Kelly Strayhorn Theater

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Creating a fulfilling online experience in pandemic era theater

Using design research to create online theater engagement to give audiences an opportunity to mimic desired physical theater interactions online. Attendees initiate their performance viewing by first entering a virtual lobby.

Project overview

Focus: User Centered Design Research

Client: Kelly Strayhorn Theater

My Role: Design Researcher

I arranged, conducted and analyzed various design research sessions such as think-aloud protocols, contextual inquiries, and speed dating. I synthesized data to extract findings and consolidate insights. I designed a novel experience in accordance with creating value for users and the client alike.

Team: Nathan Jen, Aaron Lee, Isabel Ngan, Dina Razek, Janelle Wen

The Kelly Strayhorn Theater is a performing arts center located in the East Liberty area of Pittsburgh. In this project we showcase the use of several UX research and design methodologies to create a fulfilling online theater experience for our client.

the challenge

The initial problem space that was presented to us were: the increasing of donations, the increasing of engagement, and the transforming of the theater experience onto an online platform. After various research sessions we were able to narrow our focus to more specific problem spaces. How might we simulate the key touchpoints of the physical theatergoing experience in an online setting? How might we elevate the value of online performance? How might we engage the community in experiencing performances beyond the traditional?

the final solution

Our proposed solution to the problem of online theater engagement is to give audiences an opportunity to mimic desired physical theater interactions online. Attendees initiate their performance viewing by first entering a virtual lobby. We leverage the time audiences have just before curtain to let them learn about the performance they are about to see by perusing a digital program, chatting with attendees and theater reps, and browsing upcoming events to understand what the Kelly Strayhorn Theater is and stands for.

the process

Background

With the pandemic forcing physical venues to decrease capacity by significant margins, theater goers and theater producers have begun looking towards other ways to connect and engage with each other. Venues are increasingly looking towards content publishers to keep engagement with audiences. Theater companies are going beyond traditional entertainment offerings to maintain and grow their community, and are now engaging with people beyond their traditional audience members as a result of their efforts to engage with audiences through new platforms.

methods

Stakeholder Questions

Client Data Analysis

Think Aloud Protocol

Contextual Inquiry

Affinity Diagramming

Speed Dating

Experience Prototyping

abstract laddering

problem space investigation

affinity diagramming

Research Insights

1. It’s almost impossible to stay engaged throughout an online theater event

People have issues connecting to characters and narratives in an online setting. The absence of a live format allows audiences to be less engaged with the performance.

2. People are not as excited about online theater events

Since theater is not written to be executed in an online environment, people are more likely to gravitate towards entertainment such as TV or film over online theater.

3. People will still try to have a fulfilling experience with online events

More avid theater goers will make strides to keep distracting hazards away from the viewing experience, such as removing screen elements, background noise, etc.

4. The physical theater space promotes a unique way for audience members to engage in conversation and connect with others

This is something that an online experience clearly lacks in comparison to physical spaces in general.

Through our research insights, we revealed possible points of opportunity where we can leverage the advantages of the online format to foster community engagement that was unavailable in physical settings.

ideation

Through rapid ideation and crazy 8s we designed scenarios that could be used to validate user needs via speed dating sessions.

rapid ideation

Findings and Insights

Finding 1: Certain digital interactions are analogous to physical ones

Finding 2: Engagement with audiences before the play commences creates anticipation

Finding 3: The online format is very susceptible to distractions

Insight 1: Audiences associate theater with interactions with physical artifacts such as ticket, playbills, the space itself

Insight 2: Audiences have different levels of engagement that they are willing to opt into

Insight 3: Many factors of distraction exist in an online setting, both digitally and physically, requiring theater to re-engage the audience's attention

Design opportunities

1. Theater goers crave deeper interaction with the performance within decreased risk environments

2. The unique value of physical theater settings must be fulfilled through any new format the solution takes

3. Paid events and offerings are met with interest depending on the value that it brings users

4. Easy, relevant, and tangential information is welcomed by audiences prior to and after performances

5. Distractions within the online setting are unique to each audience member

final solution overview

After we consolidated our findings and insights, as well as our misunderstandings and newly discovered design opportunities, we used it to inform the selection of our final solution which we based our experience prototype off of.

Our proposed solution to the problem of online theater engagement is to give audiences an opportunity to mimic desired physical theater interactions online. Attendees initiate their performance viewing by first entering a virtual lobby. We leverage the time audiences have just before curtain to let them learn about the performance they are about to see by perusing a digital program, chatting with attendees and theater reps, and browsing upcoming events to understand what the Kelly Strayhorn Theater is and stands for. We used think-aloud protocols to engage users in experience prototype sessions which we used to iterate through the rendering of our solution.

Next project

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