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Adding Value: Quickly launching a festival website

Updated on June 10, 2014

What's wrong?

I get a lot of requests for development, attend a lot of hackathons, and have read a lot of fluffy programming books like, "learn html in 24 hours, build your startup today!" I have been part of projects that dragged on for months and guess what...I'm not sure of the Return On Investment for them. I can't say if it was good or bad.

I work on maintenance contracts for a day or several in which I try to dig through the disorganized codebase of old websites and fix problems "which take too slow and the list doesn't get done".

I am in charge of a music festival this end-of-summer in Chicago. I had the budget for 7 days of my media plan and execution. What is not optimal about our competitors' websites?

- mobile friendliness

- genre/theme/customer base recognition - what is it, who is it for

- links that go nowhere

- lack of social media integration - lack of cohesive plan

- town recognition - how "Chicago" is the fest

- page speed / development grades

- clear call to action

- interactivity

- actual content about the artists - listen - who are they - etc

- uniqueness - is it memorable?

Why talk about a successful launch?

There are many times in life in which projects go over time and budget and people come and people go and people have ideas here and there and everywhere.

I have gotten things done on time and budget (in a week launching the website) recently, so I will talk about it so that you don't have to be confused with all the tech-hype out there.

This is the truth of what happened to me but maybe not the "truth", as in all projects should be built this way.

This is not an examination of two concerts: for example, Lollapalooza versus concert B. This is an examination of the workflow for the website and media launch in a small amount of time.

This is part two in a series of tech time-line examinations.

Mobile view of site

chicagodnb.org - this festival is for style, class, and a royal, confident attitude.
chicagodnb.org - this festival is for style, class, and a royal, confident attitude. | Source

Who, what, why?

The festival is in its first year in Chicago. It is mainly for 20s and 30s adults in Chicago, especially those who are interested in seeing new things (technology/genres) and for couples.
Young people love music festivals with mud, sweat, dirt, foam, etc... Adult couples might prefer to dress up, go to a nightclub, and listen/dance to a night of high quality music that only exists several places on Earth.

Wavefront and Techweek Rave have had their share of problems, and poor PR to add to those problems. This festival seeks to supplant those with the real thing that is classy. The leadership knew who it was, what it was about, and who it was for before they approached the development phase.

The finished product is here on schedule and we have had no bad reviews yet! The admin interface is easy to use and the social media tools are already integrated into the website/content publishing flow.

chicagodnb.org

We used Drupal, Sass+Compass+Singularity, JQuery, and a bit of NodeJS/Express/Heroku/Stripe to finish it off!

...so...come to the festival?

No, this is a look back at why the development was so productive here, making sure to rectify all the issues discussed at the top. Hopefully you can incorporate a couple traits found here into your next project and it will come together quickly. Next, we will go over some components of the successful execution of the product to market.

Desktop view of site

The genre of music this festival represents is "Liquid funk" or "Liquid Drum'N'Bass".
The genre of music this festival represents is "Liquid funk" or "Liquid Drum'N'Bass". | Source

ScoreCard

feature
client project
North Coast
Spring Awakening
Riot Fest
Jazz Festival
WaveFront
mobile/responsive
yes
no
no
yes
yes
no
genre/theme/customer
dnb/edm - top of homepage
summer's last stand
not any descriptive text I see on home
yes - concert & carnival
yes - jazz festival
no
links that go nowhere
no
yes - lineup, get involved, etc
yes - PLEASE DOWNLOAD ALL DIGITAL FORMATS OF OUR PUBLIC ASSETS
no
no
no
social media integration/plan
fully in 5 channels
yes - 4 channels
yes - 4 channels
yes - multiple channels
no
yes - multiple channels
Chicago-ness
yes - Chicago flag, colors, etc
yes - background image
no mention of Chicago on home?
yes - Riotfest Chicago in Humboldt Park
yes, name+location
no
page speed/dev grade
94/100
67/100
61/100
90/100
70/100
N/A
clear call to action
yes - tickets are front/center
yes - tickets, social media
maybe
yes - date + tickets on sale now
yes - date + tickets on sale now
yes - email list + tickets
interactivity
upload photos, comment/chat
reserved for social media
reserved for social media
reserved for social media
no
reserved for social media
content about the artists
pics/vids/bio/website
not really
listen is broken! coding error
no
yes - amazing!
no
tickets
on site + eventbrite
offsite
offsite
offsite
N/A
offsite
Information was retrieved on June 9th, 2014. Page grades come from GTMetrix.com .

Tablet view of site

The sidebars are the colors of the Chicago city flag.  The borders are "bass" signs because EDM generally has a lot of bass in the music.  The style is unique and memorable.
The sidebars are the colors of the Chicago city flag. The borders are "bass" signs because EDM generally has a lot of bass in the music. The style is unique and memorable. | Source

How to be productive

  • productive = money
  • let the designer/developer use his/her own tools. Too often, the head of operations just tells people, "Hey you, work on this office computer and make it!" If the designer/developer is really worth his/her salt, they already have their tools set up and ready to use on their own computer. They have an established workflow which they know, and if they're like me, they learned it from people like Google, Facebook, Adobe, the-big-names at HTML5devcon or Drupalcon or something. They can talk about their experience with tools all day long. I try to learn from and be the best for myself, but if the boss wants me to use a typewriter, I'll do it.
  • let the past die. Once upon a time, there was Wordpress 0.1. There was Visual Basic, there was whatever. But now is today, and we have things like Compass and emulators and Yeoman and Chrome extensions and modules and the latest stable versions. Let the workers use them to be productive and generate/test faster.
  • meetings can only be an hour and one person can only talk for 5 minutes straight. Then you vote and move on for later.
  • have a small team of decision makers -- who is at the meeting is the decision makers. If you are on a small budget, you can't afford to waste time waiting for all 20 non-profit members to show up together.
  • work on individual functionalities, then bring them together in the design.
  • it is no shame to use something like textpad/notepad for your daily scheduler if it helps you to stop spending time in project management and start spending time completing the tasks
  • research things upfront, so that you can move mountains when you are building.
  • people use smartphones and tablets. We did mobile-first development, which means we took out the devices and said, "What do we want the customers to do using this small space where titles and buttons need to be big."
  • have emotion words and style tiles for the site. Then, you can make small decisions as you go quickly based on those words.
  • use existing solutions. For example, I follow the David Walsh blog. One of the features of the website that will make the festival memorable is that you can take and upload photos of yourself but they will show up like you are in a black-and-white 1920's Chicago gangster type photo. I remember just seeing this CSS filter example on the blog, so I used it and gave him credit.
  • don't panic and move on to something else when things don't go as planned. One part of the website was planned to be on Firebase hosting and database. That was not working as planned so we moved to Heroku + NodeJS/Express + Parse. At that time, Heroku went down and we couldn't access our files. We didn't panic, we just moved on to different tasks and waited it out. It came back on after a few hours.

Subpage of website

Responsive design means that the changes the look based on what's important for each page/section of the site, but still remains with the theme so you recognize the consistency.
Responsive design means that the changes the look based on what's important for each page/section of the site, but still remains with the theme so you recognize the consistency. | Source

To wrap it up

Finishing a project on time without issues is a good feeling and something you should strive for. Even if you don't win any awards or public acclaim from the right people, you know that you did your job.

This site and festival have a ways to go before meeting their business objectives, but it has come a long way in a very short amount of time. Keep in mind that you will still have to budget time and money to building and keeping your audience.

To finish on time with the original goals, you will have to be unpopular with someone -- maybe everyone. Someone wants "the best", but are unwilling to pay for training. Someone wants to use the hot new technology, but it is not bug-fixed yet. It needs to be "done this week" and it needs to integrate with all the legacy systems. If you can make unpopular decisions, you can bring the product to market on time.

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