The Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) is the world's leading dance academy operating across three continents, throughout 80 countries and covering 8 languages. The organisation enjoys a membership that is nearly double that of its nearest rival. In 2020, RAD will celebrate its 100th anniversary and aim to continue to lead the word in the examination and accreditation of dancers and dance teachers to the highest level. However, the longevity and success of this ambition brings with it some major challenges in this digital era and that’s where our journey with RAD began.

Research and Discovery

We carried out a thorough research phase ahead of the 3 days of Discovery workshops held on-site at the Royal Academy of Dance Headquarters in London.

Using analytics and measurement tools we gauged pain points for users on the old website and, from this, identified opportunities where we could make the customer journey more pleasant.

A heuristic evaluation was carried out on the existing website to gain a scope of the current usability, and a list of issues were compiled to use as discussion points with the client.

We also carried out qualitative data gathering, in the form of surveys and a series of interviews with international members of the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD). This opened our eyes to the challenges faced by those in other parts of the world. We found technical constraints from those with little internet access to those with differences in the structure of the organisation. For example; this was apparent in countries like Australia, who run large-scale national events.

All of this information was compiled and made digestible for the client going into the Discovery sessions. Our goal was to ensure that the user groups and personas created would be representative of a rounded, global user base.

Stakeholder Interviews and Workshops

The discovery sessions involved a series of workshops with stakeholders from all departments of the RAD. From Memberships to Marketing, Donations to Examinations, we created task models of the current user experience that related to their department (e.g how a user signs up for a membership) and presented these to each relevant department. We then ran workshops tasking those teams to improve the customer experience from those task models.

Throughout, we continued to gather insight from experts of their subject matter and used this insight, alongside our knowledge of their users, to restructure the key user journeys on the website.

Information Architecture

One of the biggest challenges was the information architecture on the site and we spent a considerable amount of time iterating this on-site; card sorting with different teams to ensure users with different goals would be catered for. The RAD was aware of the issues their current site structure had, as like many established websites its structure had taken on an “organic” approach, which is to say lots of content was not categorised and required restructuring to make sense from a user’s perspective.

In addition to this, the labelling of the main navigation was muddy; with names like “Achieve”, which we renamed “Exams”, to more clearly represent the information it contained: how a student goes through the examination process with the RAD.

Find A Teacher

A key feature the RAD were keen to see improved on the new website was their ‘Find a Teacher’ directory. This was one of the most highly trafficked areas of the site, with users being able to search for a teacher in their local area. Internally this functionality was important to the Memberships team, as appearing on this directory is only applicable to the highest membership tier.

Lack of Information for the User

Users had difficulty finding out detailed information about each teacher at a glance and, so, struggled to make an informed decision.As well as this, teachers were not able to sell their services as effectively as possible from the lack of information provided to the user upfront.

Find A Teacher Improvements

We removed a step from the journey, wherein the user had to click the teacher's name to see an expanded profile, and integrated this profile into a card style instead of a list:

  • As an added value to a teachers' membership; they can now attach multiple social handles, as well as external websites, to their profile to upsell their services
  • Teachers who have upskilled, or have “Registered Teacher Status” (the highest accolade for teaching with the RAD) have identifying badges on their profile cards to differentiate them from lower membership tiers
  • Single Sign-On

Single Sign-On Functionality

Early on in the Discovery process, we identified the need for single-sign-on functionality to bring the RAD’s disparate memberships portal and account management area together. We found there to be multiple platforms, and multiple barriers, to logging in on the current website. Including:

  • Users wishing to buy a membership were unable to register for a new account online
  • The login area for buying a membership or booking an event was different from the membership portal users receive access to once signed up
  • The online shop lives on a separate domain, meaning users can ultimately have 3 different logins with the RAD
  • Users often forgot their login details or got them mixed up due to the number of different areas to sign in to

Identity Verification

Through the discovery phase, we uncovered that RAD students and members are assigned a unique ID number when they take their first exam (as early as age 5) and this follows them throughout their whole career. This was a mostly offline process for the RAD, using paper forms that have since been digitised. By integrating ‘Silverbear’ by Microsoft with the RAD’s new CRM system we brought together multiple user accounts and allowed users to have a single point of entry to the RAD and their services. To support users who have an existing login, we created an account lookup feature during the registration process that will make a call to the Silverbear API and verify users identities by their RAD ID number, date of birth and address.

Multi-country Selection

A requirement set by the RAD was the need for multiple landing pages, tailored to each of the 85 countries in which they operate across 37 offices.

Global Brand Consistency

The RAD has a global presence and is a heritage organisation that has been around since 1920. As it stands, the brand did not have a cohesive brand voice, particularly beyond the scope of the UK. They were running into issues with consistent use of logos, typography and colour palette from independently run RAD websites outside of the UK. These websites were managed by RAD employees who don’t have much (if any) contact with the RAD Headquarters in the UK.


Throughout the research and discovery phases, we spoke with members and employees of the RAD on a global scale, and it was our aim to gauge the technical requirements and needs of both admin users on the RAD’s side, as well as their user base.

We found that this varied vastly from country to country. For example, the Australian arm of the RAD operates a large-scale events website with ticketing integrations, whereas the RAD in Mexico preferred a level of anonymity to protect the sensitive information of their young members.

We ultimately created a website that is completely flexible, and scalable to meet the needs of their varying offices. The website can be as simple as a single landing page, built up using a series of flexible components we designed as part of a style guide, that leads users to RAD HQ for a single source of truth. Conversely, the website can be cloned to facilitate the membership and ticketing needs of their larger offices around the world.


Creating a digital style guide

We worked with the RAD to translate their brand digitally. They had an existing set of brand guidelines that had a strong print focus, and our design team worked directly with the RAD to define guidelines that would work for the web. 

Colour Palette

We started this process by iterating on the RAD’s colour palette. Their primary brand red is iconic and works well in print, but working red into a website needs to be handled with care so that it doesn’t get confused as signifying an error. We worked to use the red as an accent colour and introduced a royal purple hue for primary action buttons. We complemented this with their existing teal colour which was used extensively across the old website. We wanted users to have a feeling of familiarity when logging on to the new website for the first time, so sparingly carried the teal colour through to compliment the new palette; giving it a subtle update to ensure it now passes WCAG 2.1 web accessibility standards for users who require higher contrast in order to see content more clearly.


The RAD uses Gill Sans in all of their printed materials, and we were keen for this British classic to remain as the primary typeface for their online presence. Gill Sans has been used extensively throughout Britain since its release in 1928; most notably by British Railways, the BBC and the similarity to the hand-drawn type in the famous “Keep Calm and Carry On” wartime poster. 

To support the primary typeface, we introduced the very readable Open Sans by Google for main body text. They bring together the old and new, harking back to the RAD’s heritage whilst firmly placing it in the future digitally. 

Style Guide

Our design team have a preferred method of presenting our initial design direction to our clients and we do that by creating a one-page “Style Tile” that encompasses typography, palette and initial direction for the UI. We design common elements like call-to-actions, button styles and cards. This allows our team to communicate their thoughts for the interface design in a manner that feels realistic/tangible to clients.

Digital Marketing Support

In August 2018, our digital marketing team started working with Royal Academy of Dance on their SEO in advance of their new website launching (May 2019).   Initially we worked on two projects:

  1. Technical SEO Audit & Site Crawl Report
  2. Keyword Grading


Technical SEO Audit & Site Crawl Report

For any site to succeed within the search engines, it's vital that it can be crawled and indexed efficiently by the search engine bots. Google as an example will have a quota for how many pages of a site it will crawl each time it visits.   So, it is really important to stay on top of these errors to allow these crawls to be maximised.   This can be achieved with high quality content; as opposed to pages with duplicate content, overly complicated URLs and low quality content pages.

We conducted a technical audit and completed the site crawl report in August which highlighted over 3,000 errors on their current site.   From this, a plan was formulated to resolve both technical and content errors which impact on SEO by the end of December 2018

Keyword Mapping

According to RAD's marketing team, there had been no work carried out on keywords across the website since their site had been launched, so their site desperately needed audited and refreshed.

Keywords are the topics which define your content and make it easily searchable online.  If you take into account all of your page content (images, video, copy etc), the words used to describe the content are your primary keywords. It is important that your page keywords match the search queries people enter in to search engines, otherwise your site will be difficult for your target audience to find.

Keywords are the link between what people are searching for and your content, where you provide an answer to that query.  Our goal in terms of SEO is to drive organic traffic to your site via SERPs (search engine results pages) using keywords.

So what did we do? 

We reviewed 300 core pages on the existing RAD website, audited the current content and made recommendations on keywords to include within the page copy.  Our team provided RAD with best practice guidelines to help with implementing our recommendations.

Once implemented this reduced RAD's bounce rate by -99% within  the first 3 months.

We now manage RAD's PPC and SEO on a monthly basis and within 6 months have successfully increased goal completions by over 70% and conversions by over 64%.


DECREASE in bounce rate on the UK site


INCREASE in conversions on the Find A Teacher searches


INCREASE in goal conversions on the new Find A Teacher, Map and Email Sign Up features

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