Blogs

2 October 2013
Author: Tim Wood

A new website for The Place

For around seven or eight months, conversations in the Communications office at The Place have begun with the question “What would Freya do?”

Freya is one of a handful of composite characters (along with Piers, Alex, Rachel, and Briony - I had nothing to do with choosing the names) that we invented at the start of the process of reimagining The Place’s website. She and the others are formed of connected behaviours and motivations that we’d observed in people that visit The Place and/or its website. Freya, for instance, likes to see shows at The Place, and she uses her phone to check details about performances and book tickets.

The Place is a complex organisation, insofar as we do a lot of different stuff. For around three months, a diagram of the new website has hung on the wall above my desk, spread across four sheets of A3 paper. Apparently, this is the most complicated site diagram that our developers (the brilliant Tincan) have ever drawn. It is also possibly the clearest representation of the interconnectedness (or not) of all the different stuff we do that I’ve seen in 12 years working at The Place. Hopefully some of that clarity, as well as some of the complexity, has translated into the finished site.

Guided by Freya and friends, we set out to make a new site that:

  • works as well on mobiles and tablets as it does on desktop computers, with a responsive design that adapts according to the size of screen you’re using
  • is in tune and integrated with other things - like social media and watching videos - that people are doing more and differently online than they were when we last redeveloped the website, in 2009
  • if you’re looking for something, you can find it; if you’re trying to do something, you can do it quickly, but also...
  • ...reflects some of the interest, inquisitiveness, knowledge and passion for dance that exists within our organisation.

That last point is all about content. There isn’t (yet) all that much content on this site that wasn’t on the old one, but hopefully some of that old content will be easier to discover. And as well as developing new and more discursive content of our own, we’re also pointing users to things that interested us that other people have published elsewhere (not an original idea for an arts organisation's website: among those we're copying is Minneapolis's Walker Art Center).

We’ve learnt a lot in the process of making this site. In addition to learning from our fictional user-types and the user data that built them, we’re lucky that lots of brilliant people are willing to share what they know about making new websites and engaging with the public online. If that sort of thing interests you, here’s a short reading list:

So here’s the new website. It is unfinished. Some sites are described as being in “permanent beta”, constantly, iteratively evolving in response to user’s experience. That’s kind-of true here, but it’s also true that the job of getting this ready could extend indefinitely, and we ran out of patience. So the aim for this launch site is simply that it’s good enough. Gradually, post-launch, we’ll try to make it better.

That’s where you can help. Freya has helped us get this far, but - and this is said with love - she’s a simpleton. She's nothing more than a handful of assumptions drawn from a couple of hours looking at Google Analytics. It would be an exageration to call her two-dimensional. She is utterly predictable, and we have a hunch you won't be. We'll try to keep an eye on how you use the site - what's popular, what's ignored or unfindable, what's broken or missing, what frustrates. You can let us know what you think - in the comments below or here.

Quick thanks to everyone who helped get us this far with the site: chiefly that's the Comms team at The Place (esp Katie and Rita), the team at Tincan (shout outs to Brian, Ben and Jason), and designer Michael from Draught Associates. Plus, of course, Freya. Now it's over to you...

Tim Wood (@timcwood) is Director of Communications at The Place

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