As part of AirSpace Gallery's training programme for the Catalyst project Making It Work, I took part in a 3-day 1to1 website and web strategy training session with artist Rich White.
The purpose of the training was fairly simple. Rich had been commissioned to redesign and build the Gallery's website. The training was to unpick the build and the strategies behind it, so that we could understand the processes in order to take control of its future working.
As an artist-led space, marketing reach is a thorny problem. The vast percentage of our ACE funding goes on programming, and we fall well below the accepted level of an 18% spend on marketing in order to create audience. So, we have to be creative with our use of other means to get people through our doors, and to advertise our presence and activity as widely as possible.
Along with traditional hands-on meet and show techniques in our immediate locality, and a concerted use of the "free" resource that social media represents, it has never been more vital to have a functioning, attractive and accessible website for potential visitors to quickly be informed as to an arts organisation's mission and upcoming activity.
The world of websites is constantly shifting and advancing and so, constantly paying an outside source to keep a contemporary relevance can be a drain on financial resources, taking funds away from the more important area of programming. So an ability to understand the processes involved and capability to make the changes ourselves seems an important area in becoming self sufficient in this area.
The sessions with Rich were really instructive. Understanding my rudimentary working knowledge, we went right back to basics, first identifying the core needs that a website needs to fulfil, before building a new website from scratch, explaining code, html language, design and so on.
We talked about simplicity - the need for an audience to quickly understand what the organisation is and what the organisation does. Simplicity, too, in design, so that the site would be easily navigable. The site should be visually attractive, but whistles and bells should be kept to a minimum. We talked about designing the site so that user input was easy too. There is no point in creating a great looking site that takes forever to update, as those man-hours are at a premium with organisations such as ours.
We talked about consistency - a basic design principle which psychologically allows a visitor to the website to quickly understand each subsequent page they visit. It is really important that once a visitor accesses the site, that they are not annoyed by the process of navigating the site to the extent that they quickly leave, so each page should be structured in the same way - individual elements might change - such as different colours to suggest different activity - but largely, each page should look the same - so image size and placement on the page, and similarly text size and position. The fonts used should be kept to as few as possible - preferably a single font - with specific sizes for titles and then for body texts.
We talked about the importance of the home page - website visitors need to be "hooked" as early as possible, so the homepage takes on great importance. For instance, the use of a simple slideshow - of maybe only 4 or 5 linked images can immediately broadcast the breadth of the website - as a trailer - which can encourage the visitor to delve more deeply in to the rest of the website. The information here should be kept to the introductory, with greater depth revealed once the visitor clicks through.
Once designed and mapped, and equipped with the visual content with which to staff the site, comes the build. To be honest, teaching a novice a brand new language - html - in 2 days is an onerous and impossible task, but Rich took me through the basics, pointing me to several online resources for tutorials, or basic commands which I could cut and paste in to our website to play around with - how to change fonts, insert links, change page structures etc. Crucially, though I gained an understanding of the "map" - how each page refers and responds to each other page. Changing one piece of information in the CSS (design) folder will change that information throughout the site unless you know how to define the parameters.
So in the course of the sessions we covered channels and fields, templates, bootstrapping, the importance of closing code through use of brackets and much more. In truth, after the sessions, could I build my own fully functioning website on my own, with no guidance? Probably not. But I gained an invaluable working knowledge of how the website works, and in particular how the AirSpace Gallery website works, and left with a variety of tools, both in terms of function and design, with which to ensure that our organisation can keep our public facing appearance relevant and attractive in the internet age - crucial to our future self-sufficiency.