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The Sydney Symphony wanted to refresh its website. Then COVID-19 hit, and it got far more ambitious

Designed by Wongdoody, the new site is a lively, elegant experience aimed at drawing in younger audiences and making the symphony more accessible to all.

The Sydney Symphony wanted to refresh its website. Then COVID-19 hit, and it got far more ambitious

When the Sydney Symphony Orchestra sought a refresh of its website back in 2019, the brief was fairly simple. It hired Wongdoody, a user experience design company with 16 studios around the world, to improve site operations, make concert information more accessible, and smooth out the process of online ticket purchasing.

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Then the pandemic hit, and things changed quickly, as the symphony shut its doors for what would stretch to an 18-month lockdown in Sydney.

“They kind of pivoted a bit,” says James Noble, Wongdoody’s chief experience officer for the Asia Pacific region. The initial project carried on, but with another big goal added on top: The orchestra sought to better understand what their audience wanted.

“Rather than being a traditional orchestra playing traditional music,” Noble says, the goal became “to diversify a bit and attract new audiences.”

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[Image: Wongdoody]
With an eye toward the eventual resumption of live performances, the symphony called on Wongdoody to help it figure out how to reach more people. That involved doing detailed research to understand the different audiences the symphony could attract, and providing those audiences relevant information.

Wongdoody’s elegant, multifaceted redesign is Fast Company’s 2022 Innovation by Design Award winner for the Asia Pacific region.

[Image: Wongdoody]
Like many orchestras, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra attracts a mostly older audience. And Wongdoody’s research revealed that this segment of the audience was having trouble buying tickets from the website, instead flooding a call center to purchase tickets over the phone.

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The research also showed that this older audience preferred matinee performances so that it was still light out when they needed to drive home afterward.

[Image: Wongdoody]
These subtle details helped shift not only the way online ticket sales happened and performances were scheduled but also how all that information was displayed online. Based on inferences and data collection, the site could know when a visitor was likely on the older end of the age spectrum.

Or on the younger end. In this case, research showed that potential younger audiences were interested not just in coming to a performance and going home but in making the symphony part of a bigger experience.

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“If they’re there for a good night out, then you can tell them what else is around, what restaurants are nearby, what else is going on in the area,” Noble says.

This livelier version of a night at the symphony is also reflected in the overall look of the new website, which aims to present a more accessible cultural experience.

“It’s changing things up to not just be pictures of people playing the music but the environment that you would be in, the kind of experience that you would have,” Noble says. The new website tries to show “that actual emotive part of the evening, not just the performance itself.”

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Since the redesign, visitation to the website is up 40% and page views have doubled, according to Noble. Whether that’s due to the pent-up demand from a year and a half spent mostly indoors or the new website design is hard to say. But Noble believes things are clearly working online.

“It used to take 5 to 10 minutes to buy a ticket. Now you can do it in 2,” he says, noting that the symphony has seen a 79% drop in people exiting the site prior to payment and that the audience has, indeed, diversified. “It went from just being die-hard fans to people who want a good night out and want to be entertained.”

This story is part of Fast Company’s 2022 Innovation by Design Awards. Explore the full list of companies creating products, reimagining spaces, and working to design a better world.

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About the author

Nate Berg is a staff writer for Fast Company. He is based in Detroit.

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