Sundancing Through the Online Ticketing Process


Topics: Design Best Practices, UX

Last weekend, I spent several hours buying “locals” tickets for the Sundance Film Festival, which is currently taking place in Park City, Utah, from January 17 through January 27, 2013. Researching films, venues, and ticket availability and then executing the purchase process took an astonishing amount of time, due in part to the poor usability of the eCommerce functions.

Granted, this was the Festival’s first foray into online ticketing (hard to believe, I know!). However, it quickly became clear that Sundance had not selected an eCommerce development partner that was either aware of, or utilizing, Web design best practices. Screen layout was not at all intuitive. Button text was not what you would typically encounter on any other eCommerce site. On-screen instructions were absent or pithy.

What was most frustrating, however, was the arduous process to actually select the films of interest. There is no filtering by topic, genre, time, or ticket availability. Filtering is available only by date and venue, but even then, the films are shown in a calendar style that requires excessive scrolling. Films that no longer have ticket availability are still displayed. In addition, I could only find venue location (address) information by conducting a Google search. Although a “venues” page exists, the site navigation doesn’t link to it and the site instead displays a page with no information.

The Sundance Film Festival has the good fortune of really having no direct competition—tickets are typically oversubscribed and in high demand. However, as a former Sundance volunteer, I am aware that one high-priority goal for the Festival is to provide an amazing experience for each and every attendee, filmmaker, actor, and donor. And, for the most part, Sundance does an incredible job of achieving this goal. That is why it was surprising that the online ticketing experience fell so far short.

According to a recent article on, an effective and expeditious checkout process is important to a significant majority of online shoppers. Although shipping was not an issue with my Sundance purchase, understanding how I can pick up my tickets certainly is. Many online ticket agents now provide an emailed PDF with printable, bar-coded tickets. However, Sundance still uses a paper-based system and was lax in communicating how users can obtain their purchased tickets.

In addition to the top five tips suggested in the article, here are some other suggestions:

1)   Keep up the great work. It is wonderful to see Sundance trying to streamline some of the more cumbersome processes that still exist at the Festival.

2)   Allow users to filter and search films by genre, ticket availability, venue, date/time, and other key criteria to allow more rapid searching for film matches. Although I am sure all of the films at Sundance are wonderful, some of us “lightweights” are really not interested in seeing a five-hour film on generations of Indian gangs. It would be great to be presented with a list of available films that satisfy my unique preferences.

3)   Instead of inviting users to watch a video on how to purchase tickets, use standard and widely accepted eCommerce button text, processes, and flow to move users through the purchase process.

4)   Allow users to log out and log back in if necessary. Many things, including Internet downtime, can interrupt a session. Scaring users by telling them this is their only chance is not a good way to build initial rapport. Not ensuring users that they can log in again resulted in me not watching the informational video or trying a different browser because I didn’t know how the site would react. In addition, because tickets were being sold out in “real time,” users may need to re-evaluate their ticket purchasing strategy to get the best value.

5)   Ask users to confirm the pick up location for their tickets as a final step in the process. This will help ensure that a mis-clicked radio button or out-of-date user profile will not send a user’s tickets to the wrong ticket office.

6)   Convert tickets to a printable PDF that is available immediately upon purchase.

Each Sundance Film Festival provides a unique and exciting experience for everyone who attends. Ad hoc snowstorms, surprise star sightings, and standing-room-only shuttle buses at 2 a.m. only enhance the experience.

Now, if I could just figure out where to pick up my tickets…