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New website for Luton Culture

We’re celebrating the launch of our latest website – a powerful and user-friendly site for Luton Culture, a major urban arts and culture charity.

Luton Culture manage manage 12 venues and provide cultural services to more than 250,000 people across Luton and surrounding area, with more than 300 employees.

The site promotes events at the 12 venues, as well as providing an online cultural community for the region.

The site, built on our open-source based Hummingbird platform, includes complex online event listings for multiple venues, as well as e-commerce, social media integration and e-marketing management.

Detailed planning, usability and accessibility testing went into creating a site that works for a highly diverse audience across multiple platforms, and provides Luton Culture with a highly-flexible, easy-to-use website for managing all their online communications.

We were also briefed to ensure the site ensured each venue kept its own identity and worked as a stand-alone area of the site, while ensuring ease of use and a sense of a single organisation working together.

We conducted user-testing with a wide range of subjects in Bristol and Luton, as well as planning detailed wireframes and paper-prototypes to ensure the finished site delivered the marketing aims of the organisation.

The site is now up and running, and can be seen at http://www.lutonculture.com/

BCCweb – it’s about people not platforms

While it’s been fascinating to see the talk among Bristol’s developer community following the roundtable on Bristol City Council’s Future Web Platform, there does seem to be an element of discussion around the project that is conspicuous by it’s abscence – the end user.

For those not familiar with the project – BCC are commendably taking opinion from Bristol’s digital community on the re-development of the council’s website.

We attended the roundtable last week, and discussion there – and online – since has centered around the arguments for and against the whole gammut of open-source platforms and technologies.

This is a little like architects arguing over the construction materials for a building before finding out what the building is going to be used for. The danger is, you design and build a wonderfully constructed office block when the client wanted a car park.

Doing Stuff

The council has produced a reasonably detailed requirements document – but there is nothing in there that suggests any robust measure of end user needs has been identified, or that suggested functionality has been evidenced against any user needs.

A massive investment in time and resources is being put into identifying and developing a platform before anyone knows what the platform needs to deliver for the people using it.

We risk getting bogged down in a discussion about the most “appropriate” platform before answering the most important question – “appropriate” for whom?

For instance, a lot of the discussion at the roundtable centred around migrating content. But what if the content is part of the problem? There was little or no discussion about content planning, Information Architecture, usability or the end user.

These are the elements that need to be understood first – before any decision on platforms is made. Not least, because they will – or should – be the determining factor in the functionality of the site.

The website needs to do stuff for people who live in Bristol. This “stuff” is the reason for the existence of the site, the technology is simply there to enable this stuff to be done. The CMS is the servant of the project, not the master.

Different platform, same issues

Back in 2007, we carried out an information architecture and usability review of the Bristol City Council Intranet. The issues we discovered with the site largely centred around poor information architecture, out of date and unreliable content, poor search and lack of user customisation functionality.

We’ve just carried out a (rather unscientific) user review of the BCC website and guess what the main issues identified by our user group were? Yup – IA, unreliable content, poor search, no customisation.

No technology solution is going to address the issue of poor content, no customisation functionality is going to understand how people living in Bristol want to customise their site. These are all planning issues.

We were able to deliver a 700% increase in engagement with target areas of the BCC Intranet by making changes to the IA, content and layout of key pages.

The technology didn’t come into it – we had to work within the constraints of the existing intranet platform. Getting a thorough understanding of what staff at the council actually really wanted to be able to do on the intranet did.

However, we also identified that had we been able to change the intranet platform to a more suitable one, we could have made even greater progress.

When we carried out our work on the BCC intranet, we ended our consultancy by discussing the imminent upgrade of the council’s website. Our key recommendation – don’t go out and buy an expensive off-the-shelf CMS and try to shoe-horn your user’s requirements into it, start with the requirements and develop a CMS to match them.

Three years later, we’re sticking to that.

Website Hierarchy of Needs

At the initial web requirements stage of any development, we often find it helpful to slice a website into three different layers in order for the client to understand what they need to be thinking about when planning their website. We need to understand what the core functionality will be, what marketing messages the site needs to reflect and how the website will work as a marketing tool for the client (i.e. how does it fit with their overall marketing strategy). We call this a website hierarchy of needs.


Core functionality and usability

As part of a thorough requirements analysis, we will begin to plot out what the site areas, or sections are. The core functionality (or functional requirements) inform the web design company what user processes the site needs to support from within each section.

Usability and proven web conventions play their part at this stage, because core functionality must always be user-focussed, ie do users need this functionality in order to fulfil their objectives on your site?

Marketing Messages

Your website communicates marketing messages to a targeted audience. What are your key marketing messages, how are you differentiating yourself from your competition for instance? The design, content and information architecture of the site need to support and reinforce your marketing communications.

How you will use your site

The final layer is thinking about how your site will work as a marketing tool for your business. Your site will only work as part of your overall marketing strategy, it is a tool and any tool will only work well if it is used well. So how does your website support your marketing and work as part of your overall marketing strategy?

Does your website support the sales conversation by acting as a referral via search?. Do you point people to your site to reinforce your proposal? Does it reflect your creditability and market position?

Think how you will actually be using your site, how it can function as a tool for your organisation and what you need it be doing to work at its best for you.

The “3 Ps” (Purpose of your website, Profile of your target audience and the Processes your website needs to support) work on every layer and need to be your starting point for any web strategy.