The Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall

Sean Lamberger

Written by Sean Lamberger
on Friday, May 13th, 2016
in Case Studies

Broadway by the Bay

A staple in Sarasota since the late 1960s, the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall draws a wide range of musical and off-Broadway entertainment to the gulf coast each year. From dance to theater, rock to opera, each season brings a unique mix of flavors along with plenty of crossover acts to please everyone. The auditorium’s unique beauty is a draw in itself: a product of the Frank Lloyd Wright school of architecture, its deep purple seashell shape is unmistakable from land, sea or air.

Van Wezel - Home Page

GravityFree has enjoyed a long and fruitful partnership with the Van Wezel. Beginning with our first collaboration in the fall of 2003, we’ve worked to sharpen and enhance the venue’s online identity on a regular basis ever since. Our latest effort is the most significant yet. Coinciding with a full corporate re-brand, the site has moved in a drastically cleaner, simpler, more modern direction. Purple remains a fundamental part of the design (of course) but it’s more subdued and efficient than in the past. Today we place a higher priority on events than on the venue, with a special emphasis on performance photography and promotion. By shifting to a layout that’s primarily white, we allow photos to add the color, to tell the story. There’s far less clutter and competition, which makes the page easier to navigate and the direction easier to follow.

Van Wezel - Internal Page

Finding Your Next Favorite

Discovery really is priority number one for the Van Wezel. The vast majority of its users visit for one of two purposes: to investigate a particular event or to browse the calendar in search of something interesting. To that end, we’ve made the theater’s upcoming events calendar incredibly easy to access, investigate and share. Multiple views for the main calendar. A suggestive event search in the header. Deep social interactions across the board. Gentle nudges to explore the surrounding dates for similar performances. Easy filtering and one-click purchasing. It’s more than just a list of names and dates; this is an experience unto itself!

Get to Know the Neighborhood

As regular Van Wezel attendees ourselves, we know that the pre-show can often be as important as the performance itself. Doubly so for out-of-town visitors, looking to make a weekend of the occasion. That’s why we’ve taken special care to include a simple, familiar list-and-browse interface for nearby hotspots and pertinent venue information. Powered by a custom Google Maps-based application, we’ve heavily adjusted the design to fit its surroundings but left the functionality intact for a fresh, yet familiar, experience. Parking, directions, local attractions, pre-show dining options, you can find it all here.

Van Wezel - Responsive Design

Browse From Home or Your Seat

This was a key issue for our primary contacts at the venue, who have seen firsthand the importance of maintaining an active, accessible mobile identity. As with all of our current sites, The Van Wezel is designed with a persistently responsive philosophy in mind. What that means, simply, is that it does more than just shrink the desktop site to fit a smartphone or tablet. We’ve carefully optimized the layout at several key resolutions to best prioritize and capitalize upon the unique quirks, benefits and limitations of each potential screen size. Through the use of innovative new markup techniques, we’re able to pull smaller images to fit smaller screens, so we aren’t killing a user’s monthly data plan with one jumbo-sized graphic. Text blocks grow more focused and concise. SVG icons and custom webfonts ensure the text and graphics look great on every screen… and will continue to do so regardless of the shapes, sizes and resolutions Apple and Google decide to introduce in next year’s models.

An Elaborate Experience

At the end of the day, this is a project we’re intensely proud of. The simplified palette and streamlined UI brings the venue up to speed in a rapidly-changing digital world. A focus on events makes it easier than ever to discover the next big thing, or to be reminded of an old favorite. Reorganized navigation is more sensible, not to mention smoother to scan. Rich, dense, map integration makes planning an evening on the town a snap. But the new VanWezel.org has so much more to offer than what we’ve outlined above. The only way to fully understand is to experience it for yourself… so what are you waiting for?