Your Question Answered: Design of the Festival Guide

With  the launch of our refreshed website, we’re excited to offer a new feature: Ask Folklife a Question.

With this easy tool, we invite you to ask us anything you’d like to know about the annual Festival and year-round organization. Why is the Festival always held on Memorial Day Weekend? What’s it like to have an office at Seattle Center? What will the Cultural Focus be in 2014?

We’ll post answers to the big questions as they come in here at our blog. And our first question in this series is a great one to start with.

Karen from Seattle writes:

I am a student at [name withheld]. We are using your Folklife Festival guide as a project. A large part of our assignment is dealing with the printed schedule. I’m curious as to how many people attend the festival on how many days. I understand that many people attend from year to year. I’d also like to know how people use the guide — Do they use the paper pdf or the mobile app? My guess is that typically people attend for one day out of the four festival days. I’m thinking that a schedule would best be served online with the attendees ability to print out the full days schedule rather than than having a guidebook with more information that they need. Also, it seems difficult to manage the guide as is with different event venues on the same day listed in separate places in the guide. Again this is based on my guess that the majority of attendees would attend a day and would want all of the information. I realize you must be very busy in the planning of the 2013 festival, but it would be incredibly helpful to have your input on these questions.

Well, Karen, this is a big question, and something we’re always thinking about, but here’s our answer:

  1. Most people seem to really like the printed guide, possibly because they are “old timers” who like things the way they’ve always been, or possibly because our mobile app isn’t super fancy or easy to use (though this improves each year as tools become more accessible). People last year seemed to like a compromise of sorts: they downloaded a PDF from our website and printed the pages they wanted at home.
  2. We have about 235,000 visitors each year. We print about this many programs, and insert about half in the Seattle Times and have the rest on grounds. We also direct mail a few hundred to our supporters, and distribute copies by hand to local libraries and coffee shops.
  3. Many people come to the festival for just a casual few hours; many people also fly in from Canada and attend every single day.
  4. The guide serves many purposes for us; it is more than just a schedule. For that reason we print many pages beyond just the schedule grid. People are welcome to simply refer to the grid, or read the rest of the context more thoroughly. We think it’s a helpful tool, with lots of other tips and information. It is also not cumbersomely large, though patrons are welcome to rip out the pages they want to refer to and leave the rest at home.
  5. We are always looking for the best way to present our information, especially since we have 32 venues to keep track of. Many people have the reaction when they see the grid that it is imperfect and should be easy to improve. However, we’ve found over the years that even the most experienced designers are stumped! Some of our limitations are because of cost, and some are simply practical. Though it would be ideal to have, say, all of Friday on one page, we have not found a way to have all 32 venues clearly listed on a page spread in a font size that all eyes (including the elderly!) can read. For this reason, we have recently separated our educational programs from our live performances, so Friday technically appears in two separate locations and cannot be scanned in just one place. We are working with our designers at the Seattle Times on new ideas for this year that we think are promising. If you think you have the solution, by all means, let us know!
  6. The size of our piece is due to printing costs (I believe we use a paper size that doesn’t need to be cut), and to be an easy insert into the Times, like a circular. We’ve considered doing a coupon-style magazine format, but I think I actually like this better. We are adding an extra page for the grid this year, and we’ll see how that goes. One priority is using a bigger font so our older patrons can read it more easily.

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