Sex, Blood, and Betrayal

Redesigning the San Francisco Opera

No good opera plot can be sensible, for people do not sing when they are feeling sensible.

— W. H. Auden

If you look at the San Francisco Opera’s job page right now you’ll find the following listings: teaching artist, shop foreman, and wig shop assistant. On another day you may find postings for carpenters, electricians, model makers, seamstresses, tailors, videographers, and more. It takes a lot of different types of people, knowledge, and expertise to put on a good opera. The talent you see on stage — and boy howdy there is some talent up there — may come from all over the world to perform on the War Memorial’s stage. And they do. The SF Opera is a destination. The world’s finest opera singers perform on that stage. They work hard on their craft. And it shows. But the talent you don’t see, that’s worth mentioning. Because if you love San Francisco, and you love a good show, and you want to work for one of the city’s oldest and most amazing civic institutions, those are the people you’ll talk to every day. And those people do amazing work behind the scenes. And those people are your neighbors.

San Francisco Opera home

We were honored to work with these people. They love what they do. We won’t lie — we didn’t walk in Opera fans. But as we worked side by side with the Opera team, we became fans. We saw sets being built. We saw dress rehearsals. We got to see wigs and costumes being made. We explored hidden passages backstage!

We started the project the same way we start every project — by listening. We listened to the opera team. (How did they want to communicate with the public? What did they love about their job?) We listened to opera patrons. (What makes you want to come here? Why do you describe opera as “addictive?”) We listened to people who’d never been to an opera. (What are people doing instead of going to the opera? What makes them try something new?) We asked questions. We researched similar organizations. We researched behavior.

As usual, we came in to redesign a site and ended up redesigning a little bit of the organization. Turns out the Opera was sitting on a treasure trove of photography that their current site couldn’t accommodate. Also turns out that people really like photos of operas. So we made them a cornerstone of the design.

It also turns out that San Francisco, being a tourist destination, get a lot of customers wanting to know if they can see anything right now. So we made that easy to find as well.

San Francisco Opera what's on

These people work, so we wanted that hard work to show in the design of the site. We wanted visitors to the site to be immersed in the experience from the get-go. Not just in the performance, but in what it took to get a performance to happen. We wanted you to see yourself in the crowd, enjoying a spectacular night out, chatting it up with friends, getting a high-class buzz on, and watching Sweeney Todd cutting throats all across the stage. (Man there is a lot of blood in that show!)

San Francisco Opera presents Sweeney Todd

Our goal with the redesign was to get your ass in those seats. We wanted you to yearn to be there. We wanted you to be upset if there wasn’t a show you could see this very minute. We wanted you to be angry at yourself for never having gone to an opera. How much of your life was wasted without knowing the joy, the loss, the drama, the sex, the betrayal, the heartbreak. And we wanted it to be easy to rectify that.

San Francisco Opera buying page

We also realized that San Francisco is full of people who haven’t been to an Opera, so once we got them interested in going they’d need some tips on what to expect. We created a first-time user guide to help you out. We also made sure the site has lots of pictures of people having fun, not just on stage, but enjoying the show, and hanging out together during intermission.

San Francisco Opera first time visitor guide

Ultimately, our goal was simple. We want to get you to go see a show. We’re confident that once you do, you’ll see a second. We want all San Franciscans to be aware of this amazing civic institution that sits right in the middle of the city. We want you to love it. Keep it going. Keep it vibrant. Because ultimately, the San Francisco opera is you. It’s the heart of the city. The Opera’s glory and opulence may be on stage, but the Opera’s charm and sweat lives behind the stage and in the people who make it happen, and the people who see it happen. The Opera belongs to the people of San Francisco.

Mule is so much more than a great design firm. They are a partner who is truly vested in the success of our business. Not only did they help us design two amazing websites, they helped us completely overhaul our approach to digital content strategy and management.
Jarrod Bell Chief Information Officer
San Francisco Opera discover opera

The War Memorial’s doors are open to you! Come see a show. Meet your neighbors. They built the sets. They designed the costumes. They made the wigs. Get your dinner beforehand, get your drink on after. Bring your friends, your family, your Tinder date. Because when that curtain goes up the action is pretty kick ass.