Mark Morris Dance Group
If you’re a fan of dance, you’ve probably heard of Mark Morris. His witty, inspired choreography is celebrated for its thoughtful relationship with musical accompaniment and exceptional craftsmanship. Morris’ work is accessible to the dance novice but sophisticated enough for the aficionado. He frequently choreographs for arts institutions around the world, but his own dance group and center are located in my backyard — fabulous Brooklyn, New York. Today we’ll be examining his organization’s Web site: www.markmorrisdancegroup.org.
The Mark Morris Dance Group includes the company and a school. The site’s homepage showcases both, plus its location (the Dance Center building), under one of the biggest (and somewhat uninspired) logos ever to grace a Web site. Below that, large banners run the width of the site promoting current happenings like class enrollments, Mark’s new television show and an upcoming performance. It’s all big, big, big, with main navigation floating in the middle of the two, and other actionable items (Mailing List and Donate Now) drifting along the bottom of the all-gray background.
For any arts organization, the challenge in Web site design is demonstrating its unique, creative je ne sais quoi while adhering to best practices that actually make a site functional. In the relentless pursuit of form, function often gets chucked out the window like a Hershey’s bar wrapper on a middle-school field trip. Many arts orgs, for instance, begin by building pretty sites in Flash that animate in neat ways but remain virtually impossible for search engines to crawl or visitors to navigate intuitively. MMDG has avoided the obvious pitfalls here and relied on big images, good content and functionality — and a simple, but striking, gray background to make the site work.
It’s all here
If you poke around, you’ll find just about everything a patron might want on this site: a performance calendar, box office numbers, maps, dancers’ bios, recent press coverage, even a sumptuous photo gallery. White type floats on a dark-gray background that frames the images beautifully — and what beautiful images they are. The organization clearly has invested in great photos and knows how to use them well.
It also has sprinkled in some nice features a loyal fan might appreciate, such as a photo series highlighting the transformation of a derelict building into the Dance Center, or an online store selling not just the usual swag, but also elegant posters and gift cards you can prepurchase for classes in the dance school. The neatest of these online features might be the Resources area, where you can search by criteria such as “composer” or even “costume designer” to find the title of a work, premiere date, past performances and other details. Good stuff.
Although the site works well, there are a few rejigs that could make it even stronger. On the homepage, for example, there’s too much emphasis placed on the Dance Center. Completed in 2001, it isn’t a performance space (although the school is there, and you can rent it if you’re a nonprofit dance company), so the average individual will never visit the center, unless she studies at the school. It feels like the site’s architect placed a lot of emphasis on the Dance Center because it’s a big deal to the organization. But it’s not a big deal to the average site visitor.
The homepage also suffers from a lack of hierarchy: everything’s so big — from the logo to the images to the rotating current happenings — that it’s easy to miss the main navigation and hard for your eye to know what to focus on. Why not move the current happenings section to the top to highlight it, and make the dance group and school info a bit smaller below it?
MMDG’s development team makes it easy to engage in the “Support MMDG” area, which explains its “Friends” (individual donors) options, institutional giving and more. It’s easy to make a gift online (once you find the button, that is; see below), and once you’ve done so, access the members-only area for special pre-event receptions and other perks.
Quotes praising the organization from notable publications like The New Yorker and The Boston Globe reassure donors that they’re supporting something worthwhile. However, this section also feels very print-oriented. For example, rather than telling me about the DVD I can purchase, why not show me a clip of it online?
One big form-over-function faux pas this site makes, from a fundraiser’s perspective, is burying the list-generating and online-giving tools too far below the fold. The Mailing List and Donate Now buttons on the homepage reside in the very bottom, right-hand corner — the area eye-scanning studies have shown gets the least attention from visitors. Why not move them up? I suggest these critical buttons reside on the top of every page so MMDG can maximize all opportunities to convert its Web site visitors to e-mail list subscribers and/or donors. (For a good example of this, check out the Buy Tickets button on the New York City Ballet’s Web site.)
There are a few other opportunities this organization has to use its Web site to increase donors’ confidence and likelihood to give. New subscribers to the e-mail list receive a welcome message in their inboxes which tells them more about the organization and invites them to click on a link to celebrate the group’s 25th anniversary. However, I got a “page not found” error when I clicked on that link and then later read that the group’s 25th anniversary season was in 2006. Oops!
Overall, though, MMDG finds a nice balance between function and form on its site. The navigation is accessible to the novice Web user, and the design is sophisticated enough for the aficionado. Considering Mark Morris’ choreography, that seems perfectly appropriate. FS
Sarah Durham is founder/principal at New York-based consultancy Big Duck.