23 08/2014Damien Buckley RedFest 2014

RedFestWay back in 2008 we were approached by the Redland Spring Festival to help them re-brand and build a new website. The Redland Spring Festival was rebranded ‘RedFest’ with a fresh new logo and a new website built on the new branding.

The Redland Spring Festival was one of three Propeller websites to reach the Finals of the 2009 McFarlane Prize for Excellence In Australian Web Design and we have continued to maintain the RedFest website and support the festival as a full sponsor since.

A lot has changed since 2009 however, with the festival and the new ‘mobile’ web outgrowing the ageing website. Themes had changed each year, requirements changed, bits previously unplanned-for bodged here and there and eventually the time came for RedFest to be rebooted…

Going ‘Responsive’

The way people use the web has changed dramatically in that period – most obviously the unprecedented shift to mobile and tablet use. With the benefit of 5 years of Google Analytics data we were able to see just how the site use had changed.

When we built the first site in 2008-9, desktop use was 100% – zero smartphones and zero tablets. Judgning from the usage patterns, people would visit the RedFest site in the weeks leading up to the show to find out what was on, how to get there, then print out the program to take along etc. Although this was pretty standard at the time, in todays mobile world this seems somewhat archaic and hugely inefficient.

In 2013 mobile traffic had come to account for almost 40% of all visits to the site with tablet use coming in at around 20%.

The glaringly obvious need for a responsive design was borne from my own experience at last years’ festival of trying to work my way around the old-skool PDF program on my iPhone as well as having to pinch & zoom my way around the website. Not exactly the world’s greatest user experience. Whats more, the Flash slideshows and galleries, ubiquitous in 2009, never worked on iOS devices. Much working around and updating had been done but there were still areas which were failing miserably in todays mobile web. Something had to be done.

RedFest 2014 is designed in fully-responsive fashion and scales beautifully from the smallest smartphone display through to an ‘epic’ 1260px wide desktop / laptop final breakpoint which brings the amazing ‘cinemascope’ format hero images of the acts & attractions to life. Whilst we’re happy with what we’ve created, we’ve also realised area’s which could be improved for next year – giving less of the valuable screen-area to the logo / banner at mobile sizes for example. A good website is never finished and we’ll de-brief and study the feedback and analytics data after RedFest 2014 as we have every other year with a look to making the RedFest 2015 site even better.

Retina-ready

To retain quality and to future-proof the site we have provided retina or HiDPI images throughout the site. We foresee a future where retina displays are going to expand further to most desktops as well as smartphones, tablets and laptops and wanted to be ready without significant rebuilding. By heavily optimising the images on output and creating a variety of images appropriately sized for each display size we have done our best to offset the additional page-weight of including retina images and the result is certainly worth it, with images appearing clean, bright and sharp whether you’re looking at the site on an iPhone or a large desktop display.

Take it with you

The whole strategy and user experience for the new RedFest site would be a radical shift in focus from a pre-show ‘browsing’ experience to engaging festival-goers from weeks prior to the festival to during and after the festival and ensuring the new RedFest could be used on all devices wherever, whenever.

In planning the new website our first look was to the competition. We spent time going through over 50 of the top festival websites from around the world seeing what worked, what didn’t and what we could learn from our peers. One fairly interesting observation we did make during discovery is that while a lot of festivals have invested in iOS and / or Android apps; in a lot of cases this was at the expense of their website, likely due to the fact that many festivals are non-profits or low budget so building apps and quality websites is an expensive prospect. This approach assumes that everyone has access to and understands whichever platform you chose to build the app for – in most instances apps were available for either iOS or Android but rarely for both and thats before we consider other smartphone platforms… A good responsive website provides ubiquitous access – why complicate matters and additional cost / management?

Fully digital program and ‘My Program’

Although we understood that, due to the wide target market for RedFest, we would never be able to completely do away with a printed program, we decided that we would provide the program in full on the site, grouped by venue and time and with a full ‘event’ detail for each act or attraction rather than just opting for a list or short summary. RedFest attracts amazing artists from all over the world and we wanted to give them their due.

In planning the site architecture we took on board a great suggestion from Joel Bradbury to decouple the events and venues from the actual program timeslots allowing us to update and add/remove artist information independently of the program itself. In future years this should serve to speed up entering the new program dramatically as the timeslots will remain and simply be tied to the acts and venues. Returning acts and attractions / venues will just need minor updates as opposed to having to be re-entered in full every year with associated calendar information.

Further to just providing information about the huge variety of entertainment on offer at RedFest, from previous attendances, we also realised that quite often visitors miss out on things by virtue of simply forgetting or taking a ‘turn up and see’ approach. Almost every year we’ve returned home and looked over the program again to realise we’ve missed something we really wanted to see because we were wandering Sideshow Alley or something else at the time.

Thinking about this further and from looking at what some other festival sites had done, the ‘My Program’ concept was born. My Program allows visitors to ‘favourite’ or shortlist the acts and attractions they want to attend to their own customised list. This personalised program can be given a unique name and shared to other devices or to friends and family.

We would love to see people using their program to get around RedFest over the festival weekend, staying up to date with any venue or performance schedule changes in realtime, ensuring festival-goers don’t miss anything.

Future improvements will allow users to (optionally) create accounts and port their program between devices simply by logging in. Adding AJAX-calls to the ‘Add/Remove’ program links will speed up functionality by removing the need for page refreshes. We also plan on extending the site’s use of geo-data to map the festival grounds and venues, making it even easier to find your way around: pick an act or attraction from your shortlist and follow the map to the location or venue…

Social media

Another seismic shift to take place on the web in the period between building RedFest 2009 and the 2014 reboot was the social media tsunami. Whilst the festival has in recent years taken to social media to promote itself, it was something of a hit & miss approach and we had bodged in some social sharing functionality in recent years but never really made it a priority or an integral part of the site design.

As with most sites these days, including links to RedFest’s Facebook, Twitter and Google+ pages was pretty much given. We also added social sharing links to all events, acts, venues and the main information detail pages. We extended this further by providing visitors who had created their own personalised program’s with the ability to share these by email and to social media. Attending various acts and attractions at RedFest as a group or family is now easier than ever to co-ordinate – draft up a list of your preferred attractions and share it to Facebook, Twitter or by email to coordinate with friends & family – you can even clone shared lists to yours…

In terms of using social media to promote RedFest’s events and attractions, the new site allows all program entries and news to be posted to social media either when posted or on a schedule. Over the last week we have rolled out on an hourly basis the entire program to both Twitter and Facebook. Combined with free weekly email newsletters highlighting the headline acts and attractions we are keeping everyone up to date.

I’m sure there are further ways we can extend RedFest into the social media space. Future possibilities include Instagram and Pinterest but for now I think we’ve made a workable and manageable initial foray.

Keeping the fun

The ‘old’ RedFest site won many a kind comment by virtue of its fun feel and design. There’s a time and place for corporate cleanliness but this is a music and family festival after all! Whilst moving to a responsive design can introduce some restrictions on design or at least make it trickier to ‘go wild’ as we may have done previously, we’ve done our best to retain the fun with the new site and to extend the design aspect with the available screen size.

A few people have already asked about the banner and footer artwork incorporated into the design. This stunning artwork was initially hand-drawn using an Intuos tablet by my Wife and Propeller partner, Renee. The bold hand-drawn illustrations have an organic, slightly retro style inspired by the fun and relaxed atmosphere of the festival.

Visitors hopping between phones, tablets and desktop may notice some nice switches of the artwork as the display stretches out. Stay tuned with RedFest to see how this style bends and flexes in coming years. We had hoped to introduce some CSS3 animation to the artwork but with the festival upon us this is another area for next year’s wish list.

Back-office efficiencies

RedFest is a non-profit organisation which relies heavily on a volunteer committee and staff and as such any way we could save some time and / or paperwork contributes to the festival’s ongoing viability. Several areas where we could create significant efficiencies by offloading various paper-based collateral to the website were highlighted and have already been implemented – reducing the need for programs for example. The second stage of the new site development will extend to integrating the vendor, artist and volunteer application and management process to the site, taking away much of the current back-office paperwork and duplication.

New high-speed infrastructure

Up to 2014 the festival has relied on straightforward cPanel-based hosting. The introduction of ExpressionEngine and the shift to the site being used as a real-time program and information desk prompted us to rethink the hosting and cacheing strategies to keep the site running as quickly as possible even during periods of peak demand.

With websites such as RedFest this is a tricky balancing act. For 11 months of the year, the site is almost dormant but then ramps up to a peak of huge demand during the week of the festival. With our new focus on people using the site on the day, we expect this to be much greater this year and thus far the statistics are bearing that out.

We deployed the new RedFest site on dedicated ExpressionEngine-optimised hosting from our preferred partner, Nexcess. Nexcess’ Brisbane-based, ExpressionEngine hosting plans are super-fast and optimised for the platform.

In order to take as much load off the CMS as possible we have used CE:cache throughout and hooked this up to memory-based cacheing courtesy of the Nexcess EEPAU-300 hosting rig. Early testing is showing the new RedFest site to be lightning fast on desktop, tablet or mobile. How this holds up on the day under peak load remains to be seen although I strongly suspect Telstra’s mobile network will prove more of a bottleneck on the day than our infrastructure ; )

We are proud of our ongoing involvement with RedFest and thank the Committee for entrusting us with the website again and look forward to bringing more of our ideas to fruition over the next year in time for RedFest 2015.

Anyway, that’s it for 2014. We hope everyone enjoys and gets the most out of the new site and RedFest 2014. See you there!

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