The 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.
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:
- “What am I supposed to do?”
- “How am I to know what there is?”
- “What is this meant to be?”
- “What am I meant to be doing?”
- “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.
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….