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Case Study: China Plate’s website redevelopment

Sarah Isaacs, Digital Lead at China Plate, shares the journey of how the theatre studio redeveloped their website, with the help of the Digital Culture Network.

Launched in 2006, China Plate are an independent theatre studio that works with artists, venues, festivals and funders to develop, make and present engaging, entertaining and accessible new work. We are passionate about creating adventurous and imaginative theatre with popular appeal and a social purpose. Using performance to engage and inspire, we take shows into theatres, village halls, schools, on to the streets and to festivals in the UK and internationally. We are also resident Associate Producers at Warwick Arts Centre, where we develop and commission new work. Our mission is to ‘Challenge the way performance is made, who it’s made by and who gets to experience it’.

I am the Administrator and Digital Lead for China Plate. I work closely with the General Manager to maintain financial, administrative and communication systems, whilst supporting the work of the Artistic Directors and Producers, across the whole of our programme. I am also responsible for updating and maintaining our website, social media platforms and digital distribution strategies, such as our e-newsletter and blogs; supporting the dissemination of our work online.

Our Co-Artistic Director Paul Warwick attended the launch for the Digital Culture Network at Birmingham Open Media in June 2019. It was from this event that I was put in contact with the Digital Culture Network and started working with different tech champions. I have had several 1-2-1 chats, either about particular issues or skill-based topics. I have also attended some brilliant webinar sessions via YouTube on subjects including SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) explained in one hour, and how to take your Twitter profile to the next level.

What did you want to achieve?

In 2019 we decided it would be beneficial to redevelop our website. This would be in line with the company’s ambitious move from producing and touring small scale studio work to developing and co-producing midscale productions to tour regional theatre venues. The company had also grown to include new strands of work, with a view to reaching much larger and diverse audiences. It was therefore important that our website could strategically support this increased reach and growth while telling a better story about China Plate.

I was excited to take on the project as an opportunity for personal development, but I had never redeveloped a website before. As such, this was a perfect opportunity to engage with the Digital Culture Network. I got in touch to get advice, guidance and support on areas including how to write a website brief, how to approach setting a budget, how to make contact with agencies etc.

How did you work with the Digital Culture Network?

I worked with Roberta Beattie (previous Website Tech Champion). We set up an initial phone conversation to talk through what I was looking to do and how she could support me. Roberta provided me with some really useful resources to get started, including a step-by-step guide to redesigning a website, web content accessibility guidelines, how to write a design brief template, as well a list of potential service providers which I then used to form the basis of my research into design agencies. Roberta also put me in touch with James Akers, another tech Champion who could help me conduct a data audit of our current website from our Google Analytics in order to see how it was performing and how this should inform our brief.

As I was conducting my research, Roberta and I talked through how to think about audiences and how these should define the website’s goals – considering the outcomes and actions of their visit – which in turn would structure our new site map. Roberta very helpfully read over my brief and supporting documents, offering feedback and areas which could be improved. During the population stage of the website, Roberta also supported our General Manager in writing the privacy and cookie policies, and myself in generating an accessibility statement.

What happened?

With Roberta’s support and guidance I was able to produce a well-structured and clearly defined website brief, which was noted in responses back from agencies I contacted:

‘Nice to see such a thorough and planned-out brief!’

‘I’ve read through the documents provided; I don’t have any queries because wow your brief was a breath of fresh air.’

I felt confident when I was approaching agencies to invite them to respond to our tender because our proposal had clear objectives and expectations alongside a well-considered budget.

As a result, we were successful in securing a round of interviews with several agencies; with the brief forming the basis of how we assessed each company, and ultimately deciding who to go with.

Our redeveloped website now offers adaptability to develop our reach and support our growth as a company. It tells a better story about the whole of the company, foregrounding elements of our programme such as our Engagement and Participation strategy (which weren’t adequately featured in the old design). The new website also has an improved user journey which makes it easier to use and more accessible, allowing visitors to discover more about and interact with our productions.

Sarah Isaacs
Administrator & Digital Lead

Twitter – @YourOldChina
Facebook – @chinaplatetheatre
Instagram – @china_plate_theatre

Before and after gallery

The current Digital Culture Network Tech Champion for websites is Andy Leitch.

What’s next?

The Digital Culture Network is here to support you and your organisation. Our Tech Champions can provide free 1-2-1 support to all arts and cultural organisations who are in receipt of, or eligible for, Arts Council England funding. If you need help or would like to chat with us about any of the advice we have covered above, please get in touch. Sign up for our newsletter below and follow us on Twitter @ace_dcn for the latest updates.

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