I’m Not The Only One Paying Attention To Orchestra Websites

I was thrilled to see an article in the 3/29/2009 edition of the Chicago Sun-Times by columnist  that examines the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s (CSO) new website. By and large it is a very complimentary article but one item of note is the attention focused on how important usability is to revenue performance. In the article, CSO vice president for sales and marketing, Kevin Giglinto, emphasizes that every effort was made to make the online ticket buying process as streamlined and easy as possible…

I have yet to go through the new CSO website in detail but it will certainly receive a thorough analysis in the fall as part of the annual orchestra website reviews. Nonetheless, one of the obvious design changes is the switch from a vertical to horizontal layout, the latter being defined in the CSO’s case by a large, graphic-rich slider (along with wonderfully rich graphics).

This is all quite timely as we recently examined website usability issues a few weeks ago and not long before that, the process behind selecting and implementing vertical vs. horizontal design layouts. Although the new CSO site is mostly complete, the Sun-Times reports one new component yet to be launched is a social networking module that Giglinto says will be launched in a month or so.

Ultimately, it is wonderful to see this sort of general public attention focused on orchestra website development. Simply put, traditional outlets for selling tickets are becoming more expensive and less productive. Turning to enhanced website development and elevating the institutional website to a primary position within the overall marketing strategy is a winning decision. It will be interesting to see what sort of impact the CSO’s new website will have on revenue development and outreach.

In the meantime, check out the new CSO website yourself and leave a comment below with your thoughts and observations. Did you use the previous site; if so, how do you think the new site compares? If this is your first time to CSO.org, what about the site catches your attention?

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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16 thoughts on “I’m Not The Only One Paying Attention To Orchestra Websites”

  1. They are really paying attention to all the current practices and standards for usability:

    – the huge top image
    – use of negative space and an overall minimalist design
    – a top navigation scheme

    The ticket options are everywhere. I like how I can see exactly how many tickets are left for a specific concert.

    • It’s is interesting to point out that both of the long standing #1/#2 finalists in the annual orchestra website reviews have adopted very similar components to their website layout updates this year. For example, the big CSO slider image you pointed out is what Nashville Symphony Orchestra’s website adopted as well. To that end, I have to point out that in the Venture Project development, we are coming up with layout options that allow users to do exactly this in addition to a wide variety of variations within a horizontal and vertical navigation scheme all while being able to make changes at any time.

  2. At one time, the designer field was very concerned about the “fold” – the area that appears by default in the browser before scrolling. Once they figured out that indeed users are smart enough to scroll down, they went nuts and now we have these huge images as a standard. It will be interesting to see where this will go next.

    • I’m still a proponent of the fold issue but it does depend on what type of site we’re talking about. Even within performing arts orgs, one format may be better suited than another. To that end, did you notice that the CSO implemented mini-scrollers toward the bottom of the page? this is another good method to get more material on the front page without worrying about a long, scroll heavy layout.

  3. Collapsible and scrollable content – that would be yet another common aspect of current EDU style.

    Not to harp on the point too much, but I suppose the EDU style works for an arts organization because EDUs at their core are very much focused on recruitment and retention.

    That sounds like a really good model for arts groups to emulate. As pretty as the Philly Orch. flash site looks for example it does deviate from current practice. At my workplace, we have pretty much relegated large Flash banners as a no-no.

    • Those are all very good observations Bruce, the one key difference is the added need for performing arts groups to maximize conversion rates. this requires a higher degree of back-end development on the part of arts orgs since they need to keep a closer eye on constantly refining site content and the ticket conversion process.

      As for flash, I’ve beat up on flash plenty of times here in the past but it is a very useful tool when used sparingly. Personally, I’m curious to see how the jquery vs. flash war will be carried out over the next few years.

  4. Hi, Drew:

    Fan of your blog, subscriber, and liking this conversation between you and Bruce (Hi, Bruce!) about the CSO and EDU site design and flash, and conversions.

    I like the CSO site a lot – readable, nice design balance with visual elements and information. The shopping cart link at the coveted upper right nav seems to really say, yep, we’re here, we’re the online shopping experience in entertainment form certainly speaks to the transition from just tickets to the fact that there’s more than just a ticket to be purchased.

    I’m the Director of Marketing at Ticket Turtle and in the throes of site (re)design all the time and looking at ways to build on conversions both for our own business, but also in our work with clients/users of our software.

    The question I have for both of you is what forum online do you recommend for intelligent guidance (in addition to this site, of course) about conversion and site designs trends/theory and practice.

    thanks for your work! heather

    • Wow, fantastic questions Heather, thanks! I don’t frequent any developer/design discussion boards on a regular basis, mainly those associated with a module, plugin, etc. I’m working with. I have about three dozen design/developer sites I follow via RSS and one – smashingmagazine – is in my morning links (although I’ve also been keeping a regular eye on the WP 3.0 dev board).

      Interesting observation about the shopping cart placement – it makes me want to dig through smashingmagazine articles to see if they’ve covered that.

      You have the right approach to being in a state of constant redesign – any good site should, regardless if the focus is front or back end. Although it isn’t recommend to go nuts with a massive layout redesign on a regular basis, a combination of new tools, metric analysis, and design trends should always be nudging a good design. I look back at my days at Arts Journal and shortly thereafter using TypePad and cringe at the lack of flexibility on those very items. Consequently, the having the ability to make continuous, small changes in a non-destructive fashion is a basic principle embedded into what Venture will allow users to do on an ongoing basis.

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I'm Not The Only One Paying Attention To Orchestra Websites