Digital Branding: Website Critiques

by Scott Hayes and Andy Geffken

Looking for more information on what makes a website appealing to potential employers? The experts quoted in the Winter 2019 Southern Theatre article, “Digital Branding: Make Your Best Impression on Potential Employers,” share their critiques of 10 websites in this Web Extra. As you read their comments, keep in mind that technology changes rapidly and opinions vary about what makes a “good” website. In addition, websites are fluid and some of the content on the reviewed sites may have changed since this article was prepared.

The experts from the world of theatre are: Amy Dunlap, theatre department chair for North Greenville University in South Carolina; Nathanael Fisher, artistic director for Emerald Coast Theatre Company in Florida; Krista Franco, professor at Stetson University in Florida and the resident scenic designer and production manager for Virginia’s Endstation Theatre Company; David Haugen, head of the BFA in Performance program at Ohio University, and a director for the Brick Monkey Theater Ensemble; Jennifer Martin, associate artistic director for Americana Theatre Company, a professional summer theatre in Plymouth, MA; Neno Russell, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University who is also a Broadway pattern maker and costume builder and the chair of SETC’s Design/Technology Committee; and Hilary Sutton, a Washington, DC-based actor, writer and strategist who manages the social media accounts of dozens of businesses and Broadway shows.

Providing a little different perspective is Drew McManus, principal for Venture Industries Online, which manages website development for arts organizations and artists.

Amy Dunlap
Nathanael Fisher
Krista Franco
David Haugen
Jennifer Martin
Neno Russell
Hilary Sutton
Drew McManus

We asked each of them to weigh in on the sites of three past winners of SETC’s Ready to Design Award: scene designer Josafath Reynoso, costume designer Olivia Trees and lighting designer Maranda DeBusk. And we asked them and others to provide examples of additional theatre artist websites they felt were worth sharing. Those include the sites of lighting designer Mike Wood, stage manager Courtney Rasor, and five actors: Bethany Lauren James, Larren Woodward, Adam Silorey, Arya Daire and Michael Brennan.

Below are screenshots of the websites, with comments provided first by theatre professionals and then (those labeled “Functionality”) by McManus, who brings a different perspective to the critiques as a website developer. Not all experts provided critiques of all sites.

Designers’ Websites

Josafath Reynoso

COMMENTS:

“Layout is clear, concise and not cluttered. I enjoy the selection of font, and the design of his name placard at the top left of the website.”

“Love the use of a rotating gallery as the intro pages background, which gives quick access to ‘Gallery,’ where he expands his portfolio of work.”

“I like the variety of work sampled, as I can see clearly the diversity of his skills in various areas of design, yet I still know, through the layout of his website, what his focus is.”

“Excellent clarity in the tab layout and on each of the pages – easy access to credentials such as resume and CV.”

“Exquisite homepage and exemplary quality photography, though I do caution against backgrounds that can take focus away from the way you want your user’s eye to move through a page.”

Functionality: “The owner may want to consider larger fonts – something closer to 16 to 20 points or more.”

Olivia J. Trees

COMMENTS:

“I appreciate that Olivia’s technology and design work is separated, and she clearly distinguishes between the two. This is helpful for an employer as we can see her aesthetic as a designer but can cut to the chase and evaluate her skills and level of competence in construction/fabric modification based on her more skill-based work.”

“In the design portfolio area, I would suggest creating categories for realized projects and theoretical/paper projects. This would allow the viewer to quickly hop from one area to another (within the same tab still). The image to click on should keep the same format – renderings for paper projects/photos for realized projects. BOTH ARE VALUABLE, but best to give them their own areas on the page.”

“Love the rotating images on the homepage.”

Functionality: “The rotating images don’t appear to allow you to intuitively click through to a gallery related to a specific image.”

Maranda DeBusk

COMMENTS:

“Her layout is so clean and elegant that I almost think (this is being super picky) the font doesn’t lend itself to the same refinement. Nice imagery used in the gallery area – photos ‘explain’ her work with very little context needed.”

“Beautiful website, A few photos become very slightly grainy or pixelated when expanded on a large screen. Which makes this the perfect opportunity to discuss how important it is to test your site on various browsers and devices.”

Functionality: “The font could be much larger to show off her effective content.”

Mike Wood

COMMENTS:

“Clear and easy to read tabs, interesting layout of photo imagery that connects to his gallery and really helpful left margin index. In addition to this, the ‘Upcoming Projects’ area is a nice touch and keeps his website feeling current. It also says a lot about the designer as his work at any given time includes different types of projects with different scales and goals.”

“Beautiful layout, great photos, I would consider trimming the one-page resume a bit and uploading an exhaustive academic CV.”

Functionality: “This is the most responsive site of all – very similar user experience on every size screen and finding the information I want is very intuitive.”

Stage Manager Website

Courtney Rasor

COMMENTS:

”I love that Courtney puts her stage management philosophy right on her homepage and that she has examples of her paperwork. Courtney’s website is friendly, simple, includes the baseline information I would need to hire her, and I appreciate the multiple examples of her work.”

“If I were to suggest a change to Courtney’s website, I would suggest that she made reference to the communication tools she uses. I would also take a look at her hand-written paperwork and make sure she is delivering the impression that she is fastidious.”

“Beautiful and clean website. One of the decisions we must make in choosing a template is whether to have images that pop up or open in separate tabs. I prefer pop-ups so that you stay on one page.”

Functionality: “The grid layout is very effective on the Lucky Stiff page. It appears as if the design doesn’t work as well on mobile devices.”

Actors’ Websites

Bethany Lauren James

COMMENTS:

“Love the variety and the organization. The videos played well and were easy to find. One slight suggestion: she can take the school credits off her resume. She has enough professional credits! I might also suggest, though I’m not sure how best to arrange it, that she separate her TV/film and her stage credits. She has enough of both to make it look good.”

“Bethany’s website is thorough and gives the impression of a dedicated working actor. On the homepage, she has current pictures of her working, along with quotes from reviewers (which are the equivalent of recommendation letters). She has the IMDB icon, which tells me right away she has enough credits to justify the icon. She has her audio files on auto-play, she has enough media files so that I can get a good idea of her range, and she has included a gallery that has both professional shots and candid shots of her working. There is enough white space so I can easily navigate.”

“The only critique I have of this website is the font variation on the homepage.”

First thing that grabs my attention is the color headshot at the top center. Her eyes are arresting, and her expression draws me in to want to explore more. The links on the top are easy to follow, and they are all current and functioning. Front page is colorful – maybe a little busy. Trailers and reels give a good representation of her type and the quality of her work. The ‘Gallery’ link shows a nice range, from publicity shots to personality candids. The whole site feels professional, inclusive and welcoming. Contact information is easy to find. This site has everything I would look for when searching for an actor.”

“Her type is made overwhelmingly clear by the three photos she chose to anchor her homepage. No matter the device, you don’t have to scroll to see that she plays striking, dark, beautiful characters. Some people would be tempted to balance out the ‘serious’ photos with a smile, but she benefits by honing in on her specificity right on the homepage. She also makes it easy to see her work by putting her reel on the homepage. A casting director does not have to go fishing to see her work. Bethany has made it incredibly easy to see who she is as an actor and what she can do. If a casting director spends 10 seconds on this website, it will be worth her time. She’ll get the information she needs.”

Functionality: “It looks as if some of the underlined texts are links and some are not. It should be an easy fix to make them one way or the other. The site looks very different on smaller screens, particularly the video pages.”

Larren Woodward

COMMENTS:

“Larren’s site is well put together and easy to navigate. It showcases her personality and strengths as a performer well. The video clips are probably the least effective portion of the website. I would recommend keeping only the Newsies clip and the dance reel for the time being, until more professional quality video can be added.”

“I like that the site is easy to negotiate and gives a clear handle on where she is in her young career. I’m not an expert, but I would check copyright law before posting the production videos.”

Functionality: “The font size is good. It would be smart to check for WCAG compliancy. Headshots and resumes should be available in multiple formats (jpg, pdf, doc/docx).”

Adam Silorey

COMMENTS:

“Adam’s site is a good beginning. It reads as a little formal. I’d like to get a clearer sense of who he is as an actor. His headshots are reading like a very specific type, so he may want to get some softer-reading, approachable looks.”

“How can the website add to the story that the picture and resume are telling? That’s a valuable question that every actor website needs to answer.”

Functionality: “The images work great across all device types and the content rearranges smoothly. Check to make sure all of the images in the slider rotation are large enough for desktop display. Right now, some wind up looking pixelated.”

Arya Daire

COMMENTS:

“There are lovely modeling shots, and she clearly has some strong credits. The audio clips are great – very good quality. She doesn’t seem to have traditional headshots anywhere, and the links to shows in the portfolio give lots of information about the entire production, but not much about her particular role. The ‘About’ section on the very front page is incomplete.”

“The website is well-done. I particularly like how she formatted her resume using the advantages of this format and having a downloadable option for more conventional use.”

Michael Brennan

COMMENTS:

“The site is easy to get around, and there is a wide variety of material to view. The reels are good-quality and fun, and he has a variety of appealing headshots. Overall, the website has a strong sense of who Michael is as a performer and inspires confidence in his abilities.”

“A website is as much a calling card as a picture and resume. Keep it simple and direct. One good headshot is better than 12. Use video that is created for TV/film or specifically shot for the website, so you can control the sound and lighting.”

Functionality: “Nice homepage layout. Most body font sizes could benefit from something larger than the current setting. The site is responsive but has several color contrast issues on mobile devices. Resumes should be available in multiple formats (pdf, doc/docx).”

AUTHOR PROFILE

Scott Hayes is dean of the School of Visual and Performing Arts at Liberty University in Virginia and a member of the Southern Theatre Editorial Board.

AUTHOR PROFILE

Andy Geffken is an associate professor of theatre arts at Liberty University in Virginia, where he teaches acting, voice for the stage, stage movement and stage combat.

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