Samadhi Arts is an arts non-profit, founded in February 2015. The founders are two friends, so my understanding of Samadhi (its curatorial vision and personal narrative) has been shaped through many conversations since the company’s founding. My interest in critiquing the design of their Events and Gallery pages has to do with their website being launched just a few weeks ago. Thus as they debut their first season of events, future collaborators, audience members, and supporters are learning about Samadhi for the very first time by dialoguing with its digital persona. Questions I have when engaging with the website are, does this interface communicate Samadhi’s intentions, who does Samadhi see their user as being, and how discoverable are crucial event details?
Overall, Samadhi’s website is successful at designing visceral responses. Its Zen-like tone is achieved through a sweepingly spare aesthetic with rare sightings of color, but when color is seen (such as in its Gallery page), it is rich and palpable.
The website’s enduring emphasis of Samadhi’s smokey, mandala-like icon (seen on every page) is an important signifier that alludes to the non-profits ideal demographic; like a fingerprint of the urban wizard or a student of avant-garde arts. This seemingly traditional, fleeting, calligraphic black ink resting against the gallery-white of the page is perfectly tuned to the conceptual model of the organization, a symbol of their story as curators of something old with something very new. Though precisely because Samadhi functions as mostly a curatorial organization, it’s expected their Events page should be the most used, and thus the question of designing for beauty and/or for utility has to be put into question. As Don Norman warns, “the focus on aesthetics may blind the designer to the lack of usability” (134).
Though the Events page does describe what to expect of future events, the basic design problem is that it provides only one way to discover information. To see something in the immediate future, the user scrolls down. To see something more further along the future, the user scrolls down even more; the action is strictly chronological. As a result, the Events page eventually affords information on the details of an event, but not very quickly. In other words, the manner in which information is provided does not entirely match the different human needs brought to the page.
Instead, were the Events page more human-centered, multiple views of time would be mapped in order to facilitate discoverability for a variety of users. For instance, for users who are more visual, it would be helpful to have a chart of the current month (with arrows pointing left and right for past and future months, respectively), with hyperlinks found on individual days whose event details would materialize upon clicking— including an image to associate with the event. The endless scrolling feature can still be used, complementing this visual approach. For users who think thematically (and not spatially or linearly), categories on the different types of events can be visible as a navigation sub-menu, listing “Talks,” “Workshops,” “Performances,” etc. In this way, as many means for discoverability are exploited, and information can intuitively be grasped by any kind of user. Another advantage of presenting multiple channels is for past events to continue to live on the Events page. Since Samadhi Arts launched, three events have taken place, each shaping the identity of the organization in different ways— but in its current design, past events aren’t seen on the page, forcing them to exist only as Knowledge In The Head for those who were there.
The Gallery page is given a great deal of value for this reason. So while the Events page acts as reminders of activities of a future time, the Gallery page acts as a reflection device for those who have gone to “x” event. If what Norman says is true, that “to the designer, reflection is perhaps the most important of the levels of processing” (54), then text (or even arrangement through albums) should be used in order to contextualize the images in the Gallery. In its current form, images are seen one at a time, through scrolling left or right. Contextualizing images would be a powerful tool to refine the memory of the user who was also present at the event. Additionally, having more information on the image acts as a critical keyhole through which future audience members of a type of event can peep through.