What Graspop 2014’s running order teaches us about user needs and being responsive

When attending a music festival, your most important decisions relate to which bands to see, and when and where they are playing.*

You want to know which bands clash with each other; you want to be able to work out how long you can spend checking out a new band before leaving to get to the front in time for a band you know you’re going to enjoy.

I love planning activities within constraints to maximise my enjoyment, so I was excited to see the Graspop Metal Meeting 2014 running order announced.

But I was soon disappointed, as I downloaded the document and tried to start planning which bands to see.

In looking at this document I made two basic visual assumptions:

  1. As we go down the page, the hour of day increases.
  2. Bands on the same horizontal level are playing at the same time.

This guide went against both of these assumptions:

  1. As we go further down the page, as a general rule the hour does increase. But each stage goes at its own pace, so it’s hard to compare between stages.

    meshuggah and megadeth timing old graspop 2014 running order

    Meshuggah are further down than Megadeth, but go on stage nearly 3 hours earlier.

  2. Bands on the same horizontal level are often playing at very different times.

    sabaton and unida timing old graspop 2014 running order

    On first glance it looks like Unida and Sabaton are playing at the same time. But if you look at the times, Sabaton actually starts 2.5 hours after Unida has finished. Plenty of time to see both.

Okay, so things weren’t looking great. I started thinking about making my own spreadsheet, but I thought I’d give the festival the benefit of the doubt and get in touch:

And in response they made a new version of the running order, and have updated their website with this new version:

The extent to which the document has changed underlines just how hard it was to use before.

We can now compare Meshuggah and Megadeth much more easily:

graspop 2014 improved running order meshuggah megadeth

And we can see that Unida play their set a long time before Sabaton:

new and improved graspop 2014 running order

The new running order is so much easier to use:

  • Easier to understand which bands are playing at a given time: all stages follow the same time axis.
  • Easier to understand the overall shape of the day across the different stages.
  • Colour coding helps distinguish between different stages when scanning down the page.
  • Easier to read because the background is white.

I think there are a few lessons here:

  • Usability is important. Some documents exist almost exclusively to be used. When designing them, we should try to understand how people will make use of them. User testing before launching a product is the safest way to do this, otherwise you risk the product failing to serve its purpose because you miss something important. If everyone attending Graspop in a couple of months was trying to use the old running order, I think there’d be a lot of confusion and frustration.
  • Listening is important. Graspop could easily have ignored my tweet and my point, but instead they chose to engage with it. Credit to them for being open to that.
  • Responsiveness is important. The festival was ready to act on what I said, and pushed out a new version of the running order in less than 4 working hours after I posted my message. If you don’t get it right the first time, being ready to respond and improve things is a pretty close second. Well done Graspop!

* Other important decisions include where to camp, who to befriend, where to obtain provisions, and whether to risk crowdsurfing or a wall of death. But I’m not going to talk about these things here.