Beeb fail

21 09 2011

Just found the beta version of the new BBC homepage. Not impressed. It’s still a big mess of content and is now full of horrible Javascript sliding windows in an attempt to fit even more onto the homepage! Pick a purpose and stick with it – that would be my advice. The new design seems to ape Sky’s website, with so much of the content pointing people towards watching TV programmes and “prime products” like Strictly Come Dancing given top billing to attract the most visitors.

Although the BBC is primarily a broadcaster of TV and radio, people have become used to the site as a source for news, sport, weather and advice. The new design seems determined to sideline these requirements and direct people towards their TV content – when you click on “lifestyle”, four out of the seven featured links take you directly to iplayer content without an explicit warning that this will happen. If I’m on a BBC main page I’m there to find something out or to read something, links to iplayer content have no chance of interesting me as I won’t have the time or the inclination to watch a half hour TV programme. Many people browse the BBC website as a part of their work, and links to blocked streaming content will only annoy them too.

Site navigation has been severely compromised by the multitude of options to explore content. Instead of the widely-recognised practice of using one or two main menus, the beta site now provides visitors with five areas that could be described as content menus, not counting the various widgets for weather, listings and popular content. This seems like a strange decision given the current feeling among content designers is to make design more minimal and cut down the homepage to a user’s top 10 tasks.

imagine I’m on the BBC website looking for a scone recipe. I look at the main navigation along the top: news, weather, sport, iplayer, tv, radio…no joy there. I endure the sliding menu screen but it offers me nothing. I click on lifestyle along the middle of the page and then on Great British Bakeoff and it takes me straight to iplayer to watch the programme. I’m starting to get annoyed now…assuming I’ve stayed on the page this long, I continue to scroll down and find the area I’m looking for along the bottom right-hand side of the page – the least visible section of any webpage! I click on food, expecting to find a simple gateway to their food section but again I’m disappointed – the food section has another horrendous Javascript window design and it keeps trying to push me towards content I’m not interested in. I have to wade through the prominently-featured easy pasta recipes, newsletter, sausage casserole, roast chicken, editors’ picks, food blogs…then finally I see the recipe finder, again hidden below the fold of the page and on the right-hand side.

This example highlights the most important failing of the new design. People generally visit a website for a specific purpose. They want to accomplish this goal as quickly and easily as possible. What they don’t want is for the site to hinder their journey by attempting to “hijack” their visit at every turn with flashy adverts, poor navigation and promoted content. I can’t see any rationale behind the BBC’s proposed redesign other than a wish to promote the TV channels and increase viewing figures. If this is true, then it’s a great shame; as I’ve pointed out before, the BBC has a great opportunity to provide us with a superb web service, but it seems unlikely to become reality in the near future.

The wibbly wobbley web

31 01 2011

Back from my Christmas sabbatical and suitably refreshed, I come across this article in the Guardian alerting us to the fact the BBC has decided to cut its online budget by a quarter.

BBC logo

Barred from the beeb


For an organisation with such an amazing opportunity in terms of staffing and resources, the beeb’s online content has always been a big let-down for me. The only section that I go back to on a regular basis is their online recipe finder and the (admittedly brilliant) iPlayer. Both of these are essentially methods to catch up on content from TV shows, so what does the BBC online service offer us that goes over and above this service?

There is the news, of course, but the neccessities of impartiality and breadth of coverage mean that those looking for a more in-depth form of analysis are seldom catered for. As most of the broadsheets have dramatically raised their games, the BBC service has stood still, indeed many argue that it has gone backwards. These concerns are not new,  but as the budget cuts begin to bite they become ever more relevant.

The design of the BBC’s site is horrible, akin to an explosion in a widget factory. Whatever happened to less is more? When they spend so much time on accessibility of their content, you’d think a bit of design nous would also be applied. They have allowed the branding of their ‘larger’ sections to dominate over site design, so that when you visit the TV, Radio or News sections you have to deal with a completely different information architecture from that on the Sport and Weather sections. No way this can be justified, unless they assume that no one user will want to visit more than one area of the site – in which case, why bundle it all together in the first place?

The fact that pointed to a chemical manufacturer’s website until fairly recently shows that Auntie Beeb were not exactly early adopters of the interworld. Having failed to catch up before their budget cuts, this has to go down as a wasted opportunity.