Epic Fail: Art-House MovieTheater’s “How to Buy Tickets” page

by | Jan 8, 2010 | Writing Matters Blog | 0 comments

We’re lucky to live near the American Film Institute’s Silver Theater in Silver Spring, Maryland, a beautifully restored 1930s theater that offers satisfying alternatives to multiplex films. But AFI’s website is a nightmare if you want to complete the simple transaction that will keep the theater in the black: buy tickets online.

AFI’s home page sports a prominent Buy Tickets link. But, inexplicably, you can’t buy tickets on the How to Buy Tickets page, a page that truly fails task-oriented users:

  • There’s no link to the Buy Tickets page, though it would be safe to assume that a user who’s reading instructions on how to buy tickets wants to buy tickets.
  • The paragraph under the heading Online includes this
    sentence: “There are many links on this site that you may choose to get
    to the purchase point, such as: Now Playing, Films by Title, Film
    and Calendar…” but doesn’t actually link to any of those links. This kind of meta-writing is always a bad sign: copy that refers to links without linking, pages that begin  “On this page, you will find …”


To be fair to AFI, I decided to compare its online ticket purchase process that of similar theaters. Who knew that art-house movie theater web sites comprise the Make-It-Difficult-To-Buy-Tickets genre?

  • The Brattle Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts presents a small Tickets link under its description of each film, but site-wide it has placed the Buy Tickets links under the Buy Stuff label in the main navigation. You have to scroll way down to the bottom of the Buy Stuff pagepast the travel mugs, gift cards, posters, and t-shirtsto reach the Buy Tickets link.
  • The Enzian Theater in Maitland, Florida is better. The site lacks a Buy Tickets link in its main navigation, but the home page text does explain “Click Show Times to Purchase Tickets” and this sentence appears above the showtimes on each film-specific page.
  • The Film Forum in Manhattan gets it right with a prominent Buy Tickets link in the main navigation. Even better, the drop-down from the Buy Tickets link lists the films currently showing, the calendar, and a couple of explanations of when you can or can’t buy tickets online (albeit with some weird double asterisks).

Helping users complete tasks is a website’s highest calling. If you want your site to be task-oriented, take a look at these excellent offerings from Webcontent.gov:

  — Leslie O’Flahavan 

Tags: Hypertext links, Usability


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