DIGITISING HULL'S CULTURAL COMMUNITIES
Almost eight years ago, in 2009, plans began to form for a UK-wide accolade that would give selected cities the chance to host numerous cultural, sporting and historical events – the likes of which might never before have been experienced. By 2013, the first ever UK City of Culture – Northern Ireland’s Derry – had hosted a year of activities and inspirational programmes. Later that year, a panel of judges chose England’s north easterly city of Hull to celebrate the next instalment of local arts. The first week of 2017 alone saw over 25,000 people attend the events developed by the Hull City of Culture committee.
Yet, to host its years’ worth of cultural celebrations, the Hull City of Culture committee required an effective digital platform to optimise user experience and encourage more visitors to Hull over the city of culture’s ‘Four seasons’ programme. The organisation enlisted the expertise of Manchester-based digital design agency, magneticNorth, to design and maintain an accessible, captivating digital home which continues to attract visitors even after the initial Hull City of Culture launch in January.
And, with eight million page visits from 1.2 million unique users since its launch, it’s fair to say this goal has been achieved and hull2017.co.uk is a success.
David Watson, head of digital at Hull 2017, says, “Our ambition has always been to create a product that would bring together the cultural offering across the city into a single online destination. Additionally, we wanted to go that one step further and offer the ability for customers to book multiple events across multiple venues - all in a single transaction. This came with its own challenges as it had never been done before in quite the same way and was a huge technical undertaking from start to finish.”
Yet, for Watson, the success of Hull City of Culture’s digital offering contributes to the purpose of the overall programme; to highlight the importance of local communities and regional attractions in gaining the wider recognition for Hull. “Collaborating with magneticNorth has allowed us to overcome many challenges and deliver a product which I’m truly proud of and more importantly, will support the cultural sector of Hull and the sub-region,” he explains.
A digital-first strategy also works in harmony with the overall Hull City of Culture place brand, developed by UK-based brand strategy agency Jaywing. Like magneticNorth, the agency was careful to retain a local feel to a platform which needed regional – or even global – appeal. Speaking to Communicate magazine in 2016, Gavin Shore, creative director at Jaywing, said, “The people of Hull feel that culture is so far away from them, and what they wanted to feel was the direct impact of culture – commercially, will it help them? They wanted to feel the benefit of [the City of Culture] so that’s something that the project has always known it can’t do: it can’t feel too elitist, and that was echoed by everyone.”
This is something Adam Todd, creative director at magneticNorth, says the agency has been careful to retain as integral in the website aesthetic, as well as functionality. “Hull’s original digital first approach ensures that it will endure as a city of culture for many years to come. The project has become an exemplar for other cities seeking City of Culture status and will no doubt shape future cities’ delivery strategies in years to come.”
Todd continues, “This is a historic achievement for Hull and I’m proud that magneticNorth had the opportunity to help cement the cultural legacy of the city and the North at large.”
Now drawing towards the end of ‘Season two: routes and roots,’ the second phase of its ‘Four seasons’ programme, Hull City of Culture is able to draw on both its events and digital success to encourage visitors to visit or return for the closing six month instalment. magneticNorth’s creation and Hull City of Culture’s upcoming events can be viewed at hull2017.co.uk. The project has been delivered in partnership with ticketing platform Spektrix.