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Southbank Centre

Simplifying complexity

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Sector

Culture & attractions

Comprising four main venues and an average of 3000 events hosted each year, Southbank Centre is the largest arts centre in the UK and one of the nation's top five visitor attractions.

With Drupal 7 facing scheduled end of life in November 2021, the team at Southbank Centre realised the need to not only upgrade their legacy site before support ceased, but also to grasp the opportunity to streamline the immense complexity of selling such a large number of events, and optimise the user experience to drive better conversion.

Together with Dutch creative agency Today Tomorrow, Deeson was commissioned to undertake the vast and complex rebuild.

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The challenge

Southbank Centre outlined 4 key focus areas for their rebuild:

  1. Upgrade from the outdated Drupal 7 system to Drupal 8
  2. Alignment with their visual identity to showcase the new Southbank Centre brand
  3. A foundation which allows them to adapt to a digital landscape and power digital marketing efforts such as bundled ticket purchasing and membership promotions
  4. ‘Search, tell and sell’ deliverability for improved browsing, selecting and discovery of events and exhibitions

With varying behaviours amongst visitor segments, the integration of third-party ticketing systems and digital asset management, robust filtering requirements for event listings, and the sheer volume of event types – each with different feature requirements – it became apparent the challenge was ensuring the complexity of build, feature and functionality translated into a simple and seamless experience for not only the site audience, but also the site editors.

The solution

With a focus on almost brutal simplicity in regard to design, navigation and usability, we sought to develop a site which feels intuitive to use and edit, which shows visitors the right content at the right time and which is visually striking.

It was of the utmost importance that while the build requirements are intricate and complex, the experience of using the website is anything but.

Led by bold design and visually stimulating imagery, video and animation the site is not only aesthetically pleasing, but also simple to navigate and simple to customise.

Landing pages were designed with customisation functionality for editors looking to create visually attractive event pages beyond rigid template restrictions, adapt layouts for different art forms or venues, add price promotions, or customise membership messaging.

In the CMS this is supported by a component-based structure that offers editors a lot of freedom to add content, order pages, and edit information from the event system we integrated with. Because Drupal 8 is used as a ‘headless’ CMS, with a React based frontend, the CMS doesn’t limit the user experience. Event data is pulled in from the back office Artifax system, and media from digital asset management system Bynder. For ticket booking and user accounts we integrated the site with Southbank Centre’s ticketing solution, based on Tessitura.

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The approach

The discovery process consisted of workshops with all departments of the Southbank Centre, reviewing business objectives, and discussing the performance of the site. Sessions were completed with Southbank Centre’s leadership team, setting the ambition and concept sign off.

This concept was developed in close collaboration between strategist/UX designer, visual designer, lead developer and product owner.

Design continued in parallel with the development sprints, so developers could feed into the feasibility of the design. We also held weekly sessions to jointly define and prioritise the user stories.

The results

It will come as a shock to no one that Covid-19, and the resulting cancellation of physical events, impacted the traffic of the Southbank Centre drastically. However, looking at qualitative metrics, the rebuild has been a success.

User feedback research reflected that visitors on both desktop and mobile found the site easier to navigate, more fitting the brand, and a better tool to decide what to visit.

Also, the new site’s flexibility allowed the Southbank Centre to be agile and adapt with speed, offering broadcast events online, reach global audiences digitally and diversify their revenue streams – all without the need for additional development or build investment.

In summary

Close collaboration was at the heart of the partnership with Southbank Centre and design agency Today Tomorrow to achieve the collective vision. The result is a visually impactful website that is both simple and playful to use, whilst being underpinned by a robust, and scalable, technical foundation.

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