A redesign: User Research

By the time my train arrived in Portland, the faire was just starting. Conversation buzzed and displays offered a menagerie of playful wares. Several vendors dressed in cosplay, adding to the light-hearted atmosphere. After listening to my friend perform, I wandered and talked with the vendors. Here’s what I learned:

At its heart: an inclusive and safe space. My friend thoughtfully chose the venue for its central, accessible location. She carefully curated the vendor list with a range of price points and diverse interests. Children had an activity table with crafts so parents could take a moment to browse. As she phrased it, “all walks of life could find something of interest here”.

A circle of friends: participants came out to support each other — and heard about it on Facebook. Vendors were friends of the event organizer, attendees were friends of the vendors. Connections had met at a renaissance fair or a convention and heard about the event by word of mouth. I visualize the social network like a piece of chainmail cloth: loops connected at a few shared points. If friendship topped the list for attendence, Facebook came in second. My friend keeps an active presence on Facebook so no surprise there, but I did wonder if other social media had untapped potential.

Selling experience ranged from “just starting” to “custom booth”. In contrast with similar social circles, vendors entered the business for diverse reasons. A chocolatier started out two years ago (her chocolate truffles were delectably indulgent). One artist started her first graphic novel twelve years ago before picking it back up and publishing. A retired mechanical engineer explored a new craft repairing and upgrading cosplay weapons. Another vendor recently started making cards — one of my own past hobbies. She shared her new lightbox photos of crocheted cactus for her online store. The first (and only) booth by the entryway boasted an impressive wall of cosplay weaponry. My husband would have drooled. Selling venues varied just as widely: some managed online stores and others had a spot at a local farmer’s market. Many accepted credit card payment, but some did not and only then did I realize my credit union didn’t have any ATMs nearby. Doh.

I mused over the conversations on the train ride home. The atmosphere was so congenial, welcoming, fun. Yet even in its third year, I noted the sparse shoppers wandering the room and others noticed, too. Low attendance was a concern. Next, I’ll analyze the current state of the website and create a list of recommendations to prioritize changes.