Orchestre de la francophonie: digital renaissance

Design that gets out of the way. An enduring adaptable WordPress to help with a digital transformation.

Orchestre de la francophonie

The Orchestre de la francophonie is an international teaching orchestra for developing musicians who live and play in french. It’s run as a sort of passion project by conductor Jean-Philippe Tremblay and a small group out of Montréal and Ottawa.

Traditionally, the orchestra’s season consists of a month-long summer teaching/rehearsal session followed by a series of concerts and the occasional international tour.

For a young musician, it’s a fabulous experience. Only with COVID-19, none of that is possible.

But rather than throw in the towel, the OF decided to build out a digital arm of its pedagogical offer. Online master classes, digital music projects, and streamed concerts are all part of its 2020 season.

They connected with digital audio impresario Maurizio Ortolani who pioneered the National Arts Centre’s digital transformation before heading out on his own.

But they needed a new website. Which is where I came in.

They wanted clean, uncluttered and professional. They had no massive engineering requirements, but every detail had to be just so. That’s how orchestras work. Forty eight people playing together, each with their own part, and not a note out of place.

They were running WordPress and had no issues with their host. What they did not have was a lot of time.

Design that gets out of the way

They needed something to leapfrog them past their contemporaries, visually speaking, because their energy and resources go into playing, not building websites. So this would be their only chance at a re-design for several years.

The design itself would not be the thing on this site. Its goal was to get out of the way. And leave the viewer to look on the content and listen to the music. It didn’t hurt that over the years the Orchestre has build up an excellent collection of compelling photographs.

An enduring, adaptable WordPress

They needed a back end that could also stand the test of time. Of late, the WordPress ecosystem has become cluttered with these page builder applications that give site editors visual tools to design and build layouts.

Kind of like Dreamweaver in yer page editor toolbar.

They do let you build beautiful pages but once you’ve hitched your wagon to one particular star — be it Elementor, Divi, WP-Bakery or whatever — you’re there forever. Redesigning will mean ripping all that out and starting over from raw material. Swapping themes will be a week of work.

And while there are many cookie cutter themes that can produce instant results, they tend to be a more favourable proposition for disposable websites where the theme shopper can find a look that hits the mark, get the site up quickly and then dump the whole mess two years later.

So for this I wanted to stick as close to the core of the WordPress universe as possible.

  • Leave off the great big wedding cake of a page builder, use WP’s own blocks.
  • Don’t pour time into customizing a commercial theme only to discover later that adding a third column on desktop requires a whole new theme.
  • If there must be plugins, make them plugins with legs under them.

And that’s what I did. The client had a really tight deadline. They knew that, though, and were very quick to get back with feedback, and they put a lot of time into reviewing the content, considering the design, IA and the content. I can’t emphasize enough how much that benefitted the design process and allowed them to devote time and energy into their efforts to innovate and create in a difficult time.

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