User Experience Review - Edinburgh Festival Fringe
1st August 2011
The Edinburgh Fringe is the world’s largest arts festival with hundreds of different acts performing thousands of shows over 3 weeks in August. The main site for selling tickets is www.edfringe.com which has the challenging task of presenting and selling thousands of tickets online for the vast variety of shows. We take a closer look at the user experience and since it has been recently revamped we can compare it to the previous version of the site which we reviewed in 2008 and 2004
The home page is very welcoming, inviting the user to check out a short movie on the photography behind the fringe’s theme with the 3 coloured characters that adorn the site and printed programme.
The search tool is generally easy to use and provides useful filter options such as finding shows within certain date ranges and time periods, or selecting for only 2 for 1 shows, category or age suitability. These are shown on the guided navigation list to the left which has the number of shows within each category. This allows user to refine their search results according to the age, genre, category, and country of origin.
The guided navigation filters and the recently viewed shows functions help users find shows they are interested in and compare between them
To provide such a filtering requires all shows to be carefully and consistently categorized – an impressive effort considering the number of shows. Many users have grown used to such filtered search functionality, for example on leading fashion retail sites, and it will certainly help people to find shows according to their own criteria. Equally useful is the “recently viewed” listing that appears on the left when on a page for an individual show, making it easy to jump between shows you are interested in and compare them.
People that know the name of the show they are seeking are more likely to use search than to browse through categories. Improvements have generally been made to the spelling flexibility in the search to replicate the “did you mean?” type functionality in Google. Previously a search for Ed Burn would not get any results for the popular Irish comedian Ed Byrne, but that is not longer the case.
Lack of flexibility is shown in some search queries
Spelling flexibility is especially useful for people who may have heard of a show by word of mouth but are unsure how to spell it. There are still some areas where the search algorithm could work better. For instance a children’s comedy show call Amoeba to Zebra provides no results if I simply type Ameoba (spelled incorrectly) into the search and the results page does not re-state what my search query is so that I can correct it. However a search for a wider query such as “amoeba zebra” does return the correct result.
Another area for refinement is in the definition of categories and genres. A search for Camille O’Sullivan within the category of Cabaret provides no results. However another search selecting the category of Music will provide the correct result and also show that the genre is Cabaret. Providing Cabaret as both a category and a genre in this case led to search errors, and similar results may occur with other shows but it seems these are the exception to the rule.
Excessive Pogo Sticking
One drawback is the unnecessary travelling between the category listing pages for search results or for a category (such as comedy) and the product pages in order to make a booking. This repeated movement from the listing page to the product page and back is known as pogo sticking and is great annoyance to most users.In this case the pogo sticking could be avoided by better signposting to the user. The detail on the listing page is relatively extensive describing the show as well as all the essential information on venue, time, performer and duration but surprisingly no price indication (e.g. “tickets from” price).
There is no obvious call to action however to either bookmark the show or buy a ticket. Of course buying a ticket requires the selection of a date, and it is actually possible to do that from the horizontal calendar at the bottom of the listed item. However there is no clear call to action that invites the user to select a date for the tickets, nor is there the usual visual feedback of the cursor changing to a pointing finger when hovering over a selected date to indicate that it is a link. Without such visual cues and feedback, many users will not realise that they can select the date and start a booking from the listing page, and instead take the extra step of going to the individual show page and starting the booking from there.
In the item in the listing pages there is no clear call to action to either bookmark the show or select a date to start booking a ticket.
A further navigation problem is that after going to the page to read the full show description, if the user clicks the browser back button they will not go to the listing page that they came from, but to the very first listing page instead. For someone who was on the 5th listing page for a category, they will then have to re-find their place, which causes more distracting navigation. There is a “back to search” button on the left that does take you back to the place in the list, but as we often find in usability testing, many people will simply use the browser button and become disoriented.
An important income stream for the Fringe surely is the banner ads for shows which appear repeatedly on the right side of the page when the user is viewing a listing page. However the ads do not seem to be targeted according to the types of shows being browsed, meaning the shows being advertised are less engaging or persuasive in pulling people through the site. Most obviously, I seemed to get cross sales for very adult comedy such as Adam Kay’s Smutty Songs while browsing only for children’s shows.
Example of advertisements not being customised for the type of shows browsed
Bookmarking and Buying
The bookmarking of shows is an essential useful function for people that are likely to feel overwhelmed by the number of shows which all sound fantastic, and gives them the chance to create a short list of shows which they can share with others.
Another useful feature was the ‘download calendar’ which opened up an Outlook calendar and also can be copied into other formats.
Warning users when the items they placed in their shopping basket are about to expire demonstrates good stock control for tickets in demand.
The booking process itself was straightforward and follows most of the best practice for shopping basket and checkout, including a progress bar, clear itemisation of charges, a persistent mini-basket during the checkout to remind me what I am buying, options for delivery or collection of tickets and immediate confirmation by email of purchase. Necessarily, there is careful “stock management” for tickets so that if I put something in my basket I have a limited period of time for which it is reserved for me. When I am logged in and still browsing I am proactively notified that the reservation is about to expire, thus avoiding frustration at the checkout.
The site needs to cater for the widest audience and that includes those with disabilities. Clearly some thought has been put into the accessibility, and a widget has been provided for easy variation of the text size and contrast. There is good use of hidden form labels for the search at the top of each page making these accessible to users of screen readers, and the main navigation provided as a semantic list.
However there are some aspects to the site design that will impede or prevent online browsing and booking by people with certain disabilities
- Poor contrast between some text and background colours and also reliance on colours to provide the meaning of some content (e.g. the different colours for the 2 for 1, free and standard show prices) which would be inaccessible to screen readers.
- Inappropriate alternative text for image banners (null alt text instead of populated alt text makes them invisible to screen readers).
- Form fields without label elements on the show search on the left, making them difficult, if not impossible for screen reader users.
- Date picker calendars cannot be accessed using the keyboard
- No skip links direct to the page content
- No sitemap or accessibility statement regarding the site (only about the venues)
Overall the Edinburgh Fringe site has improved since its previous versions. There are several improvements allowing the user to have greater control and clarity when searching for shows, whether they are casually browsing and searching for a comedy show, or if they know and exact performed and date. Providing features such as filtering in the navigation is critical when so many shows are on offer and such a wide variety of tastes and web experience to be catered for.
The bookmarking for registered users, calendar download and relatively seamless purchase process will also make this version of the Fringe site easier to use and more supporting of online purchases, and the conversion rates should be higher than with the previous site. Only a few areas in the search, cross sales and accessibility are likely to provide stumbling blocks for most users.
What can you do next?
- Read some more usability and accessibility articles.
- Evaluate your internal search and the general usability of your site through usability testing.
- Attend one of our usability training courses.
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This article was written by Chris Rourke . Chris is the Managing Director of User Vision, a usability and accessibility consultancy that helps clients gain a competitive advantage through improved ease of use.