Business at the heart of the arts: what we can all learn from the new National Arts Festival site

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National Arts Festival

Just like the National Arts Festival itself, the new festival website has plenty of colour and personality. The site got a much-needed makeover just in time for the 40th edition of the Festival, held in Grahamstown 3 – 13 July 2014. And, again like the event, under all the colour, images and nifty transitions, there is a business basis making this a site that does more than entertain.

Look and feel

Blame Medium.com and the one-page app sites, but bold width-spanning images and scrolling central blocks of text are certainly have their moment in the sun in terms of web design trends. Unlike a text-heavy columns approach, this design provides a clear hierarchy for users – saying “this is the most important info”. The new National Arts Festival website incorporates aspects of this, but doesn’t forgo a few more traditional boxed options either.

On the home page, a bold centred logo and menu give way to an image nav slider and beneath this, three section page prompts, and so on. It is fundamentally purpose driven, directing you with calls to action: Do you want to see the festival programme? Are you a performing artist? Or are you interested in travel and accommodation options? The contemporary design – with loads of breathing room and spades of brand identity – plus clear division of purpose is a welcome relief from the previous site that had seen its time come and go. It’s lovely, but above all it’s functional.

New, inside and out

The redesign was driven by some strategic juggling in how the Festival itself does business. They’ve ditched the long-standing relationship with Computicket in favour of Via, a custom-built ticketing system created especially for arts festivals by Red61.

The Edinburgh-based company originally developed and implemented Via for the Edinburgh Fringe, the largest arts festival in the world, but have since partnered with many more festivals around the world. A big plus for performers, Festival CEO Tony Lankester said in a statement, is that the fees and commissions margins will be greatly reduced, meaning more money for the artists and producers themselves.

Mobile friendly

Plus, it’s great viewed via mobile devices too – a consideration which frankly no one wishing to operate in Africa can neglect. The design transitions pretty uniformly across platforms, and only loses punch as device screen size decreases, where you’ll have to do a bit of sideways scrolling to view the pages. The only downside to mobile viewing, then, is a bit of odd image cropping – no real harm done.

A little something is definitely lost in translation though when you sign in to the site’s scheduler. Probably the new site’s coolest attribute, the scheduler builds a day-by-day programme for registered members by adding shows and sorting them by times and dates into a nifty timetable which can then be saved, exported in CSV form, printed, or booked in entirety by adding the entire schedule to your basket. This works wonderfully in your laptop/desktop browser, but viewing the schedule via the site on a mobile, such as my iPhone running iOS 7, leaves me scrolling and scrolling, and wishing the pinch gesture would give me a zoomed out view.

Search needs work

The only other niggle is a search functionality that needs work. The first time I visited, a search for “Ginslov” produced zero results, despite appearing in the text on the page for Jeannette Ginslov’s p(AR)take dance performance. Now, the same search gets me where I need it to. There are still a few examples like that that need ironing out, and left me using Google site-specific search.

Bottom line: Search struggles aside, the website is clean, clear and hugely improved. If I was a betting girl, I’d bet on ticket sales upswings and happier festinos in 2014.

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