The Pan American Games is expected to draw 250,000 visitors to Toronto with more than 10,000 athletes and officials from over 40 countries. While the physical events will take place in more than 30 venues, visitors will rely on online information to guide them through. Here’s a look at the user experience of the official website.
Look and feel distractions
While visual design isn’t the focus of this post, it is part of the overall user experience, of course, and one of the first things people will respond to when visiting the site.
The overall branding of the event comes across as playful and a bit cartoonish. Varela Round, the main font used in Toronto PanAm branding and on the website, is a less maligned cousin to Comic Sans. The visuals tell me this is a friendly event for kids and families, with the bright colours, hand-drawn icons, and of course Pachi, the official mascot, featured prominently on the site.
This is not so different from other recent major athletic events, such as the previous Pan American Games in Guadalajara, the London 2012 Summer Olympics, or the more recent Sochi Winter Olympics. Not as round and playful perhaps, but definitely colourful like Toronto’s design.
Overall, there’s enough negative space in the layouts and the colours work as identifiers for different sections so the soft, round, colours-of-the-rainbow look doesn’t become a distraction. The page grid breaks in places, giving a bit of a feeling that the site was perhaps put together in haste.
The top level navigation has eight items, but you can see the content owners probably wanted more, as the “More” section bundles up About Us, Contact Us, Business, Media, and Volunteer Info. The bundling helps to keep the top level more manageable, although Contact Us, which could be an important item, is now buried two levels deep.
In addition, links to tickets and to shop for merchandise are found in the header space as they should be, although Shop opens a separate site. It may not be ideal to push users out of the main site when they are looking to shop for PanAm-branded clothing, but clicking back and forth between the event and ecommerce sites seems easy.
The order of the top-level navigation topics surprises me. Torch Relays is the first item, while more visitors may be looking for Schedule (which is second) as they plan their visit to the Games.
Each item in the navigation brings down a big panel, which we could call a mega fly-out, and those can be a little overwhelming. Long lists of sports, countries, and venues are not incredibly engaging – or scannable – and while they accommodate for a lot of pages on the site, don’t support a web experience that feels personal.
Some of the elements like individual venues could be moved out of the main navigation. In terms of nomenclature, “Celebrate” in the navigation is not a clear title; the section includes redundant links to the Torch Relays section, among other things.
The PanAm/ParapanAm Games is a huge event, and so the website needs to provide a lot of information. Everything important may be there, but it’s not all that engaging, easy to use, or find.
For instance, venue maps are provided as PDFs, which are not all print-friendly. Some info on public transit is included on the venue pages, but for trip planning, the site links out to Metrolinx’ Triplinx service. Why not integrate the planner into the site itself for quicker access? For driving directions there is a separate site at 2015gamestripplanner.ca that gives transit directions as well, but again, it’s a separate site.
The News section is a generic list of press releases, similar to a simple web blog. It probably does the job of pushing official releases out to the media, but isn’t very engaging for anyone else, in which case it could be tucked into the Media Centre section.
A few pages on the site, particularly some of the content under the Spectator section, are heavy reads with little organization. The list of “Services on-Venue” seems to have been added at the last minute.
There’s a search tool on the site. When I entered “lost and found” as the search term it failed to bring up the page with info on lost and found service at the venues. For both “transit planner” and “transportation planner”, the search tool brings up nothing.
Most visitors will use their smartphones to find information during the games. The website, as well as the directly connected but separate sites it links to (like the store), are responsive, which is great. When tested on a Windows Phone and on Apple iOS, the site is mostly usable. The little glitches make me think there was a rush in the end to get the site done on time.
In addition, there is an official mobile app for iOS and Android, and the 2015 Games Trip Planner is available as a mobile app as well (too bad there seems to be no easy link to it from the home page).
While not perfect, the site isn’t a complete fail either. If I were coming to the Games from outside Toronto, I’d probably use not just the official tools but Google Maps and/or alternative transit planners to navigate the events.
This is because the official site is just a bit cumbersome, and requires a bit of a learning curve and/or extra time the average user might not have. With that user in mind, here are a few suggestions on how to improve it:
Rethink the navigation
If Torch Relays needs to be a top-level item, then why include the same content under Celebrate? Venues could be important as a top-level item as well. Instead of long lists including every sport and country, how about some narrative to curate and guide users, like “top athletes/countries to watch” or “main events recommended by others”?
Reduce the amount of content
This is a broad recommendation, but the site has a lot of content and not all of it seems carefully prepared. Visitors can get lost in all the information.
Fix the search
With so much content on the site and an overburdened navigation, the search tool really shouldn’t fail. Add filtering, and make sure it brings up useful results for simple keywords like those I tested.
Make it exciting
When the site feels more like a phone book than a planner and guide for what is the biggest sports event in Toronto ever, visitors are unlikely to remember it as one of the highlights of their Games experience. With some more thinking, the site could use social media in more imaginative ways to excite the crowds, include a personal planner and ability to save events and share content with others.
Now, happy PanAm Games to everyone! Looking forward to the biggest (sports) event Toronto has hosted.