ShowBizRadio

Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Web Design Issues

By • Aug 14th, 2007 • Category: ShowBizRadio

We have completed our first pass on adding to the DC Area Theater Performance Schedule and Auditions. We do this by looking through the web site for each local theatre group. So, over the past three weeks we have looked at every community theatre’s web site, and many small professional group’s web sites. And we’ve noticed many problems with the sites.

Some of the problems we ran into were simply obviously bad information. This includes things like shows running Thursday through Saturday, instead of Friday through Sunday. A few times we saw confusing presentation of the dates of a performance. Are all of these options clearly giving the dates of the production?

  • Weekends October 12-21, matinees at 2
  • October 12-21, Friday and Saturday at 8, Sunday at 2
  • October 12, 13, 14, 19, 20, 21, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm; Sundays at 2pm
  • October 12, 13, 19, 20 at 8pm; October 14, 21 at 2pm

We’ve seen all four of those styles used. Strive to be clear when posting scheduling information.

Design Problems

The other huge problem we saw would all be classified as Design Problems. Whoever designs, implements, or maintains your web site has a lot of responsibility. I’m not saying using any of these items is bad, but they can lead to confusion and a poor patron experience.

  • Welcome landing pages – The home page should have real content on it, not simply a “cool” photograph or movie.
  • Music or sounds – Any kind of audio is very distracting at work, especially if the patron isn’t supposed to be surfing at work.
  • No domain name – A domain name is your identity online. Domain names are not expensive, we resell domain names for $10/year. Start building a brand, and your group’s online reputation. Redirecting from a domain name to some other service is not a good idea either.
  • All info on one page – There is no reason to have everything about your company on one page. Create folders (directories) and organize your content. Having multiple pages may seem intimidating, but it is also freeing. You can elaborate on how your auditions work. You can give directions and comments on parking, or local restaurants.
  • Misspellings – It is evry distarcting to have wrds spelled rong on your sight.
  • No easy way to contact someone – Give an email address or have a web form so people can ask questions. Many times people are surfing late at night or before work, and making a phone call then is not an option.
  • No way to stay informed automatically – Can you set up an emailing list for announcements? For auditions? How about using blog technology so users can get updates as they happen?
  • Flash based site – Flash allows for a very cool site. But Flash sites do not index very well in search engines, are slow to load, and can be difficult to edit later.
  • Mislabeled pages – Make sure the page content matches the page title.
  • Slow site – Some sites seem to be down, but if I hit reload it would come right up. Others would “freeze” while loading.
  • Drop down menus for navigation – Drop down menus can be very useful. But some users can’t navigate their mouse finely enough to choose a menu option. And make sure there is an indication that there are more options under the main item of a menu.
  • Huge images – Some images or photos take forever to load. Make sure images are built for the web. This includes both dimensions and resolution of the photo.
  • Awkward URLs – This will be largely a function of the server that is being used to host your site. Shorter URLs are easier for people to share with others.
  • Click here – The phrase “click here” is awkward for the blind. It also makes it harder for search engines to “learn” how your site is built, giving you poorer results from searches at Google or Yahoo.
  • Pages that scroll left/right – Scrolling up and down is fine. But making someone scroll left or right is not fun.
  • No white space – White space is needed to protect users from eye fatigue. One line of text should have 12 to 15 words. It’s ok to have areas of the page with nothing on it.
  • Fixed size – People use every size screen to visit your site, don’t hard code a size, or give a “recommended” size. Do you really expect the user to resize their monitor or web browser to fit your needs? Assume they’ll be using everything from 2560×1600 to 320×240.
  • Frames – Frames lead to difficulties with bookmarking, printing pages and site navigation.

Content

The most important thing on your web site is the content. And that is usually presented as text. Please make sure the text is easy to understand.

  • Bad contrast between background and text – Light colored backgrounds, dark colored text works well for most everybody. Text on top of photographs, or light colored text on a dark background can be difficult to read.
  • Too many fonts sizes, colors, italics/bold – Pick a typeface and stick with it. Text larger than your body text size should be restricted to headings. Changing text color in mid-paragraph is distracting.
  • Black backgrounds – A black background can look quite arty, but can be hard to read by people with poor vision. Plus printing pages can be a problem.
  • Using underlining – Underlines on the web means a link. Don’t confuse your users. Use italics in place of underlining.

Missing Information

And many web sites are missing some of the most basic information that new patrons will want to know:

  • Address of the venue – You may have directions to the theatre from Virginia, DC and Maryland, but also give the actual street address of the venue. Some people use GPS devices for navigation, others print directions from an online mapping service.
  • Directions to the venue – Some sites only give an address, but you can also help out with directions, especially if your venue is located in an awkward location. Give landmarks.
  • Links to local theatre resources – Growing the market of people interested in local theatre is a part of the job for all of us involved in theatre. Suggested links include:
    • Any groups or associations you are a member of (AACT, WATCH, NVTA)
    • Other theatre groups in your geographic area (yes, your “competition”)
    • ShowBizRadio.net 🙂
  • Privacy policy – If I give a donation to your group or if I buy tickets, what are you going to do with my personal information? You should link to your privacy policy from at least one of these places: (1) the page footer; (2), the sidebar navigation of your site; and ideally (3) a link at every point on the site where you collect information.
  • History of past shows – Unless your group is performing its inaugural year, it helps your credibility to list what shows you have performed in the past.
  • Board members – Tell us about the people that operate your group. Include their area of responsibility, a paragraph about them and a recent photo.

If you would like Mike to prepare an audit of your group’s website, just send him an email. Only $99 will get Mike to look through your site and talk about any issues found with your group’s web designer or site maintainer. Mike will offer suggestions and ask penetrating questions about your web presence. Mike has more than ten years years experience managing web sites, including the last seven years for a non-profit organization in Washington DC. His sites have been reviewed in PC Magazine.

This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/2024.

started ShowBizRadio in August 2005 because they love live theater. They each have both performed in and worked behind the scenes in DC area productions, as well as earned a Career Studies Certificate in Theater from Northern Virginia Community College. Mike & Laura are each members of the American Theatre Critics Association, and Mike is a member of the Online News Association.

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