Website of the Week (Week 96)

Humboldt

With tourism becoming ever more competitive, it comes as no surprise that you have to create something pretty special to capture your audience’s attention and make them want to visit your holiday destination.

Visit Humboldt is a website designed to promote the abundance of surrounding natural beauty within the Redwood Coast of California. This experiential digital campaign takes on the strapline “Follow the magic” and uses the treasured and classic storyline of Alice in Wonderland as an underlying theme, to mimic the strong connection of adventure, discovery and (as described by the website itself), “a world unlike any other.”

When landing on the homepage, a clear message informs the user of the purpose of this website – to explore the various surrounding destinations and create a virtual itinerary for the user’s holiday. You are immediately submerged into an enchanting world of exploration, using wondrous full screen footage of the national forest which takes you through a door in one of the famous giant redwood trees, before transporting you to the other side and a world of outdoor heaven.

The User Journey

Alice and her friends are spotted throughout, taking you through a whirlwind journey as you glide through the tree trunks and the river glens of the forest, dwarfed by the sheer scale of the giant redwood trees, exaggerated by the angle of the footage, and then soaring high over the dramatic coastal views. The clever use of music perfectly captures the mood of magical exploration and enhances the footage used to scale new heights – it completely transforms the experience for the user and without it, would result in a website that pales in comparison.

The navigation is very simple and user led; clear call to actions remain central to the display area at all times within the introductory sections, and links to the homepage and sound settings are accessible at any point in the top right-hand corner. Simplistic and clean iconography, encapsulated by a circle of multiple growth rings from a cross section of a tree trunk, complements both the topic and minimal feel of the website, allowing the visuals to tell the story and paint the proverbial thousand words.

After clicking “Follow the magic”, which has a whimsical reference to the white rabbit and is the very icon that begins Alice’s adventure in Carroll’s novel, the user is asked to select the type of adventure they wish to take – adventurous, relaxing, family or romantic. An informal friendly caption tells the user not to worry as they can return to this page to “visit them all”. Once a selection is made, the user is taken to a new page, which again uses full screen filmography of the local area, and is instructed to click anywhere on the screen using the ‘pin’ shaped mouse cursor, to mark any destination the user may wish to include in their itinerary.

The User Interface

After clicking “Get Started”, a countdown from 3 to 1 prepares the user for the next chapter of their journey. The numbers possibly feel a little out of character here given the Alice in Wonderland narrative, and I can’t help but wish the website had perhaps capitalised on the storyline of ‘falling down the rabbit hole’ in a more graphic and movement-driven fashion.

For each category the template is exactly the same, providing familiarity and structure. An edit of footage with complementary music that reflects the mood lasts a little over a minute, taking the user along a bespoke journey to the category they’ve selected.

The UI within the main part of the website remains on the outer edges of the screen to avoid distraction from the main focal point, but it is clear enough to locate when required. The destination name features in the top left of the screen in a clean, bold, white sans serif, while a reminder below in a lighter weight italic tells the user to click on anything they might be interested in to add it to their virtual itinerary. In the bottom right-hand corner the number of items added to the itinerary keeps the user up-to-date with how much they have planned, and a previous/next function allows the user to skip or replay footage they are watching.

Lastly, a simple but useful yellow progression bar notifies the user as to how far into the footage they are. The colours used within the website are predominantly white and yellow – with even the filmography having a yellow filter applied, to give it a mellow and inviting appeal to its audience.

Improving the User Experience

Once the film has finished a question is displayed asking the user how they might arrive. From my experience with this website, I would say this is more data capture intended for the local tourism board, than to add to the itinerary process. No further mention as to the transportation chosen features as the experience continues.

As you scroll down the page to view the areas marked on your itinerary, a simplistic map overlays the full-width screenshots from the film and acts as a visual aid to show the geographical locations, with each pin being magnified and highlighted in yellow as you hover over each location.

There is the option to read a little information about the area, and a link to Google Maps to “get directions”, but the site also has the added functionality to view nearby accommodation with a very simple drop-down field highlighting locations and types of lodgings. While I love this website, I feel that this one area lets it down slightly. Both the Google Maps and accommodation features take you away from the website, and I feel that the integration of these elements would allow for a better all-round experience… perhaps I am being pernickety.

Readability & Accessibility

A great feature towards the end of your experience, is the ability to print off or email yourself the itinerary that you’ve put together which, like the website, is formatted in a methodical and clear way. Before entering your email address, you are given peace of mind that your details will not be used or retained for any future purpose, so there is nothing sales led about this process. For the printed itinerary, a custom-made map replicating the one on the website shows you the locations selected, followed by each corresponding location organised by area code, photo, then description.

The engaging and friendly tone of voice used, which carries on through from the website, makes it easy to read and impartial, and allows you to make an informed and appropriate decision.

The site’s compatibility with mobile devices is excellent and factors in the ever-increasing popularity of researching and booking holidays through such mediums, with the added bonus of it being viewable in portrait or landscape orientation. The homepage video does not impede on the loading time, so you are able to enjoy the same wow factor content on your mobile as you would on your desktop, laptop or tablet.

However, further on into the mobile website, the feature length videos can take a little longer to load, and the streaming can be a little ‘jumpy’ if your internet signal is not perfect, which can be frustrating. That said, the use of photography and inclusion of bite size 6-second clips does enable a ‘quick view’ option, should you wish to skip the feature length video.

This new online campaign is more than just an advert; it plants the idea into prospective visitors’ minds, that Humboldt is a truly magical place. With an enchanting website such as this, and film work to prove the area’s outstanding beauty, I couldn’t possibly disagree. “Pack your suitcase, hit the rabbit hole and follow the magic” – sounds very tempting indeed!