Unique user challenges for a unique organisation
Britten Sinfonia is a chamber orchestra based in the East of England. It regularly performs at renowned UK events and venues, including the BBC Proms, Aldeburgh, and the Barbican, as well as touring Europe and North America. Unlike more traditional orchestras, it also collaborates with artists across the musical spectrum, such as Father John Misty and Rufus Wainwright.
Despite its national and international standing, the orchestra is fundamentally rooted in the East of England, and a large part of its work is within its regional community, sharing world-class orchestral music with people who otherwise might never experience it. Its Music On Your Doorstep programme brings musicians to interactive workshops serving families and people with life-limiting conditions, while its work with local organisations has seen musicians visit hospitals, prisons, and care homes to share the joy and benefit of live music and music-making.
As such, the orchestra has a unique blend of users visiting its website, often with requirements that are far more nuanced than simply “find a concert and buy a ticket.” In fact, Britten Sinfonia doesn’t directly sell its own tickets at all — so the website also needs to do more with its event listings than just a run-of-the-mill “What’s On” page (which you shouldn’t have anyway). The orchestra approached us to tackle some of these complex challenges.
Designing for diversity
As with all our projects, we started with a period of discovery and research to better understand Britten Sinfonia’s audiences and their needs.
Our most important finding was that the majority of users on the website were first-time visitors, many of whom had limited prior knowledge of Britten Sinfonia or even classical music. Our primary goal for these users was to get them quickly to the information they arrived to find. But we also wanted to make it easier for them to learn more about the orchestra and its activities, and hopefully to convert these first-time users into returning, regular visitors in the long-term.
To achieve these goals, we borrowed some questions from the excellent Design For Diversity framework developed by Project Inkblot. It’s well established that classical music as an art form faces significant barriers to entry. Adding to this, the orchestra’s digital team largely fit within the dominant demographics of the industry. To connect with new audiences, we wanted to consciously avoid creating a website that only spoke to those people “already in the room”.
This meant, for example, that we axed from the main navigation the often abstract language you sometimes see on arts and culture websites — “Discover”, “Explore”, “Participate”, etc. — and we also avoided more industry-specific terms that might not mean much to a newcomer, like “commissions.”
Instead, the navigation answers key questions for new users in plain language: “Who We Are” and “What We Do”. Users can follow these questions through more layers of plain language to find activities relevant to them — for example “What we do in schools” as opposed to the more opaque terms like “Outreach” or “Get involved” that you often see on similar websites.
Moreover, to help curious new visitors quickly see what’s coming up in their area — whether it’s a concert, a community workshop, or free event — we listed all these things on the events page and added new filtering options to quickly narrow them down. This not only gives a better sense of the breadth of the orchestra’s activities, but also makes it easy for newcomers to find low-stakes events to test the waters, before jumping into an expensive concert at an unfamiliar venue, where they might not know what to expect.
Creating a new content strategy
One thing we found during discovery was that visitors often arrived on the website because they were looking for something else — they had Googled one of the orchestra’s players or collaborating artists, for example. As a result, they quickly left without engaging with any content about the orchestra itself.
Similarly, even the orchestra’s dedicated fans weren’t returning often. Because you can’t actually buy tickets on the Britten Sinfonia site, fans would instead visit their local venue websites to find out about the next Britten Sinfonia show and book tickets at the same time.
Again, a key goal for both these groups was to turn them into regular visitors to the website, specifically to foster their relationship with the orchestra itself. For both groups, that meant capturing their attention with interesting and relevant content — giving them a reason to explore and return to the site.
To accomplish this, we devised a two-stranded content strategy.
First, we identified the most popular landing pages — people pages, and events — and designed these to be as compelling as possible, with bold branding elements and imagery, and opportunities to add all sorts of other content: video, embedded recordings and a variety of text styles for different purposes. Where previously a user might have seen a large block of text on a white background, they’re now greeted with a colourful, engaging visual experience.
Second, we created a new related-content widget that can be added to any page of the site. Whenever staff create a new page, they can tag it with related artists, locations, events, and specific content types (like a Q&A or a news story). When the widget is switched on, it uses these relationships to surface other pages from the website, in a sticky menu that’s visible no matter where you are on the page.
So for example, if you arrive because you’ve Googled Father John Misty, you might land on the page for the next event he’s doing with the orchestra — but you’ll also be shown a Q&A with him, or another upcoming event with a different contemporary musician. And because the related content is selected on the fly, if you return to the page later, you may see different related content. This helps convey the huge range of the orchestra’s work, even to someone who’s never visited before.
In the first month after launch our improvements paid dividends. The bounce rate nearly halved, from 64% to just 38%, and average page views per user have likewise increased by over 50%, from 2.7 to 4.1. Both figures indicate that people are choosing to stay and explore the website, rather than arriving on one page and immediately leaving.
Over the first month of the new site, the percentage of new users — those who have never visited before — has also dropped from 96% of all traffic to 86%. This too suggests that users are choosing to engage with the site more deeply, rather than visiting once and never coming back. And as the site continues to grow and more content is added, this figure will only improve. We’re excited to help Britten Sinfonia grow and engage with its diverse audiences, and promote orchestral music in the East of England and beyond.
Bounce rate nearly halved, from 64% to just 38%
Average page views per use have increased by over 50% from 2.7 to 4.1
Percentage of new users has dropped from 96% of all traffic to 86%