Chickenshed Theatre Trust is an inclusive theatre company based in north London, but that’s only a tiny part of the pioneering work it does in the community and around the world. Founded in 1974 in a literal chicken shed, the company now offers professional theatre productions in their own theatre (custom built), as well as workshops, a thriving youth theatre programme, higher and further education degrees, corporate training, venue hire, and several community outreach programmes for the elderly and other marginalised groups.
In short, Chickenshed’s website needs to do a heckuva lot.
Unfortunately, the previous website had been built on a proprietary CMS, which carried large annual fees and was too inflexible to accommodate such a wide range of activities. Over many years, the site navigation had also become stuffed with dated and confusing content, making it difficult for new visitors to understand what Chickenshed actually does as an organisation.
They hired us to completely overhaul their digital presence, including:
- Simplifying the messaging, navigation and content structure
- Integrating Spektrix, their ticketing system
- Developing an education microsite to better publicise their degree courses
Their new site launched to coincide with their 50th anniversary celebrations — and we couldn’t be prouder to be a part of it.
Simplifying the messaging, navigation and content structure
One of the most common questions Chickenshed received was “what is Chickenshed? What do you actually do?”
To solve this problem, the team initially imagined a better “What’s On” page, with tools to filter, categorise and sort their offerings in a way that would let users more easily explore the breadth of their programme. This seemed like a reasonable solution — after all, almost every UK venue website has a What’s On page.
Yet our research discovered that the What’s On page itself was a big part of the problem. First of all, many of Chickenshed’s offerings don't belong on a What’s On page, like their degree programmes. Second of all, its schedule of events is very seasonal, so the time of year a person visited might strongly skew their view of what Chickenshed does.
Moreover, we discovered that most of the website’s traffic is first-time visitors who aren’t ready to browse What’s On listings — they’re much higher up the marketing funnel, just looking for an overview of the organisation.
So in the end we got rid of the global What’s On page, opting instead for clear messaging, navigation and content. Now, from the moment you arrive on any page, the navigation headings present that top-level overview of what Chickenshed does. If you do want to attend an event, see a show, do a workshop or anything else, they’re easy to find from wherever you land. And they’re all accompanied by easy to read copy about what they are and who they’re for.
A new Spektrix integration to improve access to the arts
The old Chickenshed site relied heavily on the out-of-the-box Spektrix iframe integration. This worked fine for many of their events, but one fundamental aspect of Chickenshed’s mission was let down by this basic solution: accessible events. Accessibility is at the heart of everything Chickenshed does, and accessible performances are a vital part of the schedule.
Yet while this information — captioned, BSL signed, and relaxed, and so on— was stored in Spektrix, it wasn’t easy to find in the standard ticket-purchase journey. Instead visitors had to consult a separate, text-based list of accessible performances, and then return to the performance selection screen to find the one they wanted.
We drastically improved the user experience for buying accessible performances, introducing a new “booking drawer” that groups performances both by date and by accessibility arrangements. Now people with access needs can use exactly the same interface as everyone else to quickly find and book tickets to the shows that are relevant to them.
The new booking drawer also allowed us to implement our second big improvement: the multi-date picker.
One of Chickenshed’s regular series of events is their “Sunday Sheds”, drop-in classes for adults and children to get more experience performing. These run alongside the school term, so while they are sold individually as drop-in classes, many parents prefer to book their kids in for the whole term at once, as soon as it goes on sale.
On the old site this was a really cumbersome process, which involved individually adding one week at a time to the basket, then returning to the homepage to start again. (😱) On the new site, the booking drawer simply gives you the option to book one date or many — and if you pick “many”, it gives you a handy list where you can check off all the dates you want. As you do so, the booking button updates to show you the current price of your selection. And once you click the button, it adds everything to the basket in one swoop, slashing the time it takes to check out.
These improvements are just the tip of the iceberg. We also implemented many other Spektrix upgrades, such as an automatic event import into the CMS, express checkout, a streamlined process for renewing memberships, and automatically logging direct debit donations in Spektrix.
In short, we’ve transformed how the website works with Spektrix, for both customers and staff.
An education microsite for a rich, arts community
Another key difference between Chickenshed and a “normal” venue website is their degree programmes. These are a fundamentally different kind of content, attracting a fundamentally different kind of audience whose needs are different than your average event-goer. Higher education courses are also legally obliged to present certain information in certain ways, which venue websites aren’t typically designed for.
Nevertheless, on the old Chickenshed site, the degree pages all used essentially the same page templates as the rest of the website, meaning it was very difficult for prospective students to find the information they needed when considering a course. This had serious practical implications: a significant portion of Chickenshed's revenue comes from its higher education courses, so these pages simply had to work better.
We treated the education pages as an entirely separate design proposition, building out an education “homepage” with its own design and components. Individual course pages have their own unique structure and layout too, to make the process of evaluating (and hopefully applying for!) courses as smooth as possible.
But crucially, because the education pages are still part of the same overarching site, they share certain design components and interface patterns, to ensure a consistent experience if you’re moving between the two areas. And you probably will be, because sharing the CMS means we can also link the course pages to main site pages like staff profiles, performance space specifications, and so forth. You may only be considering a degree course at Chickenshed, but you’ll quickly see how richly entwined those courses are with the rest of the organisation.
In short, you’ll see that you’ll be joining a rich, arts community, not just a college.
Results: fewer issues, more engagement
Perhaps the most heartening feedback we’ve had is from the box office manager (highlighted earlier): her team now fields far fewer calls from people who can’t figure out the website. In fact, in the first two weeks after launch, and despite strong sales and high traffic, they didn’t get a single call about a website issue
Speaking of strong sales and high traffic, data since launch shows users are a lot more engaged than before.
organic search clicks
purchases via the web
In the weeks immediately post-launch, Chickenshed’s average daily Google search rank showed a statistically significant improvement, rising from the 3rd page of results to the 2nd across all search queries (for its key brand terms it remained in the number 1 spot). As a result of that increased visibility, their overall daily search impressions increased by 46% on average, and their average daily clicks from search increased by 32%.
As a result, views to the homepage are up 32%. Purchases via the website are up 20%. Visits to the all-important education pages are up more than 50% versus the previous monthly average.
And maybe most importantly, returning visitors are up 22%. It’s not just that people have stopped giving up on the website and calling the box office instead — they’ve started trusting the website and coming back to use it again and again.
Chickenshed are so pleased with the results that we’ve already agreed on an annual budget to keep on adding new features over time. We’re excited to see what problems we can help them solve next.