The New AriaLasVegas.com
For a long time I complained that the ARIA project was all about architecture and lacked any supporting information. Now, with the launch of a brand new version of ARIALasVegas.com we get that information, without much architecture.
Note: If you're not a graphic design nerd, supreme Vegas nut, web dorque, technologist or a coder you might find all of this incredibly dense. Onwards!
It it truly unfortunate that the powers that put together the new and improved ARIA website didn't realize that the architecture of their information ("IA" short for Information Architecture) is equally, if not more important than the architecture of the CityCenter complex. I'll bet that more people visit their website a day than will visit their hotel. Looking at the hierarchies - as defined by navigation - it is obvious that the UI/UX team (User Interface/User Experience) let the marketing and contract guys run roughshod over what could've been a really really REALLY awesome project to work on.
The good news is that "Remember To Breathe" is dead. (Doo doo dooooo!) The bad news - easily measured by the length of the screed below - is that words certainly did not fail me, which in and of itself is a failure. At least if their intention was to bring ARIA to ARIALasVegas.com. I digress...
Before we get into the thorny details of information architecture, I'd like to say a coupla things about the design. Like the previous, the new ARIA website is a combo flash/html jobby which on the whole is very well designed and executed. The inclusion of the faux lens flare snow storm really captures the urban core concept as does the stunning photography of the building. Awesome.
Unfortunately, the design work seems to have been for naught, trampled by bad information architecture, overly flashy navigation, commonplace typography and inconsistent interface cues. The lens flare snow storm, while gorgeous on the homepage becomes distracting when trying to actually read content.
The primary navigation - best described as a "card flipping overlay photo peekaboo behind door number three with the background semi transparency floating up to the text link on mouseover" is insane to say the least. It's almost like they tried to make something completely different than the WynnLasVegas.com horizontal navigation thingy, yet capture its primary quality - it's annoying as fuck after the initial novelty has worn off! My best guess is that there was originally supposed to be only five or six panels on there but the marketing guys/project managers bulldozed the real estate after the heads of each department stuck their fingers in the pie and requested that their junk gets displayed on the front yard. I'll bet that the "Concierge" and "About ARIA" links were banished there for this very reason. Total paste job.
Using the "." to denote links is kinda clever, but it isn't consistent across all navigation links (see "Air/Hotel Packages" and "Email Promotions" in the left sidebar.) Another curiosity is the right facing arrow > on the "concierge" and "about ARIA" links on the homepage.
Aria's reservation form always has and will continue to bug the crap out of me.
All MGM Mirage websites make you put your dates in twice when searching for accommodations. You'd think that someone in charge would notice this and order it fixed. Obviously the search page is GET-ing the date variables from the URL string - they change the form values - why not just return the search results? My only thought is that they purposefully put some kind of roadblock to stymie form submitting bots.... large scale database queries and data transfer do cost real money.
Perhaps my biggest disappointment with the ARIA website is the typography. To be fair, not all graphic designers have typography skills and vice versa.
You can tell a lot about a person by what font they choose. For most of our graphics, we use Myriad Pro. It's a clear, bold and fresh font that looks great large yet reads very well small. It has a huge emotional range as well and adds oomph to text that is serious, funny or innocuous.
The use of Bank Gothic font for the navigation makes some degree of sense, if you want your website to look like the Powerpoint deck your CFO is showing to the finance team at the "All Hands" meeting. For the subheadings, the designer chose Futura STD (Light), which is a slightly more elegant, horizontally squashed version of the uber popular and very lipsticky Helvetica Neue UltraLight. The Hard Rock uses Helvetica Neue Ultralight all over everything.
The breadcrumb navigation is completely botched. Stuff that is a link should look like a link and not like something that isn't a link even if you put some silly image doohickey that does nothing but point at links next to it. Plus the doohickey is pointing the wrong way. This is what it should look like: Home » Casino, not Home « Casino.
Anyways, this is the kinda shit that drives people who are trained in the art of web design bat shit. Chances are most of you won't notice this stuff overtly, but when all of the details are polished and you can find your way through a website without too much trouble, your subconscious lights up like a Christmas tree.
In the grand scheme, the problems ARIA's new website has with in its typography, user interface and design are miniscule and easily remedied compared to the unstable geometry that is its information architecture. First, a definition as supplied by the Information Architecture Institute:
1. The structural design of shared information environments.
2. The art and science of organizing and labeling web sites, intranets, online communities, and software to support findability and usability.
3.An emerging community of practice focused on bringing principles of design and architecture to the digital landscape.
Based on the homepage navigation, this is how ARIALasVegas.com organizes its information:
» Reservation Form
» Phone Number
» Email Promotions
» About ARIA
» Viva Elvis
The most important thing is reservation methods, followed by "Concierge", "About Aria", "Hotel", "Viva Elvis", "Dining" and so on down the line.
This should look shockingly familiar to anyone who has spent any real time in the trenches of the internet business. If it doesn't, then you must've ignored Chip from Sales' meeting request. Check your Outlook. This is what happens when you have 5 people cutting a large pizza pie at once - lots of pieces all over the place with no rhyme or reason.
Fact: Everyone who books a stay in a casino resort will eat there. The same cannot be said about going to show. We can guess that there is a contractual obligation between ARIA and Cirque du Soleil wherein Viva Elvis will be displayed a certain way on ARIA's website. That "casino" is listed after "spa" and "nightlife" begs the question - do those two make more money than a casino does?
Seeing a lack of hierarchy is evidence that this website was built by a committee of pie size concerned department heads and filtered through a powerless project manager and gunslinging web team. I believe the saying goes "He with the loudest gut, has their instincts framed in HTML."
As a service of goodwill to our friends at MGM Mirage, I propose a new information architecture for ARIALasVegas.com, one that takes the entire CityCenter experience - or 'environment' as Jim Murren calls it - into account. In this ARIA IA schema, ARIA isn't the destination, CityCenter is the destination and ARIA is the "Resort & Casino" as named.
CityCenter » ARIA Resort & Casino
» About ARIA
» Contact (Phone, Email & Social)
» Entertainment (Viva Elvis)
» Contact (Phone, Email & Social)
» Reservation Form
» Concierge Request Form
» Show/Club Tickets
» Social (a widget)
» Sharing (post to widget)
» Receiving (sign up for widget)
» Email Sign Up
» Twitter Facebook YouTube & VV
Ideally, there are two processes on hotel websites, Brochureware ('you come here for in-for-ma-tion') and Shopping Cart. Brochureware is a digital version of the trifold pamphlet that your Dad used to get in the mail when planning the family trip back before the internets existed. "Shopping Cart" is straight up sales with the addition of "Social" - which casinos view as a sales lead generation tool.
Brochureware is organized like the name of the joint: ARIA, Resort, Casino. If you can't fit everything under that, then you named it wrong. Resort is essentially everything but the casino, including Viva Elvis, spa, dining, nightlife and meetings. You could debate that Concierge and Amenities should be under hotel or their own category under "resort." I'm inclined to think that they're more a function of the hotel portion of the resort than an equal to it.
Shopping Cart is any and all mechanisms wherein people can buy stuff or make themselves available to receive marketing that will get them to buy stuff in the future. If I were running things, reservations (the shopping cart) would be completely centralized - one online shopping cart process or phone call will get you room reservations, show tickets, nightclub tables, dining reservations, spa treatments, limo service, tee times, the whole schmear... mechanize the myriad purchasing processes into one streamlined "Concierge" style experience. The possibilities for both the guest and the casino are limitless... guests could customize their trip with a dedicated concierge agent in one phone call. The agent could upsell the pants off of potential guests during the concierge process and build a guest to operator/concierge/host relationship that would make every guest feel special before they even arrive.
Most companies don't realize that social media is more than a marketing tool. Some casinos are excellent at interacting with their online communities in a very exciting and genuine way (this means you @phvegas.) Others are nothing more than vapid hype machines swimming in a tainted popularity pool filled with twenty something casino marketing peers/interns and Twitter-addicted retweet zombies who measure self worth by their follower counts. Yeah, the casinos tweet a lot and post fun stuff to Twitter and Facebook, but if followers don't click through and use the shopping cart, they'll drop Social Media faster than MGM Mirage did The Boardwalk to build this ARIA thing thang.
What they're not capitalizing on is the third way of social media. 1) Guest -> Casino 2) Casino -> Guest 3) Guest -> (Casino) -> Friend, wherein they facilitate the ease of sharing various casino stuff with their friends. Why not just a one click share to various social services? Right now, all they are doing is gathering followers and not letting their followers gather for them more followers. Silly.
My last complaint about ARIA's website is their having a "Print Page" button on the bottom of each webpage. Shouldn't they be discouraging printing out paper copies of their website, particularly being all LEED certified? Hogwash.
A Codetta on ARIA
After looking at the new ARIA site for a day while working on this post, I decided to click the little language changer button at the bottom. The non-English versions of the website cut out all of the stuff that each of the departments forced on to the "main site" resulting in a much cleaner, clearer and elegant version of their website. Six categories! Reservations | Suites | Meetings | Dining | Entertainment | About Aria. Their organization is all wrong, but hot damn that sure is a great place to start fresh from!
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