(Hopefully) no more tears: CBBC website relaunch
Relaunching a children's website is a surprisingly perilous business. A relaunch, which is normally accompanied by a large amount of promotion and razzmatazz, often brings a huge spike in traffic to certain areas of the site, in particular to any place where you are able to complain.
And this is the saddest story I have ever heard:
These reactions can reflect real problems: sometimes when sites go live, users see things straight away to which you have become blind while working on the project. At the very least it can provoke the same anger and frustration you get when you walk into a supermarket and discover that they have moved all your favourite stuff around.
So it is with some trepidation that I tell you that we have just completed the relaunch of the CBBC website.
Why have you done that crazy thing?
I wrote a Blackadder-esque romp through the history of the CBBC website a while ago - but to summarise, the feedback we got from children was that while they loved our content, they couldn't find a lot of it. So we have concentrated on unlocking this content by making it easier to find, and when children have finished enjoying a game or a something creative, suggesting something that they might like equally as much Or Even More.
How have we managed the audience through this?
Like most releases, the new work has been heavily user tested, and we have also been warning children of the changes via our message boards.
However, the main thing we have done in an attempt to avoid tears has been to release the new website in stages. So, we began by leaving the design exactly as it was, but improving the functionality. This meant that in January our section of great creative things for children to do went from its old design and being in two sections called 'Grab' and 'Create':
To a new and clearer name of 'Things to Do', still within the old design but with better functionality and all the content ordered:
This means - hopefully - that children have become used to moving their mouse into a particular space to do a particular thing. This week we have released the new visual design onto the site, so Things to Do now looks like this:
Similarly, on February 21 our fantastic children's Games section went from this:
And yesterday to this:
And in theory at least, children will not have any problems getting around the new site as they have already been doing it.
What didn't we worry about?
Releasing these sections one by one has led us to at times some very lumpy user-journeys. Children will have seen new functionality on some sections before others, animations and noises coming and going, and as each section has been released it has moved to the new BBC masthead which is shorter than our old one.
The old (below)...
...was 58 pixels...
...while the new (left) is 38.
So as children have gone between old and updated sections over the last couple of months, the masthead and the content underneath it will have gone up and down like soufflé.
The team did worry about this, but amazingly, we haven't had a single complaint or even comment on the topic: children have apparently just got on with it.
So what has been the audience reaction?
We have directly asked children both in user testing and via our message boards what they thought, and what reaction there has been to the section releases has so far been positive. Things to do's message board got:
While the games messageboard said:
But let me not deceive you.
The main reaction to the releases has been an ocean - an ocean! - of indifference, a pacific lack of comments. We had message board threads open and stuck at the top of the page for days before someone took pity on us and commented. Still, we have user tested and have been able to fold in feedback, and the usage statistics for each section have increased on each release. So, we are optimistic that the lack of comments is because children have had no problems using the site and are simply delighted; but our optimism is cautious.
What has happened now?
Yesterday we layered on the new design across the site. Design changes are the most obvious, and also the homepage itself has not had an interim update, so we expect to hear a bit more about the changes. The homepage did look like this:
And now looks like this:
[Note that the legendary 'pull' navigation system I blogged about earlier has somehow survived in the 'try this' section at the bottom right]
The site has been heavily user tested to positive reactions, but in case we have missed something, we do have still have people working on this project and will be able to fix it. However, there may be a delay of up to a month for our next release as the BBC gears up for a frenzy around the CBBC complaints area Royal Wedding.
Personally I am hugely proud of this release and I hope that the way we have managed the change and the website as a whole are testimonies to increasing collaboration between tech and editorial - great content, easily surfaced - as promised in the recent announcements around Putting Quality First. I would again like to thank the team for their tremendous efforts in getting it out; do let me know if the changes have made you laugh or cry.
Phil Buckley is Portfolio and Product Manager, BBC Childrens and BBC Future Media