Behind-the-scenes: How the Southbank Centre is redesigning its website
Working in a large cultural institution like the British Library or Southbank Centre, the prospect of redesigning your website can be both exciting and daunting. Most organisations spend months (if not years) developing their new sites in secret and then launch them with lots of fanfare, while secretly hoping that they will live up to users’ expectations. And if they don’t? Often the budgets spent on them are so huge that it’s too late. And a few years later the process begins again.
How refreshing then, that the Southbank Centre is taking a new approach. It’s involving the public and its staff in the whole creative process. On top of that, it’s using blogs and social media to tell the story of the redesign in real time.
So how is it doing it? As part of its #WebWeWant festival, the Southbank Centre’s Web Team spent a weekend in a large glass box covered in post-its. They ran a packed programme of mini focus groups, meetings and talks - Sir Tim Berners-Lee even wrote their first line of code. They showed people how to use HTML and CSS. At the Festival I sat down with Jo Spencer (Digital Design Lead) and Lani Shamash (Project Officer) to talk about how they are developing the new site. Jo is responsible for the design of the main website, microsites and other digital assets. They were more than happy to answer all my questions.
What are the site’s goals?
The goals of the site are moving beyond finding out what’s on and booking tickets, which is very much its current function. Jo wants the Southbank website to be a destination in its own right; similar to its physical buildings, there will be an element of discovery and serendipity. Lots more rich content. It will have more live streaming of events and increased visibility for its Festivals (Southbank Centre runs around festivals rather than venues) and its Learning programme for schools.
The Southbank is using the Agile method to manage the site redevelopment. This means involving users more, empowering their team to make decisions, making incremental changes and testing early and often. Starting this month, they will plan their workload in blocks of two weeks at a time. It’s called a Sprint, and when they’re working on one, they won’t take on anything else. The idea is to focus on one thing and explore it in depth e.g. an event page or the search function. The Agile method enables them to break up a large project into manageable chunks and make it easier to plan. It’s also about not designing things you don’t need – what you want at the start of the project may not be relevant six months later.
The site is being designed to be mobile and tablet first. They test the site’s designs via an iPad rather than a laptop.
Open and transparent
All the code the team creates will be open and they are encouraging other organisations to use it, play with it, improve it and then give it back to them. The team also plans to put their style guide online, which is something that other organisations such as the Tate already do. They’ve already put hand-drawn wire frames on the #WebWeWant blog.
Growing number of editors
In the past the Southbank Centre has outsourced a lot of its digital work to agencies. Now they have moved this function in-house and have appointed five dedicated people in the web team to work on the new site. To enable them to have more rich content, they are encouraging more people across the organisation to edit and add content. Currently all editing goes through the Web Team which creates a huge bottleneck. They will be training up staff from across the organisation to be editors. The team is also happy to embed content from other people’s sites within the Southbank’s own pages, for example, content from artists and performers.
Want to find out more? Jo, Lani and their team are hoping to launch part of the site by summer 2015. You can also look out for the second instalment of the #WebWeWant Festival on 28 – 30 November 2014.