forming, which was critical to establish early on as the Data & Insight team sits within the Digital Services department, but its remit spans audience research work across the organisation. But working with a neutral third party to show the value of holistic, mixed methodology research projects helped with internal stakeholder buy-in for similar projects to be delivered in-house in the future.  

The most meaningful aspect of this project was the integration of qualitative and quantitative research methods to tell the story not only what visitors were doing, but why they were doing it. This project was able to deliver the breadth and statistical significance afforded by quantitative research while digging into the depth of experience using qualitative methods. A recommendation to any organisation considering this type of multi-strand piece of research is to be clear from the beginning about the purpose of each research strand, its associated output and how you will pull all the constituent parts together.  

One of the biggest learnings for the National Gallery team was around how to structure research projects that partner with external agencies. The project was set up to be completed upon the delivery of a final report from the Audience Agency, with input from the National Gallery. It was decided prior to the initiation of the project that the internal team at the National Gallery would then champion the findings within the organisation. Often when research is set up as a project in this way it is seen as concluded upon the final report. Writing recommendations collaboratively between organisations and external partners is often difficult – external partners sometimes struggle to understand what is achievable within an internal organisational structure, but recommendations developed by an internal team often lack an outside perspective that can often inspire internal stakeholders to think outside the box. Future projects commissioned by the team at the National Gallery that work with external partners will build a brief so that the delivery of the report would not be the end of the project. Rather, the external partner would work collaboratively with the internal team to develop design thinking workshops that build on the results of the research in order to develop findings into actionable recommendations and associated cross-departmental action plans. 



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Cite as: Moffat, Katie and Scott-Songin, Casey. “Digital journey mapping at The National Gallery: Understanding the role of digital touchpoints in a real world or online only visitor journey.” MW20: MW 2020. Published January 15, 2020.



Cite as:
Moffat, Katie and Scott-Songin, Casey. "Digital journey mapping at The National Gallery: Understanding the role of digital touchpoints in a real world or online only visitor journey.." MW20: MW 2020. Published January 15, 2020. Consulted .