Case Study: VisitCalifornia.com Launches…Again?



Okay, so maybe not a Case Study in the traditional sense, but let’s take a moment to look at the brief history of VisitCalifornia.com.

Thoughts// On Monday, Melissa from our Research team at AOT forwarded me this press release about California launching a new website (visitcalifornia.com)…and my first thought was, ‘didn’t they just launch that site?’ Turns out they did, about a year ago in fact, and if you had been visiting the site every so often you might have noticed some small changes which could shed some light on this most recent update.

So, let’s take a look at the ‘old’ site:


A pretty nice looking site and, if I remember right, there was a good amount of conversation about the layout and design of this site. This is, or was, the whole homepage. The design kept the page ‘above the fold’ and very compact. Visually it is a very easy to read design. However, having being involved with another compact design choice, I did wonder how the consumers and constituents would react to such a minimal homepage.

When creating a minimal homepage, there are two big challenges (out of many) that come up…navigation and the desire to have everything on the homepage.

With such few choices on where to click, users must understand your navigation structure immediately in order to locate the content they are looking for. In VisitCalifornia.com’s case, the navigation at the top only provided one or two words of copy and no drop-down menus. For visitors who may not be familiar with the state, that could be a lot to ask.

Another big challenge is what content goes on the homepage. Ah, the homepage. Everyone in your organization wants everything there, all the time…but, make sure it is appealing and user-friendly. Okay, so a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much. With such a small homepage footprint, I would assume that keeping certain content off the homepage required a strong internal policy or earplugs for the webmaster.

The ‘old’ site, version 1.1:


Here we have version 1.1, as I will refer to it. Notice the white bar in the middle of the page…the one with the surfer image…that is a new element. Too small to read in this execution, but the text basically says there is a lot to do in California and has links to destinations, activities, events, etc. In theory, the only reason to add more links to a certain area of site, especially a broad one such as this, is because consumers are having a hard time finding it. Again, just an assumption on my part, but I feel pretty confident this was one of the reasons.

And now the new site, version 2.0:


As you can see the new site is visually similar. Colors, photos, structure, the white boxes all remain, however the size of the page, content on the homepage and the navigation have all been updated. I liked the boxy-feel on version 1.0/1.1, however with the expanded content on the homepage, the boxes begin to feel a bit cluttered, with too much information for this simple, effective design.

In version 1.1 a user only had to scan 5 boxes, which is just about right for the average person…easy to read and understand the content that is presented in those 5 areas. In version 2.0, we have 9 boxes to read, which requires more than a quick glance. Plus, the boxes are not as clearly defined. Interesting what a large difference those additional 4 areas create.

Finally, the navigation certainly provides more information, which should be a plus.

As with any of our case studies, this is certainly just one point of view. I am sure the CT&TC did a large amount of research when making these changes to ensure that the new site is beneficial for the consumer. And FYI, I am trying to contact my counterpart in Sacramento for some more insight as well as a look at the process that went into these design changes.

That being said, this is a fascinating example of website design and a good case study for anyone evaluating the effectiveness of their own website.

Comment? @travel2dot0 or email.