Web Design

SpiritNottingham Web ReviewThe new SpiritNottingham website went live last week.   I’ve had a play, and to be honest, I’m disappointed with the site.

It’s a super exciting initiative, aiming to provide a hub for all the cultural activities in the city.  The arts play a major part in the local economy,  employing  more than 1,500 people and generating more than £100 million to the local economy

And SpiritNottingham is a major undertaking, with a total project cost of £375,000  (yes, you read that correctly).

It aims to list all the cultural events in the city:  cinema, theatre, art, music, museums and dance together with restaurants and bars.

It should give visitors the chance to discover new experiences, have a personal planner,and share their views of cultural events in the city.

Unfortunately, the website is breaking the cardinal web design rule:

The most successful websites are easy to use

This site, quite simply, is hard to use.

You know there is a problem with ease of use when the opening splash page has to provide instructions on how to use the site.  In other words, they literally have to tell us what keys to press. Otherwise, to be frank, users won’t figure it out.

The answer, of course, is not to add more Help functionality.  The answer is to fix the user experience so people don’t need help.

There is a rather mysterious Time Line.    I can’t easily change the date range, I have to guess what the colours mean, I have no idea what the spacing means, and I can’t click on the real words I’m interested in :  Art, Comedy, Dance…

There is a deeply annoying Pictures choice.  The screen seems to move of its own volition.  I can’t just browse:  I have to click on an image to even see what it’s about.

I would give you a link to these , but I can’t  because it is all in Flash (correction – because of the Javascript. The site isn’t built in Flash, only the logo in Flash. )

The Tags page is also confusing.  What is the difference between gig and gigs?    Familiesand family friendly?  If only 25% of the Nottingham content is loaded on the site, what kind of mess will this tag could become?

And the Popular page is worst of all. A series of coloured dots, of various colours. See image below.  I think I’m supposed to guess what they mean.  Click randomly, to guess what is most popular.  What foolishness!

The Spirit Nottingham website has a quite well defined set of objectives:  attract more visitors to the city, entice them to stay longer, and to experience more cultural events.

I was wondering how well the site meets these objectives.

I undertook a deeply unscientific sample of users (my 17 year old son, my 20-something office colleagues, and my senior surfers Mum and Dad) to get their feedback , and their comments when using the site:

  1. “What am I supposed to do?”
  2. “How am I to know what there is?”
  3. “What is this meant to be?”
  4. “What am I meant to be doing?”
  5. “If  you weren’t making me do this, I’d go straight off”


An explosion in a web geek factory

Just because something is technically possible, doesn’t mean it is a good idea.

The site is described as a non-linear user experience.  That means you don’t have to click down through lots of hierarchical menu choices.  Users  take on board signals and meaning through shapes and colours.  Nevertheless, it needs to be intuitive and attractive and functional.  And the user needs some kind of framework or metaphor to understand that is available on the site.

In my personal opinion, this non-linear experience is all talk and no trousers.  It may look groovy or cool or whatever, but if I can’t get any understanding or meaning, then the site does not fulfill its objectives.

A Not-Very-Nottingham-Spirit

What a shame there aren’t more Nottingham based Internet professionals involved in the project.

The development of this project had to go through the official European tendering routes, and of course that means the job couldn’t just be handed to a Nottingham based team.

The web designers are from London.  The logo designer (nb. what an annoying animated logo) is from London.  The social media marketing advisers are equally remote.  Fortunately, Nottingham based Cartwright Communications  is providing the PR.

Social media?  What social media?

Perhaps the single most surprising element of the design is the lack of social media integration.  The site seems like a very lonely place, without any other people around.

I can’t share my planner with my friends. There are some rudimentary sharing options on each event, but there is so very much more the social Internet has to offer.  Where are the reviews?  Where is the geolocation?

Still in Beta, and Seeking Feedback

SpiritNottingham is an exciting initiative, stretching the boundaries, and delivering a new type of user experience.

The site is still in development, and the partners are actively seeking feedback.

There are a quite a number of bugs on the site, which is normal for a site still in beta, and really outside the scope of this review.

I had a quick chat with Stephanie Sirr from Nottingham Playhouse, and she says they are getting very positive feedback on the site, and in particular points out the feedback on the SpiritNottingham Facebook group.

Me, I am not convinced.  Please leave  your feedback….

Additional Readings:

LeftLion’s forum discussion regarding Spirit Nottingham

SpiritNotts on Twitter

ThisIsNottingham Review

8 responses to “Spirit Nottingham Web Review”

  1. Rob Williams says:

    Hi there,

    My name’s Rob, and I’ve been heavily involved with the site from the start, so i suppose I’m a little biased 🙂

    Firstly, thanks for the mention, and the feedback, it’s great to get people’s personal opinions on where the site falls short and where it succeeds… And it’s fascinating how much those opinions vary 🙂 the most common feedback I get is that people love the picture wall! Hehe.

    Just so you’re aware, and to correct your post, none of the site, with the exception of the logo (which will stop animating soon!) is in flash. We are aware of the issues with flash, so avoided it entirely.

    Also, it’s a little unfair not to mention the listings page, which is a simple, basic view of what’s on, for people who find the site a little overwhelming, or unfamiliar.

    We talked long and hard about including a help page, and the splash screen, and were told by many people that actually, it isn’t a sign of failure to have one, when you’re trying to do something different… The site is quite pioneering, and does several things that other similar sites out there aren’t attempting. So we added the splash screen and help page, to ease people into it.

    I don’t think this is a bad thing, eBay, Facebook, YouTube, all have help pages, tooltips, splash screens….

    I’d love to sit down and talk about it all, and the journey we’ve been on, so if you’re free for a coffee any time, let’s have a chat, I’m very passionate about our City and really feel that the Site will become entwined with the perception and success of Nottingham, so am keen to get it right.

    Hopefully you’ll be bloging about how far we’ve come in a couple of months 🙂


  2. Susan Hallam Susan Hallam says:

    Thanks for your feedback, Rob, and for taking the time to read the post.

    You’re right in pointing out I didn’t mention the Listings page. I think it was because I was perplexed at the contrast; from hyperactive singing and dancing pages (no pun intended) to the plainest of dull listings pages. It’s a shame I can’t find out what is rated hugely popular in the listings page, nor do I have access to a device as simple as a calendar view.

    Don’t get me wrong: I think a SpiritNottingham website is exactly what we need for the marvellous cultural scene in the city.

    My concern, however, is what I would call “the Emporer’s New Clothes syndrome” – the site may be loved and admired in the arts community. But the arts community isn’t the target market. It’s tourists, and ordinary people who may be new to this whole arts thing.

    And I will be delighted to keep an eye on progress as you continue to develop and improve the site!

  3. JoJag says:

    Hello Susan and Rob,

    I have to agree with Susan on this. The site is far too confusing for the everyday user. Even I struggled to make sense of what it could actually do for me. I recently worked at the NCC and I made the same points when I saw it pre-launch. Providing instructions on the landing page pretty much sums it up for me.

    I agree that it’s about personal opinion as is most creative work; but bearing in mind who this site is aimed at (the general public) it should be user friendly; young or old, techy or not, this should take precedence over anything else.

    It’s a great idea and it definitely needed doing. With the amount spent on it I really hope I’m wrong and it does get used…a lot!


  4. James Pennington says:

    After reading Susan’s blog – had to go and take a look. The thought come into my mind… ‘Just because we can… Doesn’t mean we should’. I appreciate the technical skill involved in creating a site but don;t really see the usability aspect.

    The timeline, the pictures and the popular section I struggle to understand and I work with websites all day long. The user will be completely confused, I would have expected to land on a page that shows me what’s happening in a straight forward way, I know the listings page is there but give me something like that on the the very first page – visual identifiers with text about the event with a clear call to action to click through. On the timeline, when you mouse over the little line on the timeline you have to click to see the item – why doesn’t it just popup.

    Besides I struggle to comprehend that this is a result of over £350,000 of expenditure – obviously very little of that money went on asking the user what they needed to see and how they wanted to see it, but most of it on how can we use all of these amazing bits of web-code. Is it just another example of the need to spend Public Sector money so lets inflate prices…

    I actually ran a workshop this week and the delegates asked about ‘how do you get the message right for the people your trying to reach’. I showed the site and non of them could understand what they were meant to do. They all thought it was to complicated for a what’s on guide / why should you visit Nottingham.

    The shame of it is you’ve probably spent all of the budget now…… so how do you actually get it so it’s usable and does what it was meant to do….

  5. interested observer says:

    Hello all,

    I think it’s all too easy to jump on a critical band wagon from the safety of one’s laptop. I also know from experience how easy it is for others to take ‘offence’ at the ‘cost’ of something out of context. I’m quite sure other cost implications outside of the website build, such as branding, marketing, PR and ongoing running costs clearly haven’t been taken into consideration in the above critiques.

    I like the site. I like the fact that it’s different to any other listings site I’ve come across. Using an online diary can be a very cumbersome task, even for one venue- and this site allows me to ‘graze’ amongst other cultural activities, giving me a real sense of ‘lots to choose from’.

    I understand that there are great plans in store for the development of this site, from being able to buy multiple tickets online to apps for the iphone. Great – I’m really looking forward to it. It might take a little while for me to learn how best to make the most of this site – but isn’t it really good to know that we live in a city where the cultural venues communicate well enough to provide us with a comprehensive one-stop guide to how we might best enjoy this city?

    Perhaps Susan and Rob might have built very different ‘non-linear’ websites, but I for one am becoming increasingly tired of seeing new, brave ideas and projects being shot at from the sidelines. It just makes me want Spirit Nottingham to succeed all the more. (Though I do agree with Susan’s point about linking to social networks – makes perfect sense to me).

    Thank you!

  6. Helen Laird says:

    Hi Interested Observer,

    You make some interesting points. Particularly the one about being able to “graze”.
    If you’re not really looking for anything in particular, just want to see or do something arty, then it’s fine, and I do really like the idea that you might stumble upon something you might not have thought of doing.

    However you say that it might take a little time to learn how to make the most of this site. I would question whether the average visitor, who just wants to book a couple of theatre tickets, or see at a glance what’s on, is going to be bothered to take that time.

    I hope the website succeeds too. It’s an interesting and certainly innovative idea, but the usability aspect is crucial and for me, it falls short.

  7. Stu says:


    I dont think i’ve seen a more original site for such a large scale project. Outstanding design. As a software developer that works in Nottingham i find the ‘explosion in a web-geek factory’ quote pretty insulting and find the rest of the critique missing the point completely.

    The site will certainly influence my work in the future – thank you!

  8. mdp says:

    I found the Nottingham Spirit website for the first time this week and my instant reaction was to look elsewhere. I don’t want to re-learn how to use the web. Impressive as it all is it’s just not intuitive and it’s much easier to look elsewhere for info.

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