Web Usability Identification of Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC) and Opera Australia (OA)


Executive Summary

This report identifies the web usability of Melbourne Theatre and Opera Australia, two Australian arts-based companies. Initially, each company is introduced and background information is presented. Subsequently, three principles of inspection approach including presentation, navigation, and accessibility notably for disabled people are selected to evaluate the usability. The predominant findings are that both companies strive for a responsive design approach and engage the audience’s interest by offering dark colour design. The Melbourne Theatre has an apparent lack of contrast, inadequate white space and fragmentation of similar functionality. On the other hand, Opera Australia has presentation issues such as unnecessary ticket box and imperfect responsive design which may lead to losing some users. Ultimately, both websites need pre-recorded audio and video for use of adults with disabilities. Therefore, some improvements are required so as to influence the overall user experience.

1. Background

The two Australian companies of live performance art were selected to conduct a critical analysis. Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC) is a dominant theatre corporation in Australia and English-speaking world. (Melbourne Theatre, n.d.). Moreover, the major perception of the company is to emphasise live stories and offer a place for recreation. On the other hand, Opera Australia (OA) is “Australia’s largest arts employer, with annual seasons showcasing the world’s great opera and music theatre repertoire” (Opera Australia, n.d.). It also produces the performance on national radio, television and cinemas. Since booking for the performance is a vital part of their business, both of them utilise web technology to connect with their audience.

2. Research Objective

The aim of this report is to inspect and analyse the design of arts-based websites from the usability point of view. The scope of inspection is presented, the principles of usability are applied and recommendations are given.

2.1 Usability Principles for the Web

Fernandez, Insfran and Abrahão (2011) discuss that usability evaluation is comprised of empirical approach and inspection approach. According to inspection technique, evaluation is based on expert views and various perspectives help to distinguish problems. Barnum (2010) suggests conducting a heuristic evaluation and introduces Nielsen’s guidelines. However, Conte, Massollar, Mendes and Travassos (2007) argue that Nielsen’s evaluation is less effective than their technique. They call it “Web Design Perspectives-based Usability Evaluation” (p. 149). Alternatively, Hanson and Richards (2013) explain that “the importance of accessibility is highlighted in the guidelines for accessibility created by the W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative” (p. 2).

2.2 Scope of Inspection

In this report, the presentational and navigational design aspects of Conte et al. (2007) which have the association with Nielsen’s heuristic perspectives are utilised to evaluate the websites. Furthermore, each website will be considered in terms of accessibility for disabled people. The Chrome browser is also used to test the usability.

3. Findings

This section presents detailed observation of usability and highlights the issues by applying referred scope. Figure 1 depicts the homepage screenshots of Melbourne Theatre on the left and Opera Australia on the right next to each other. At first glance, both of them have an almost similar interface.

Figure 1: Melbourne Theatre vs Opera Australia — April 2017

To begin with, consistency is one of the aspects of Nielsen’s guidelines (Barnum, 2010). Another argument is recognition rather than recall. According to Conte et al. (2007), these are interpreted as the presentation perspective. The layout has an acceptable usability if it enables the user to perform the tasks effectively. In other words, the website visitor will not be confused while interacting with contents and feel contented. Moreover, making users remember objects or actions is alleviated.

From a navigational standpoint, easy and painless navigation leads to acceptable usability (Conte et al., 2007). In other words, granting users permission to have access in a distinctive manner and possessing the ability to undo the undesirable functions are rewarding. The relevant principles of Nielsen’s guidelines are also associated with navigational perspective. “User control and freedom”, “flexibility and efficiency of use” are some of them (Barnum, 2010, p. 62).

Finally, the content and interface should be presented in the way that could be perceived and controlled (W3C, 2008). Hanson and Richards (2013) explain that Web Content Accessibility Guidelines “specify techniques for creating content that will be accessible for disabled individuals either directly or through the use of assistive devices” (p. 3). According to guidelines, non-text alternatives for content and accessibility by keyboard functions meet some of the criteria which are called perceivable and operable principles respectively.

3.1 Melbourne Theatre

Melbourne Theatre Company uses a responsive design to react to any size of the device screen. The scaffolding consists of a header with a quick access to important links and the search box, a left-aligned logo of the company, the main navigation and finally, the content.

Figure 2: Melbourne Theatre’s homepage

From a presentational point of view, the website includes many positive aspects and some of them are presented. Firstly, each element follows a similar design pattern, typeface and spacing. In addition, the logo and headings change to different colours in “About”, “Backstage” and “User” pages which do not appear to come into conflict with entire website. Secondly, the website enjoys considerable advantages such as aesthetic design and events calendar.

However, some drawbacks can be seen. One problem is that there are fragments of similar functionality such as “Contact” and “Support” in different sections of the website. This can place a strain on users. Furthermore, the space between elements is not sufficient and does not provide enough room to rest the eyes (see Figure 3). Another drawback is that the main call to actions such as purchase or subscription is not clear and big enough. Finally, the website does not follow a full-width design in the desktop version.

Figure 3: Content blocks of Melbourne Theatre

From a navigational perspective, the design has adequate breakpoints and the navigation fits any viewpoint appropriately. The mobile version is illustrated in Figure 7. Nonetheless, it would be better to provide a contrast and more padding so as to make it easy to locate.

Figure 4: Navigation of Melbourne Theatre

From the standpoint of accessibility, the company provides an access flyer and relevant information for disabled individuals on the website. In addition, trailers of plays are available with YouTube automatic caption service. However, having more alternative pre-recorded audio and video of presented information would be a positive aspect for people with disabilities.

3.2 Opera Australia

Australia’s national opera company uses partially responsive design to fit the big screens and some of the handheld devices. It has a language preference, some cursory links, a search box and a big navigation bar. In the desktop version, the logo of the company is vertical and outside the main structure.

Figure 5: Opera Australia’s homepage

Firstly, the website follows an identical pattern and engages the user’s attention. Attracting the users with native languages may also be a benefit. However, heading to other page changes it to the default and is partially supported. Sticky ticket box is keeping focus but indeed distracts the user’s attention from the content. Furthermore, it does not offer the user a way to hide the box. As a result, it seems likely that to be a sense of frustration from a presentational perspective (see Figure 6).

Figure 6: Ticket box of Opera Australia

From a navigational point of view, website navigation is easy to recognise and make the user feel comfortable. In addition, a hamburger icon appears instead of navigation bar which gives a white space for mobile users. There is a need to deal with a range of viewport sizes and that is where responsive design reveals. Although the layout supports desktop and mobile devices (see Figure 5 and 7), it does not offer an appropriate version for tablet users (see Figure 8) and the company may be losing their users at the first glance.

Finally, from the standpoint of accessibility, the helpful information is also presented about access at Opera Australia performances for disabled people on the website. Nevertheless, the lack of audio or video records is the downside. It is beneficial to offer the non-text content to enhance the accessibility.

Figure 7: Mobile version of Melbourne Theatre vs Opera Australia
Figure 8: Opera Australia’s tablet version — iPad Pro portrait layout

4. Conclusion and Recommendations

In general, both websites follow a responsive approach and the attractive dark colour design influences the target audience. However, the overcrowding content could be reduced by additional padding. In addition to this, adapting websites for browser size could be an upside. Another argument is that more contrast should be applied by drawing a distinction between the main call to actions and the other elements. With regard to Melbourne Theatre, similar functions should be merged to have more consistency and less memory load. In terms of Opera Australia, ticket box distracts the user’s attention from content and is a source of irritation. An improvement in design is also required to adapt for tablet users. Finally, the more non-text content and keyboard functionality could be presented in both websites to enhance the accessibility for disabled individuals.


  • Barnum, C. M. (2010). Usability testing essentials ready, set — test! Amsterdam: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers.
  • Conte, T., Massollar, J., Mendes, E., & Travassos, G. (2007). Usability evaluation based on web design perspectives. First International Symposium on Empirical Software Engineering and Measurement (ESEM 2007), doi: 10.1109/esem.2007.30
  • Fernandez, A., Insfran, E., & Abrahão, S. (2011). Usability evaluation methods for the web: A systematic mapping study. Information and Software Technology, 53(8), 789–817. doi:10.1016/j.infsof.2011.02.007
  • Hanson, V. L., & Richards, J. T. (2013). Progress on Website accessibility? ACM Transactions on the Web, 7(1), 1–30. doi: 10.1145/2435215.2435217
  • Melbourne Theatre. (n.d.). Retrieved from Melbourne Theatre Company: http://www.mtc.com.au/
  • Opera Australia. (n.d.). Retrieved from Australia’s National Opera Company: http://opera.org.au/
  • W3C. (2008). Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. Retrieved from World Wide Web Consortium: https://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/
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