Booking Festival tickets online has Fringe benefits.

28th July 2008

In 2004, User Vision reviewed the Festival websites for the The Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. This article The Show Will Go On(line): The Edinburgh Festival reviewed the experience Festival goers could expect as they attempted to browse events, search for specific events and purchase their tickets online. Overall the results showed that neither site made the process of parting with your cash as painless as it could be. As it is nearly Festival season in Edinburgh, Scotland, User Vision have once again decided to take a look at these sites to see if any lessons have been learned and take another look at what this year's estimated 750,000+ visitors will face online.

Taking a look at some of the figures from last year shows that the Edinburgh Fringe Festival alone sold over 1.7 million tickets for over 31,000 performances. The Fringe Festival makes up 75% of the market share of attendances at Edinburgh's year-round Festivals with 44% of those ticket purchases being conducted through the Fringes online ticketing operation at A simple calculation indicates that this site alone deals with around 750,000 ticket sales. The importance of a good experience on the Festival website cannot be ignored.


Fringe Festival

Screenshot of the fringe festival websiteThe Fringe homepage remains similar to the previous year's incarnation, giving the viewer a good idea with what they can achieve on the site. The design attempts to follow the branding of the Fringe brochure utilizing the primary navigation options on the left hand side allowing an easy scan of what is available to the viewer. The content of the main page delivers short punchy sections giving the viewer a taste of the deeper content in the site. In addition, the images used are as colourful and attractive as the Festival itself. A good number of useful links are provided on the right hand side of the page, with tools such as ‘What's new at the Fringe', ordering programmes and Box Office times. But how do you search for a show, or buy a ticket? No clear calls to action are obvious from the homepage only the sharp eyed will notice the lower case ‘shows 2008' tab provided under the ‘home' option in the left hand menu.

International Festival

The homepage of the International Festival has enjoyed a more dramatic makeover from previous years. Gone are the limited features and extensive use of white space; in come an intense deep red and a more abstract feel with a high use of quality images and JavaScript. Unlike the Fringe site, this site places its Edinburgh International Festival website homepagenavigation along the very top of the page. An unexpected and unconventional positioning, potentially putting it out of the view of many visitors.  However the four simple tabs used are clearly labelled ‘Booking Info', ‘Visiting Edinburgh', ‘About the Festival' and ‘News'. This is a marked improvement from last year. The user is left in little doubt about the tasks they can perform on this page with the search options, placed front and centre capturing the users view immediately below the main navigation options. However the main page is dominated by a JavaScript driven graphic display which alternates between clickable tiles of randomly generated shows or individual show banners. These images are clear and striking, again, improved from last year, but resulting in other information being forced below the page fold. The welcome message itself is relegated to the bottom section of the page alongside the ‘Latest News', useful features that now require the user to scroll to locate. 

Search and Results

As with previous years, both Festivals have a diverse 3 week programme with performances being held across the city. This presents a challenge as the search facility has to consider a number of variables when searching, such as type of show, date and location. Both the Fringe and International Festival sites have therefore tried to accommodate these options by providing a variety of search methods.

Fringe Festival

Screenshot of the basic search facility on the Fringe websiteThe Fringe Festival initially presents the user with a search function asking them to input the name of the show they are looking for (assuming they know the name) or to leave blank to browse for all, a daunting prospect when you consider this delivers a list of 1908 individual results.

Screenshot of the fringe festival advanced search facility showing all the options a user can use to refine their searchThe advanced search/visit planner directs the user through a more expected route, by offering them the ability to specify searches through time of day, date and type of show. This function also allows the user to specify the show name (again, if known) and has some useful additional functions like being able to select shows that have ‘2 for 1' offers or preview shows. This search allows users to leave items blank, or to leave possible dates and times open to return results of a wider range of results. However it is not immediately clear that areas can be left blank as there are no instructions to specify this.

screenshot of search results from the fringe websiteWhen returning search results, the Fringe search presents the user with a clear table of the available shows, indicating the number of shows found in total and structuring them alphabetically. Each show listing is clearly labelled showing the title, artist, genre, more information links and any special offers clearly marked. However, the listings offer the user no indication of the show's content and therefore its suitability. In order to locate a suitable show, the user would need to read a review of each show, clicking the more information link to expand the show to see the description. In addition, the user is unable to alter search criteria from the results page and a new search must be undertaken each time. One notable absence from the search process is the consideration of being able to filter or organise shows by ticket price, venue or category of show etc.

International Festival

screenshot of the festival search facility on the homepage of the websiteIn comparison to the Fringe, the International Festival is considerably smaller, with only 95 shows. However, this site still offers the user the same two methods of searching as the previous site. NB. The genre drop downs have now been replaced with 6 tabs to indicate the art genres, although it may not be clear to users what the ‘Insights' tab refers to. Dropdown menus are provided to select the date and a ‘Site search' function is also provided to allow a keyword search of the site. One other method of searching the site for shows is to click directly on the image tiles that periodically appear on the homepage. These links take you directly to the shows information and booking page. This provides a useful direct link to the show required, which will be of more benefit to the core number of festival goers who attend every year and have extensive knowledge of the arts. However, it is less likely to be useful to many other visitors.

Screenshot of a performance page showing the book now buttons and performance detailsThe International Festival site provides a wide range of methods for organising search results. As the search criteria is persistent throughout the site, the user is always able to perform a new search. Once search results have been provided the user has the ability to customise how to display the results, using the ‘detail' or ‘list view'. Although the International Festival provides the user with numerous search and organisation criteria, the placement and clarity of these options is less clear. The organisation criteria are poorly differentiated and do not stand out as functions at the top of the search results. If these functions are overlooked, it may be hard to understand how results are organised. Following the link of a chosen event, the user is taken to the bookings page where they are given ‘Event Information', ‘Performance details' and ‘Booking Information'. 

Unlike in 2004, both sites now utilise a general site search, whereas previously only the Fringe site offered this function. Being able to perform general searches is useful as the user may only be able to search fromScreenshot of an error message on the fringe site.  Message says "soory we could not find anything to match your search" the information they know about a show, rather than the searching for the exact show name. However, as noted in 2004, there is a distinct lack of search assistance. Currently the Fringe site returns no search results for a search of ‘Ed Burn' instead of the correct spelling ‘Ed Byrne'. Other exceptions not handled well by the search function is the inclusion of ‘&' instead of spelling the word or alternative spellings for words such Aluminium, where the exact spelling (British or American) must match the exact show title. Compare this to Google, who offer alternative or best guess suggestions alongside the search results (if any).


Not much has changed regarding mandatory registration to book tickets as both sites require this at some stage before purchase. This is not an experience visitors enjoy, but one that most are resigned to complete as a part of online purchasing. In the article of 2004, an improved registration experience was suggested if:

  • The process is short with only essential details asked for.
  • Data protection, privacy and security information is clearly visible.
  • Opting in/out for features like mailing lists is obvious.
  • The registration is seamlessly integrated into the wider process (e.g. purchasing)

Keeping this in mind, we took a look at the current registration process for both the Fringe and International Festival sites.

Fringe Festival

Fringe festival registration pageThe Fringe site has clear register and log-in links on the homepage making the register process clear from the start of the search. However, task orientated users are less likely to use this function when searching for shows. When booking tickets using the Fringe site, the user can search and review shows, even select their preferred show date and delivery of tickets before being asked to begin the registration process by signing in. Once providing an email address the user is told they must register to continue, they are then redirected to the registration form.

International Festival

The International Festival site approaches registration in a different way, a method which they have maintained since User Vision's usability review in 2004.  When users click the "Book now" link a new website opens in a new window. This sudden change is often confusing to users who may believe they have clicked the wrong link. Where possible, the International Festival should have registration on the same page as the purchase process. However, where a third party site is required, users should be clearly informed that the link will open a new window to avoid confusion. As in 2004, the new page has no browser controls, but unlike 2004, there is no logo to click to take the user to the homepage of the ‘The Hub' website, leaving users to rely on browser controls. In one instance if a wrong ticket selection is made, the user cannot go back to change it forcing the user to cancel the order and start again. Only once the user proceeds to the checkout are they presented with the registration form.

The benefits of registering are explained to the user of the Fringe site. A screen in the purchase process is dedicated to this. The explanation even states that users will have the option to opt-into news updates, and not be automatically signed up. Unfortunately, no such explanation is evident for the International Festival. It may not be clear to users why the site requires such personal information. Neither site so far mentions security or confidentiality of information, a service that can be valuable to users. By simply informing the users that phone numbers are needed to inform them of problems with their bookings, or addresses required for postal delivery of tickets, customers may be reassured and better prepared to undertake the process.

By employing ‘passive registration', the process itself may be made considerably less frustrating for users. Passive registration allows the registration process to be completed at the end of the purchase process, using much of the information already asked for during the purchase process. This means the purchase process is not impeded and the user does not feel under pressure to register prior to being able to search and identify the tickets they are after.


Fringe Festival

Performance page of the fringe site showing all the performance times available each with their own book now buttonOne of the greatest obstacles to the Fringe website is the large number of steps required to purchase a ticket. Eight steps are taken from the homepage in order to select a show, date and ticket. Only after this are users prompted to input their email in order to begin the registration process. Another 6 steps are required to complete the purchase. This 14-step process seems excessive as this process divides the delivery information, payment details etc. into separate steps. Interestingly, the progress indicator available only outlines the last 4 steps of the process from the checkout to purchase. Another returning feature of the Fringe site is the personal schedule that is held in the ‘My Fringe' section, this useful feature provides the facility to place notes, and adds shows to a calendar. At this stage it is unclear how shows can be added to the schedule.

International Festival

A screenshot of the edinburgh festivals performance page showing the times and booking buttons for the showThe International Festival site registration form requires the user's personal details, address and payment details in a single form. Upon completion, the International Festival links to the HUB site, requiring a search for tickets again. This may cause a significant problem as the user is now required to search again, using a different search process. As the International website uses a 3rd party site to manage the basket, viewing the basket contents opens in a new window.

When booking a show using the International Festival site, reduced options are available. This is partly due to a greater limitation on show dates. This site, therefore, does not require long lists of dates with Screenshot of the edinburgh festival booking pagewhich to confuse the viewer. Instead the viewer is presented with a calendar, clearly indicating the show dates as well as clear buttons for selecting the specific performances. When completing the payment process, mandatory fields are clearly visible on the International Festival site, but lacking on many important fields on the Fringe website. Even the terms and conditions, which must be checked before purchase can be made is not indicated as mandatory. If this field is not completed, a pop-up window appears stating it must be completed. When incorrect purchase information is used, or omitted, again no error messages appear; directing the user back to the purchase details page, where they receive a message saying they have not selected a credit card type. Further omissions or incorrect input data results in a page refresh with little or no additional error assistance provided. Almost the entire process can be completed on the website up to the point of providing payment before an error message appears. Only when payment is checked is any indication of missing or inaccurate information presented.

The International Festival site works better with a short pop-up message indicating that payment details will now be checked, and where missing fields may be present, a pop up message also tells you which fields are missing. However, within the form there is no other assistance. No field assistance is provided as to the correct format of the postcode or phone numbers. In addition, no indication as to which fields have been input incorrectly, either as a list at the start of the form, or indicated in the form itself is provided. Completing this form must be a daunting prospect for non-English speakers or foreign visitors, of which there are many at these events.


Neither site has vastly improved the accessibility since 2004. The Fringe site shows a small consideration by providing controls to alter text size which may help users with poor eyesight; however neither site provided an accessibility statement. It is clear that both sites would fail the most basic level of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines standards (level ‘A').

Fringe Festival

Upon trying to complete the forms on the Fringe Festival site, more accessibility issues appear. Form fields are not strongly associated with their corresponding fields, mandatory asterisks and field assistance is error message showing that the page contains PostDatagenerally presented after the fields and form assistance is not always provided within fields that require specific inputs such as phone numbers or postcodes. More concerning is the facility to input almost any information without the fields being checked. Postcodes, emails and even bank details are not checked at the time of input. More recently the Fringe site has been updated to include a smooth scrolling of expanded fields (such as selecting your postal address). This pushes the rest of the form below the page fold, including the proceed buttons and is disorientating for users. On the subject of buttons, the form also does not offer a ‘back' button at any stage, and if the user selects ‘back' using the browser controls, they are presented with a pop-up error that requires a level of technical knowledge to understand.

International Festival

Screenshot of the seating plan on the Edinburgh festival siteThe International Festival accommodates information about accessibility of the venues on their site, but this link is positioned half way down the page. The International Festival design is also reliant on JavaScript. With JavaScript disabled this functionality does not work. It may not be clear what can be clicked if the cursor does not change when hovering over the links. This means that booking of shows will not function at all as the new booking page will not open. Sites should still work without JavaScript enabled, although it is accepted they may work at a reduced level of functionality. A number of issues with the International Festival site are also present. It is not clear that the user needs to click within the section of the theatre in order to initiate seat selection and booking; the image simply looks like a floor plan with no clear indication of interactivity. The forms themselves use small text that often has poor contrast with the background colour, making the booking process a challenge for those with poor eyesight.


Like the article of 2004, our examination of the Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival websites have highlighted a plethora of positive and more often, negative usability and accessibility issues. For both sites the most serious issues arose when trying to book tickets and complete the required forms. The Fringe site has a cumbersome 14-step process to move from selecting a show to purchasing tickets. There is also no indication that the inputted details will be saved in order to retrieve them on a return visit. The International Festival directs users to The Hub website when purchasing tickets. As a result, users must search for tickets again using a different system which is time consuming and frustrating. Both sites fail to effectively explain the benefits of registering or make them aware that they must do this in order to purchase tickets.

A brief look at the accessibility of both sites also highlighted some basic errors that could make the search and purchase process very difficult. Neither site is user friendly for those who suffer from physical, cognitive or sensory disabilities. The standard of usability and accessibility of these sites will inevitably affect the customer service provided and this could have a knock on effect on ticket sales. This is particularly evident on the Fringe site where multiple bookings were accidentally made, leaving hundreds of customers very frustrated and dissatisfied.

 Summary Table







 Edinburgh festival logo Edinburgh fringe logo
HomepageIntense dark red colours and use of high quality images. JavaScript is relied upon for much of the dynamic image content. Clear search and booking options.

3 columns, colourful and attractive with good short descriptions of shows and useful links. However it is not clear how to search for shows or buy tickets? 

Search options
Clear search and booking options on the homepage. No clear search options on the homepage.  User has to search using the ‘shows 2008' tab  
 Yes Yes
 Date Yes Yes
 Time No Yes
 Keyword Yes   Yes
 Price No No
Search results
Default listings are presented 4 to a page with an image, title, artist, genre and links to further information. Set out in a clear table listing details on the title, artist, and genre with links to further information.
 DescriptionA show tag line is provided. No show description is provided.
 OrganisationBy listings view, results per page or date order. Alphabetically


No register/log-in on the homepage
Register/log-in on the homepage.  
 MandatoryRegistration is mandatory for booking tickets.
Registration is mandatory for booking tickets.
 InitiationRegistration begins automatically during the booking process is conducted.
Registration begins automatically during the booking process is conducted.
 SimplicityConfusing as registration opens in a new window. Small text and poor form feedback. No error feedback or form assistance. Long process, no form feedback, no error feedback, no security or confidentiality message.
Booking opens in a new window, single form to complete.
Lengthy process, multiple forms
No Limited
Not all are included
 ErrorsPop-up message with no form assistance. Incorrect input information is not checked until payment.  Incorrectly input information is not noted. Only upon payment is the information checked.
Relies heavily on JavaScript, image and booking functions do not work with JavaScript switched off.
Allows text size to be rescaled.

Written by Jamie Sands and Lorraine Paterson

What can you do next?

Want this article on your website?

If you liked this article, feel free to republish it on your own website. All that we ask is that you include the citation below, including links, at the end of the article.

This article was written by Jamie Sands. Jamie is a User Experience Consultants at User Vision, a usability and accessibility consultancy that helps clients gain a competitive advantage through improved ease of use.

From first meeting to final presentation the approach was impressive and professional. Very good at interpreting our requirements at the same time as introducing new issues to our team.

Internet Project Leader, Aberdeenshire Council.