Our final project focuses on content management for Unison Arts (http://www.unisonarts.org/), a non-profit arts organization in New Paltz, NY. The website requires a system for content management, as it does not currently seem to employ one. Our analysis proposes improvements to simplify data entry and retrieval for the main content types that fill the website: events, artists and staff, multimedia (images, video, and audio) and venues. The existing website consists of a flat, static HTML file system with a navigable drop-down menu at the top of each page. The website is updated manually whenever there is an event happening at any of the organization’s several venues. The organization would be considered a hybrid bricks-and-clicks operation as it has both a physical venue and a web presence to facilitate community outreach. Our proposal also considers the organization’s content management needs beyond just the website, realizing that content can be re-used for print publications or for internal staff workflows.
Unison Arts is funded by the New York State Council for the Arts and Poets & Writers, Inc. The tagline and vision for the website is “A not-for-profit organization dedicated to enriching cultural life and community in the Mid-Hudson Valley by making high quality arts, performances and educational programs accessible to all.” Their clientele encompasses artists, families and adults, from children to senior citizens, who live in the Hudson Valley. The website’s visitors are primarily looking for programs and classes to attend, or activities to participate in within the community. Our suggestions will be geared towards the usability needs of this arts community, including artists and their respective audiences.
Evaluation of the Current Website
The current website for Unison Arts serves as a prime example of the need for a content management system. Each page currently appears to be hand-coded, and the website credits just one webmaster. Non-profit arts organizations such as Unison Arts are typically underfunded, and depend on hard-working staff to do a great deal with very little in the way of resources. It is easy to imagine that this one person is responsible for a website that in a for-profit corporation might be handled by a much larger team. A simple content management system is just the thing to make it much easier for a team of one to stay on top of such a volume of information.
There has been an effort to incorporate social media onto the homepage, but no content management system for its audio-visual promotional material. Images that link to external social media profiles for the organization were incorporated into the homepage to convey, as sense of currency, new media technologies.
The following screenshot (Figure 1) of the existing homepage shows the clutter of content that appears on the homepage of the organization. It appears that the organization aims to engage visitors by making a wide range of content available on its homepage and drop-down menus, yet repeated content on each page makes browsing difficult for a visitor due to redundancy of similar information. The screenshot shows the drop-down menu under the “About Unison” navigation tab, which show a lengthy list of fifteen items that appear in other places on the site. In fact, the listings informally presented on the left side of the homepage are alternative, colloquial-toned version of links to similar materials.
Under “About Unison,” the calendar page offers an overview of scheduled activities the organization is running for one month. The calendar is not navigable and its layout is unformatted. Ideally a dynamic and a self-refreshing calendar that is embedded from an external calendar client or an XML schema would be more accessible and organized for the user. To keep the artist and local community informed on upcoming events, Unison Arts also offers calendar subscription programs that may be utilized on both Mac and PC platforms’ calendar software, such as iCal, Outlook, and Google. While this is convenient for users that have no time to visit the website, the layout of this page is textual and verbose.
A diagram of the current site layout (Figure 2) shows the highly nested nature of pages, including standard information you would expect on any website (such as staff contact information). The non-standardized resolution of the site makes it difficult to view, as the scrolling differs from page to page. On this diagram, the green items represent content types that are repeatedly used throughout the site, as shown by the confusing web of arrows connecting them across the diagram.
A Summary of Organization Services
The Unison Arts website offers services such as event promotion and publicity, artist networking and outreach, community entertainment, and ticketing pertaining to cultural events such as poetry readings, craft shows, and art exhibitions. The interactive local navigation bar at the top sorts different types of information in terms of labels pertaining to activities and services offered by the institution (i.e. “Programs”,”About Unison”, “Artists”, “Arts Partners”, “Venues”, “Donate”, “…etc.). Taking into account the fact that it has seven labels, the website has a “broad and deep” structure. While the drop-down menus serve as a way of categorizing information of high granularity, the long lists of labels create an overwhelming sense of nested information on the website. Furthermore, some labels within the dropdown menus bear little relevance to the parent label. For example, “Box Office Policies” is not directly related to “About Unison”, and would be more accurate under “Venues” or even as a link to any of the “Theatre pages”. This overwhelming arrangement may discourage the user from finding the information they need quickly enough. The multitude of possible hyperlinks results in low click-incentive and high bounce rates from the page to external websites. In some instances, it would require the user to navigate through two levels of website directory to find information.
As demonstrated by the inclusion of hyperlinks to a video on their homepage, there is no existing system of embedding video content. There is none for sorting images, nor managing membership on Unison Arts’ website. Artist-members of the website are sorted by alphabetical indexing of artist surnames and a bullet-pointed listing of their specialty practices. “Artist Partners” is a label on the navigation toolbar that leads to a page with alphabetical indexing of external hyperlinks to affiliated organizations. Information about administration and financial resources is less valuable to the target audience and more valuable to administration and donors; it will be consolidated with sponsorship information under the “About Us” page.
We have analyzed this website in terms of layout, information organization, and user interaction to create a visualization of its information architecture, and we have created an agenda for improvements. This complex site has multiple content types that would benefit from XML schema, but we chose the five most important content types to focus on: programs, people (staff and artists), images, videos, and venues. We will each develop one or more schemas, then we will share the work of developing the schemas and editing our suggestions in the final implementation examples.
Recommendations for Redesign
The diagram below (Figure 3) represents our plan for compressing all the information of the site into a more organized format, eliminating unnecessary redundancy.
After an assessment of the main purpose of the website, we decided that navigation items such as “Arts Partners” and “Donate” were irrelevant to the primary functions of the website for its audience. Users would not be likely to click these labels. Thus, the content of “Partners” would be merged with that of “Sponsors.” Sponsorship information is found on every event page of the current site and is highly relevant to the affiliate organizations that Unison Arts aligns themselves with. Workshop and classes, as well as media such as video and audio clips would go under “Programs.” They will not need to be represented as navigation items; rather, visitors will be able to search or filter through all programs, to focus on workshops, children’s programs, or other desired categories. Instead of the unwieldy calendar that is currently on the site, or the calendar widget on the right sidebar of the homepage, the site will be able to cross-reference from individual dates and times of Program entries to populate a more user-friendly calendar display.
As video production in itself is not a pertinent part of Unison Arts’ mandate (videos represent live performance events) videos would be located under “Programs,” instead of having their own navigation tab. They would have cross-links with other artists, events and videos. Images would be related to other items in the same way. For the schema that sorts artist and staff information, a “person” content type would be created to differentiate between categories of artist and staff member. This was decided on since staff members may also be artists. The “Donate” and “Venues” label venues will be relocated as a child labels to “About Unison”. On the lower left section of the existing homepage, artists are encouraged to register on an external network called “The Arts Map” (http://www.theartsmap.com/). This hyperlink is removed to keep visitors on the Unison Arts website.
Improvements Geared towards Community Outreach
On the redesigned and improved website, the “Artists” label would feature small image thumbnails that would represent the different genres of art that are practiced by artists who are involved with Unison Art (i.e. crafts, sculpture, group exercise…etc). We noticed that artists had only provided their website, while staff members provided their email. Many of them didn’t have personal websites. Providing an element name for their email would be a consideration towards artist marketing and outreach.
We felt that a schema written with XSL “if-when” or “if-otherwise” functions would efficiently search and identify person types such as artists or staff who were affiliated with Unison Arts. Furthermore, it would be possible to implement a search function that would search for artists based on their first and/or last names, and media of specialization (i.e. painting or sculpture). However, having all community members organized under one person type would also allow for other kinds of content management beyond the website, such as easy internal staff access to a contact directory, and even the possibility of printing a contact booklet.
As it is also frequently updated, we decided the blog would be important as a button on the navigational toolbar. External links to subscriptions, mailing lists, and sponsorships would be in the footer on every post in order for the brand image to reach the maximum audiences online. We have decided to introduce a “Contact” page on the navigation bar. This would include staff emails, an embedded map to its address, links to subscriptions, mailing lists, and opening hours.
Improvements Geared Towards Higher Usability
Most of our improvements were made with concerns in regards to the relevance of information types across a range of pages on the Unison Arts website. A large number of labels under the “About Unison” drop-down menu will be dispersed as content elements throughout the site. For example, the “Unison Movie” promotional video would be relocated to the “About Unison” page and also connected to the “FAQ” – but ultimately, it is a video content type and is stored with all the other videos, for easier organization and preservation.
We found that information about programs was one of the most important functions of the website, and that most other content types are directly related to programs. Our program schema with dates, times, and instructors of events and activities will be very important. This program information could directly populate an improved, self-updating calendar system, which we consider necessary for the most effective functionality of the website, although the implementation of such a calendar system will be beyond the scope of our project.
There were aspects of the existing website that we chose to retain in order to adhere to the prototypical layout of arts organizations websites. Although the “Home” button that takes users back to the homepage appears redundant, we decided to retain its place on the global navigation bar. Its presence would help older users to easily find a path back to the index page, unlike younger users who maybe be more accustomed to clicking the header to return to the home page. Meanwhile, the homepage will link to donation and volunteering information, which would also be found in the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ).
Our proposed redesign of the Unison Arts website structure is broad and shallow in contrast to its existing architecture. The new layout emphasizes programming and communal events happening at Unison Arts instead of occupying part of the navigation toolbar with fundraising concerns. Meanwhile, media such as audio, video and images would be integrated throughout the website through use of element attributes such as artist name and venue, for much simpler organization and reusability. By maintaining self-explanatory labels like “Home” and “Contact,” we provide denotative, standard information for an arts organization. Meanwhile, sorting artists by medium on the “Artists” page entices users to browse and find creatives more easily. The introduction of a “Blog” navigation label that clicks through to the art center’s blog also highlights the currency of activities–instead of simply archiving events at Unison. Through our redesign of the website structure and schemas with the use of XML, we hope to create a more usable and organized website for Unison Arts Center.