Art31 is a new youth arts initiative for 16 - 24 year olds, aiming to create more artistic events and opportunities for young people in Kent. Their work involves motivating young people to be creative, trying art forms they wouldn’t usually think of, and introducing them to new work that they may not have been able to access before.
The new movement needed an online platform that would host an ever expanding selection of upcoming jobs, events and opportunities, but also develop a presence and appeal that would engage with young people and see them revisit the site for more than just the listings.
Art31 was conceived by The Gulbenkian, a cinema, theatre and arts space based at the University of Kent.
How do you design a website that appeals to a generation who grew up with the internet? Can we assume their technical skills, their aesthetic preferences and their interests in content? Would even a safe guess be good enough?
The answer to this question is obviously, no.
Understanding the easy pitfalls of alienating or patronising this audience, the most sensible approach was to involve the group in all pivotal aspects of the design and development process; starting with workshops covering brainstorming, research and content planning, through to group feedback sessions and user testing.
These workshops would not only provide perfect learning opportunities for myself but also give the group insight into how these platforms are conceived and built. Importantly, they would also give me the space to develop a relationship with the group, allowing for brave conversations and honest feedback.
Guided by the workshops, we developed a design that was clean and minimal with a strong graphical edge. This mature and timeless style put a focus and emphasis on the content and wasn't reliant on any imagery that would quickly become dated or inappropriate. This clutter-free approach also meant loading times could be minimised, knowing mobile devices (and thus limited bandwidth) would form the majority of the website's traffic. To ensure the growth of right audience, we kept young people's voice at the very core by building a online magazine that gave them sole authorship of the articles; encouraging public submission on array of topics that lined up with an array upcoming events, jobs and opportunities.
Since launch, the website has benefitted from continual growth in traffic and most importantly a sense of ownership amongst the audience, seen through the growing number of article submissions and traction on social media.
Involvement: discovery and research
Over a course of 8 informal workshops, I guided the group through the various stages of planning, designing and developing a website. These workshops were designed and structured in way that would give them an insight into the wide range of possibilities and potential limitations at hand, meaning suggestions and feedback were not only feasible but also focussed. Having the opportunity to continually develop and test ideas with your target audience is a rare opportunity and lead to countless insights.
The most prominent of these insights being their taste in design. In one exercise I asked them to rate and discuss a large series of designs that were aimed at young people; ranging from the branding of a university through to ironic internet art. Overall, they appreciated plain speaking, uniformed and functional aesthetics over anything that was intentionally trying to be "youth focussed".
Articles, authorship and drift
The magazine that forms the core of the website has two purposes: to give a voice piece to young people within a trusted framework, and help promote upcoming jobs, events and opportunities within the creative sector.
Through the first workshop that focussed on planning and content, it became apparent that young people's preference was to read and engage with those of who are of a similar age and similar outlook. Although this sounds obvious, the majority of online youth platforms only feature articles written by an older generation of copywriters and journalists often resulting in a strange faux-youth tone of voice.
Dedicated to keeping to the Art31 focus of "for young people, by young people", it was important that authorship remained with this generation. Supporting this aim, we placed a strong emphasis on the author of the article via a prominent profiles at the end of each article.
It was important to keep design of the article pages familiar, so we followed a simple editorial layout that uses a clear content hierarchy and good use of whitespace. We encouraged exploration and drift, via curated recommendations of related content featured alongside the article.
Content submission was key to site's success. Without the ongoing contribution of events, jobs, opportunities and articles the site would quickly stagnate or demand the pursuit of syndicating unoriginal content and thus compromising the site's authenticity. Equally, making this submitted content easy to moderate and publish was just as important.
We designed and built a simple, frictionless submission system that collected all of the relevant information needed from the author and via a email notification, the admin team would be able to moderate and publish the content via a matter of clicks. Thus letting the site grow and react quickly to the constant array of upcoming events and jobs on offer.
Making content accessible
Having established that the range of jobs, opportunities and events on offer would be large and diverse it was key to let users filter and browse them in a way that suited them.
Alongside a range of categories, we gave users other parameters such as date and location to sort and prioritise the content. Location was especially important, when dealing with a county that stretches from the creative coastal hubs such as Folkestone and Margate right up to the towns of south London. Using the Google Map's API meant we could take the postcode of the user and order a listing based on the proximity of the location or venue.
Styleguide and modular approach
Preparing for growth not only meant focussing on content, but also maintaining a strong visual framework. By developing a growing style guide of elements, consistency could be maintained regardless of growth and code replication kept to a minimum (especially important when addressing the speed of the website).
We decided to use the open source Roboto typeface for a number of reasons; it has a contemporary and friendly feel, it's incredibly versatile thanks to it's large variety of weights and it holds brilliant contrast on a variety of different screens and devices.
Minimal icons were designed to match the typeface's style, which would also maintaining good contrast when used in a variety of colours and sizes. Following current best practice all icons were used as inline SVGs, meaning their colour and size could be easily manipulated via simply code, thus keeping page loading speeds to a minimum. Another advantage of SVGs is that they would remain sharp across HiDPI screens.
What the client said...
Al was a fantastic choice as designer for the new Art31 website. Being a youth led project it was important for us to find someone who could work directly with the group and involve them in creating a great new website.
Having guided us around the potential pitfalls of design by committee, Al delivered a series of workshops that gave the group the opportunity to explore and discuss everything from what the new website should do, through to the design and function of certain key areas. It was obvious throughout that the group really enjoyed the process and has resulted in a site which looks great and does exactly as we need it to.
Al is fun to work with and full of ideas. We would recommend him for anyone looking for a great, inventive designer who has an inclusive approach.