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BBC UX 2.0

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Richard Titus Richard Titus | 15:00 UK time, Friday, 28 March 2008

In my first month at the BBC we constructed what became known as the “wall of shame”: a collection of printed screen-shots of the BBC’s digital services which included web pages, mobile and Interactive TV.

Organised by portfolio, the wall soon became what could only be described as a collage of confusion, a display of conflicting designs and user journeys all of which depicted various epochs of innovation. More importantly, many of them weren’t even clearly branded as part of the BBC’s digital offering.

Additionally, the way that our audience would journey between these systems was and in many cases remains quite challenging and difficult. People can’t always find what they are looking for, couldn’t play media efficiently (almost 187 different media players were/are in use currently) nor could they share our content with others, discouraging our audience from being our biggest distributor.

In six short months we have taken major steps to solve some of these issues, creating a consistent navigation and look and feel now being deployed across the site, making the homepage useful & personalisable, creating a single embedded media player (EMP as we call it) with a single ingest and distribution infrastructure.

Notice the same EMP on both the Programme pages, News pages (soon with consistent standardized Share functionality) and the streaming iPlayer itself!

Lastly, but likely most significantly (and controversially) the new homepage - which was launched a few weeks ago, and announced by my creative director; Bronwyn Van der Merwe .

To those of you who say (like John Smales) “Why change it if it isn’t broken?” I'd make the following points:

First, if you haven’t taken a moment to do so, click the “customise my homepage” link. Over 68% of our users customised their homepage and you’ll be surprised how a few tweaks can really make it your own.

Secondly, there’s a tour and FAQ on the homepage which I recommend all of you take a few minutes to experience, a link to which you’ll find in the top right hand corner of the page. The majority of comments I’ve seen are already addressed either there or in previous blogs.

Thirdly, arguing about aesthetics is like singing about traffic. It’s not only ineffective, but it’s in large part not very pleasurable.

Lastly on the topic of measuring audience response:

Suffice to say that if we relied solely on blog comments on this page to do our market, audience, usability and accessibility research we would truly not be doing our jobs.

This blog is one of the variety of tools we can use to gauge response, but it is only one of them; and not really representative of the audience of BBC.co.uk.

The BBC has undertaken a variety of consumer research efforts around the changes we are making to it’s interactive offers, they have all come back remarkably positive. Change often instigates adverse reactions but what I’m quite keen to learn is the underlying audience demands and where we’re meeting them and where we can improve. Balancing these with the business and strategic goals of the BBC is one of the biggest challenges of my role.

Here's a selection of comments I want to respond to directly:

Brendan comments that “The new website has less information on the page”:

I’ve attached an overlay image here so you can see that there is far more information on this page now than there ever was before. Since it’s personalisable, you can have everything you ever wanted from the page, and eliminate much of what you didn’t!

homepageoverlay.pngMore importantly, much more of this information is content, rather than blind links to various areas of the site you could have just as easily bookmarked, adding greater value & utility to the audience.

While it’s unlikely you would include every widget, maximised, we’ve made available a wide selection. 60% of you have chosen to personalise the site, we know we’ve satisfied a previously unmet audience demand.

Screen size, page weight, etc.”:

As mentioned in a previous blog, our research shows us that the vast majority of our audience are coming to the site with 1024x768 resolution. Thus we decided to increase the screen real estate. In comparison with sites of similar stature or usage (Yahoo, MSN, CNN, Sky, LastFM, netvibes, etc.) we remain quite conservative and have one of the best performance ratios (size vs content) of any media company, content portal or news site.

The feature box

There has always been a feature box on the home page, this hasn’t changed in five years.

We have expanded the image because we have expanded the page… while I think an interesting idea might be to allow customisable sizes for the feature (an idea we’re punting around as I write this) the idea of the promo is not new. I find it interesting so many focus on this issue, I’ll point you to James Price, and invite him to blog again about this area.

Many have discussed James' position to keep this as a fixed piece of content on the homepage.

I tend to agree with him. The reason you would choose the BBC homepage rather than pageflakes or netvibes would be because you felt that there was something inherently beneficial about our content and editorial choices.

Interesting user feedback we’ve taken on board:

“Web Search”:

The volume of feedback on this feature which did not make the transition from the old homepage frankly caught us by surprise. Google, Yahoo and Microsoft as well as browsers such as Firefox and Opera have a search bar built into their browsers. In our user testing and our own experience this feature felt outdated and unnecessary, given the superiority of the other products to the limited functionality of our offering.

However, on the strength of your feedback e.g comments like this one from Jane Skinner, I’ve asked the team to re-examine this feature (i.e. websearch) either as our first off BBC widget or to return it to the search bar. Keep a eye out for that.

“External widgets”

This is a hot topic amongst our team. One of the key challenges of the BBC homepage is that it must be compelling, useful and accessible to over 30m unique users. This is extremely hard to accomplish both from a design and a user experience perspective. There are also standards of quality for content and functionality.

Some of our users indicated they’d like to have a widget to check their gmail accounts for example, or incorporate content from other sites into the homepage. The editorial team is considering these options as we speak and I look forward to seeing this idea evolve if the demand is there. Please comment here if there are external widget feeds (flickr, gmail, search?) you’d like to see.

The new homepage has also raised the bar for accessibility; setting new standards which I hope will become the new benchmark across BBC digital services.

Making our content & services available to as large as an audience as possible is an area of professional and personal passion of mine. Jonathan from my team has blogged on this topic and we have received kudos from the audience as well.

It’s been just over ½ a year since I joined the BBC, the energy here and collaborative environment, particularly here in User Experience & Design, are amazing.

None of products or services I’ve mentioned is a “ship and forget”. All of them are constantly iterating parts of our digital service, evolving to meet requirements, needs and goals of both the audience & the BBC.

As my colleagues here and in the blogosphere say, “still more to come!”

Richard Titus is Controller, User Experience and Design, BBC Future Media & Technology.

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