South-by-Southwest (SXSW) is a rockin’ set of three festivals that have attracted people from across the world to Austin, Texas since 1987. SXSW is recognized internationally for bringing some of the most creative and talented people in the music, film and interactive industries to share their work and talent with attendees.
Too Much Information
We’ve been going to SXSW Interactive forever, and have watched as as the festivals grow massively:
In its 22 years, SXSW has grown from a tiny music festival in the Texas capital into a massive, unavoidable media beast that reflects, discusses and showcases trends in culture and media but also often creates them. National Post, 3/13/08
Like the festivals, SXSW’s site had become so crowded and beastly, it was difficult to use and near impossible to navigate. With four ever-growing conferences rolled into one site and no IA updates in quite some time, there was a lot to address. Which is why we were just a little nervous when SXSW’s Interactive Festival Producer, Shawn O’Keefe, asked us to re-do the site’s Information Architecture.
We knew we had our work cut out for us.
How We Fixed it
We took a ground up, holistic approach to the IA: We clicked on every single page on the site (no kidding). We did a giant content audit. We reviewed every map and link, to improve “physical way-finding.” We straight-up gutted the thing.
Then, we got to work re-grouping poorly grouped content, creating stronger cross-links, and improving registration and info-gathering—and in the process impressive IA deliverables (4 sitemaps and 26 wireframes). Most importantly, we made an easy-to-use and fun-to-navigate site that meets the needs of an extremely diverse audience: web geeks, film critics, and music hipsters.
We spent quite a bit of time thinking about how people actually use the site and what kinds of information they’re trying to glean from it. Let’s face it, the SXSW experience is more about getting there, meeting people, interacting and having a good time. Not about spending your days and nights on the web looking for information.
Along the lines of last years Design Eye For South By, which was one of the genesis’ of this project, we wanted to facilitate that interaction using technology. We wanted to be your SXSW PIMP (which stands for People Interacting Meeting People.)
Along with our holistic approach we brought the empathy of the conference attendee to the mix, putting a little bit of ourselves into our proposed solutions and using our own frustration with the existing site as creative and problem-solving fuel. it was a hard, complex task as you can imagine, but we feel the results have been tangible, immediate and very rewarding. The new site is awesome and so much easier to use.
Take a look at these before and after shots to see what we mean.
You might notice that the navigation has been streamlined greatly and there is a bit less focus on branding. (Which is always fabulous by the way.) The new site has a focus on content and getting around, letting a would be conference goer move through quickly and easily to find what they’re looking for. Again, the goal is providing an experience that enables you to get in and out without too much hassle. Ease of movement through the site is key.
The feedback we’ve heard has been fantastic. While not all of the problems with the site have been fixed, the major issues of navigating around the main site and finding relevant information seem to have been greatly improved, if not solved completely.
We’ve also done work they’ve not had the time and/or resources to address yet. We’ve got high hopes for the future of the site and think this was a great first few steps in the right direction.
We had a great time going to town on sxsw.com’s IA, and love that our work made Shawn and the SXSW team very happy.
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