Redesigning the York Festival of Ideas website

If you’ve visited the website for the 2019 York Festival of Ideas, you may have noticed that it has a brand new look. This post describes the process of designing the new site, and the new functionality we’ve developed for event listings in the web CMS as part of the project.

The background

The Festival has been running since 2012, following a smaller pilot the year before. Although the Festival itself has grown hugely over the years, it’s been using the same website design and functionality the whole time, bar the odd tweak here and there.

The 2017 Festival homepage

As well as the design itself looking dated, the site required extra maintenance each year from the Digital team just to keep it running, as it was built in a different way to other content in the web CMS.

For the 2019 Festival we were keen to improve the design, add new functionality and make it easier to maintain.

Starting the process

In January we met with the Events team to get a better idea about their priorities for the site and the timescales that we would need to work to.

As well as exploring what would be most useful to attendees of the Festival, we were also looking for ways to make the site easier to populate for the Festival team, as there would be over 200 events to input.

The Events team had already been using our new events template in the CMS for the Open Lectures series so were familiar with what it could do. They also had ideas for functionality from other websites.

As the Festival happens as a fixed time, we needed to be confident about what we could deliver and when, to make sure that the site was ready to be populated in time to launch at the start of May.

Improving the look

The new Festival website uses what we’re calling a ‘Themed’ version of the Digital Pattern Library Templates. This allows us to create designs that have a different visual identity to the main University website, but are built using the same CMS content types as other York pages so they are easier for us to maintain.

We’ve used the same approach for the recently-launched York Unlimited campaign.

The theme, combined with the use of strong imagery throughout, gives the Festival website its own distinct look.

Simplifying navigation

As the Festival has grown over the years, lots of extra content has been added to the site, which didn’t always have a logical place to go.

By 2018, the side navigation had grown to a whopping 16 items. It’s now down to a more streamlined 6 items.

Extra functionality

We had already added a lot of functionality to the new Event (2.0) content type when it was introduced last year, but we’ve developed it further for the Festival.

The top section of each event presents all the key information alongside a strong image

Some highlights:

  • Tags: Events in the Festival are grouped into 16 broad themes. We’re now using tags to generate the listings of the events that are in each theme.
  • Event type: CMS users can now select from a predefined list of event types to categorise their event, containing lots of common types. Currently this is used to display information on the event page itself, but in future will be used as a way of filtering events when searching.
  • Audience: If an event is for a particular type of audience or age range, this can be specified in the template.
  • Cancelled events: Inevitably, some events get cancelled. There’s now an easy way to indicate this on the event page. If an event is sold out, there’s an option for that too.
  • Logos: Festival events are delivered in partnership with other organisations around the city, so there are now fields to add logos of any partners.
Tags are used to categorise events by the theme they belong to

As all of this functionality has been incorporated into our main Event content type instead of being Festival-specific. It will be available for use more widely as we roll out the Digital Pattern Library Templates further.

Published by

Paul Kelly

Interim Digital Platforms and Developments Manager

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