Duncan Schouten

Cecil Green Park House

Overview

Cecil Green Park House—a well-known Vancouver event venue—was facing a multi-year decline in revenues. With an outdated website and a poorly-defined brand identity, however, the venue was experiencing high page abandonment rates, and stakeholders were reluctant to invest in new marketing initiatives to drive traffic to the existing site.

While the project initially began as a visual refresh of the original website, it quickly became clear that a broader scope was needed to fully address the underlying business challenges. Working with multiple stakeholders, I first helped to clarify the venue’s business goals, brand identity, target audiences, and local competition. Then, using a human-centered design approach and validating assumptions wherever possible, I undertook design of a new website, a fully-reimagined online booking process, and guidelines for both the brand look and feel and its overall tone of voice.

My role

My role in the project was multifaceted, encompassing business analysis, experience design, and project management. Working with cross-functional teams, I led activities to:

  • research and identify business and technical requirements
  • define brand identity
  • establish guidelines for the brand’s visual appearance and tone of voice
  • construct the website’s information architecture
  • wireframe, prototype, and design the website’s front-end
  • test and evaluate generated ideas
  • write copy for the website
  • build an analytic framework using Google Analytics and Google Tag Manage;
  • take the site through testing and launch.

Global challenge: no resources for research or testing

I was brought into the project several years after stakeholders initially identified the need for a website update. This meant that getting a new site online ASAP was their top priority, favouring launch of a minimum viable product with post-hoc testing over preliminary user research.

Nonetheless, I incorporated as much research and testing into my process as was possible, operating on the principle that some data is better than none.

Context

Background

In the five years since its last major revision, the Cecil Green Park House website had become an active impediment to marketing initiatives for the venue. Its overall look and feel was outdated; there was little consistency in the messaging or brand voice; and the site provided limited information relevant to those looking to book business events, though these clients had been identified as a key market segment. Most critically, numerous usability issues contributed to a frustrating user experience, reflected in the significant drop-off rates of visitors attempting to utilize the site’s core operational function: making a request to book the venue. As one of alumni UBC’s key sources of revenue, CGPH required a website update that would fully address these concerns and ensure the venue’s long-term profitability.

Building consensus for a broader project scope

When I was brought onto the project as the sole in-house designer, the limit of my responsibility was to re-skin the website while leaving the content and systemic functionality intact. No further guidelines or user research was/were provided, however, and it quickly became apparent that a broader project scope was necessary if it was to have a measurable impact on business objectives.

Through ongoing discussions with key stakeholders, I built a case and secured support for re-evaluating not just its website, but the Cecil Green Park House business strategy and brand identity as a whole.

Research and Discovery

Defining business goals

The discovery process began with a series of interviews and workshops with staff and stakeholders. After getting acquainted with the venue’s history, the first step in my research was to clarify the long-term goals of the business:

  • Reach capacity of 100 weddings per season
  • Grow the number of corporate retreats and other business events
  • Increase number of holiday parties
  • Increase number of UBC bookings
  • Keep number of bookings for TV/movie filming at current pace

Next, I undertook a top-level analysis of the business’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (a.k.a. SWOT):

  • Show SWOT analysis (obscured as necessary)

Identifying competitors

Early in the project, I established a spreadsheet documenting the most salient information on the venue’s local competition. In conjunction with the SWOT analysis, this helped to pinpoint areas where Cecil Green Park House could set itself apart:

  • Fragment of competitive research

Who do we think are the users?

Lacking budget for conducting research with past or prospective clients, I relied on a variety of alternate approaches to identify the business’s core audiences. Interviews with venue staff—the business’s primary client liaisons—were critical to providing initial demographic data on the primary audiences. This flowed naturally into a workshop with staff and stakeholders where we defined several provisional/hypothetical user personas, including details on their pain points; their needs, wants, and goals; and on what the venue needed to do to ensure their satisfaction.

  • Show provisional persona

For our main provisional personas, we developed hypothetical journey maps.

  • Show provisional journey map

What do we know about the users?

The final step in my audience discovery process was to review Google Analytics data from the original website. While this came with a known bias of only providing insight on the performance of existing content—rather than on identifying unmet user needs—it did shed light on the demographic makeup, interests, and behavioural patterns of site visitors.

In general, the average site visitor was:

  • Female, age 25-34
  • Located in the greater Vancouver area
  • Most interested in the photo gallery and wedding information pages
  • A first-time site visitor

These results, by in large, also supported the information provided by venue staff and gave added weight to the utility of the provisional personas in guiding design decisions.

Heuristic analysis of original site

I completed my research with a heuristic analysis of the original website, using a 247-point checklist found here.

While not a substitute for user-testing, heuristic analyses offer valuable insights on a website’s usability as measured against a set of predetermined qualitative guidelines. While I knew this project would require a fully-redesigned website, heuristic analysis allowed me to become familiar with the original site and gauge what aspects should be carried forward in the new design.

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Thomas Vaeth was born in New York, raised in Pennsylvania, and transplanted in Washington. He was a Web Developer at Urban Influence, but now he's a Software Engineer at Getty Images.