Wider, bigger, better
Teams of designers, developers, project managers and producers within Audio & Music Interactive have been very busy recently working together to deliver a refresh of our radio network and music event websites.
Thanks to the work of the central Future Media & Technology (FM&T) team in rolling out the new page layout system called Barlesque (I won't go into detail as you can find all the info you need over at the BBC Internet blog) we are now updating all our radio network websites with a new look and feel and integrating the programme and schedule data from bbc.co.uk/programmes. At the same time we have have had another team who have been working on improving our event websites.
The first radio network to launch with the new page layout was 1Xtra back in April. Some of the key changes are: a horizontal navigation bar across the top of the site and the schedule page, which is now using /programmes data which means it's fully automated; every broadcast has its own page and there are also links to iPlayer content. Here's a before and after example: you can see how the move to the new wider pages has made a significant improvement to the look and feel of the website.
6music has also had an update and, as well as the horizontal navigation and automated schedule and episode pages, the other significant update is the restructuring of the homepage into distinct sections and the incorporation of larger images that help to highlight new content. Comparing the old Stephen Merchant show page with the new one you can see how the new version is a lot less cluttered, as we no longer have the long list of links in the left hand nav and the banner area is a lot cleaner, incorporating a tidied up Listen Live call to action with presenter graphic.
Over the coming months, all our radio websites will be getting the new Barlesque treatment and will include data from /programmes. At this stage we are just focusing on updating them to the new page width, freshening the visual impact and implementing the horizontal navigation.
If you are a regular visitor to either 6Music or 1Xtra then you will probably notice that on many pages, the show pages in particular (for example the 6mix page), the content area still retains the old page layout.
As some of you have commented this results in a lot of redundant space on the left-hand side of pages, where we have tried to make full use of the branding and graphical assets that are associated with the network. This isn't ideal and will be addressed at some point in the future. Completely overhauling our entire portfolio of radio network websites will take some time to do as there are thousands of pages to update. We feel there's more value to the websites' users if we roll out incremental updates, so that visitors immediately gain the benefits of features we are able to deliver in the short term. We hope that by updating the look and feel and including some new features (such as a page for every programme episode, a simpler horizontal navigation and links to iplayer) our audiences can see that we are making and launching much needed improvements to the sites.
We have also been working hard on getting our event websites up to scratch. Radio 1's Big Weekend site launched in May in the new Barlesque layout and this gave us an opportunity to make better use of images and video. For Glastonbury this year the new page layout has made a huge difference. Being the kind of festival that it is, i.e. absolutely massive, it has by the end of it a huge amount of content to sift through. The homepage has been simplified giving a lot more breathing space to promote content and including an indicator of new content when it appears. We also focused on simplifying navigation around the site, focusing on links to video, photo and diary aggregation pages. Typically our navigation is around artists so giving space to a 3 column layout on the line up page has been feasible this year as we have dropped the left hand nav and simplified the page by not having any additional sub navigation, in lots of ways it's a big improvement on how we presented the line up from last year. Our treatment of photographs has also improved and they make a much greater impact at their new size the Subways photo page is one example.
Artist pages have also been given an overhaul, and its apparent when you compare pages from this year with last year's 2007 featival site. As you can see the pigeon detectives artist page this year contrasts hugely from last years.
We have also incorporated maps onto the the site. The Big Weekend site featured Grimmy's guide which gave an overview of Maidstone. This proved to be a fun way to find out more about the area in which Big Weekend was being held so with Glastonbury we explored how we might be able to plot content on to a map of Glastonbury as well as a map that shows where Steve Lamaq went on the Saturday of the festival. We are still in the early stages of using maps on our websites and I feel we are currently going through a sharp learning curve of understanding what works and what doesn't in terms of editorial content as well as usable functionality. Sarah, the designer that worked on the maps, will soon be posting her thoughts on the subject and giving an insight into her process and some of the challenges that emerged.
With each event website we try and improve on what we have done before and now that Glastonbury is over, and we have filled the website up with lots of great content, we are doing some final testing of the site with members of the public to see where we have got things right and what we can improve for next time. We try and roll any suggested improvements into the next event website and we still have more sites to follow this year, 1Xtra Love Summer is our most recent launch with Reading and Leeds to follow next month and the Electric Proms in October.
If you have any feedback on the 6Music, 1Xtra, Big Weekend or Glastonbury websites, then leave a comment - it would be great to hear your thoughts.