Helpful Web Advice Straight From The Iron Tongue

If you aren’t already aware of it, Lisa Hirsch over at Iron Tongue of Midnight has an excellent page with plenty of do’s and don’ts about how performing arts organizations should approach some aspects of web design. It is particularly useful in that it includes reminders for lingering items otherwise easily overlooked in modern web design.

ADAPTISTRATION-GUY-012One of my favs is the reminder against embedding pdf or doc files in place of actual content; or worse, requiring users to download them in order to access details.

Don’t make people open PDFs or Word documents to get full information about your site! I had to open a PDF recently to see what L.A. Opera’s ticket return policy is! For crying out loud, get that stuff on an HTML page where it belongs. PDFs and Word documents are major carriers of viruses; you don’t know who has what version of Word or Acrobat Reader; they are SLOW to open in some browser and on some computers. Don’t make people wait!

On the surface, it might sound antiquated but it regularly pops up when arts orgs encounter the difficulty of trying to replicate a print design layout on a webpage. All too often, they become frustrated and simply insert the original print document as page content but the better solution here is to rethink, edit, and insert the content into the page with a layout that works better for web medium.

Ultimately this is an excellent example of a lingering bear trap in that arts orgs keep the print and web layout design process mutually exclusive; as a result, they lose out on the benefit of maximizing both mediums with a single content source and end up spending more than they need in order to get everything to work.

More often than not, arts orgs approach the print process first and use designers that specialize in that format. As a result, the web platform gets the short end of the budget stick vis-a-vis trying to make the content work and the arts org ends up hobbled for the rest of the season trying to pound the square peg of print design into the round hole of web formatting.

In the end, you’ll be better off gravitating toward designs that work in both formats and to help facilitate that goal, here are a few pointers to get an efficient process up and running. Keep in mind, this list assumes that both your design and web providers are outsourced, but it is easy enough to make adjustments as needed if one or more element is in-house:

  • Make sure you get them working together throughout right from the onset and throughout each subsequent stage in the process.
  • Get input from your web provider when selecting a print design provider.
  • Use designers that have experience in creating multi-use print and web content that works with responsive design standards.
  • Don’t assume communication will happen on its own; you can help make sure everyone is on the same boat by using a project management account such as Basecamp.
  • If you don’t have experience or aren’t comfortable serving as a project manager, hand over the responsibilities to the designer or web provider. Make sure both providers understand that this isn’t a reporting structure and you still make the final decisions but more of a convenience to facilitate efficiency.
  • Make sure the process produces a detailed style sheet that you can use throughout the season to stay on brand.

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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2 thoughts on “Helpful Web Advice Straight From The Iron Tongue”

  1. From a large, prominent organization this particular offense sticks out, but to what extent are such aberrations of website construction (putting up word or pdf documents over HTML) the norm v. the exception? Is it lack of resources or laziness?

    Also, from your observations, how well are performing arts organizations integrating their print and digital content? Is consistent-across-the-org-branding a priority or a burden?

    Certainly, they can’t all be as clever as the Whitney, but a little effort could go a long way, especially among smaller and mid-size operations.

    • That’s an interesting reference vis-a-vis Whitney but in that article, they aren’t really touching on the design elements I see most folks getting caught up with. For example, using a large number of tables and loads of auto justified and variable kerning that rarely sit well with web design.

      Core elements like logos are comparatively easy to deal with. The biggest speedbump there is when a group fails to have both square and masthead versions of the logo available.

      In the end, deconstrcuting the print version to be comprised of elements that are equally suited for responsive layouts is the direction things are heading.

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