The new BBC News website

Posted on July 14, 2010

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The new BBC News website has been launched today. It’s all shiny and new. I’ve glimpsed at a few times this week and tried not to think anything about it.
Then I observed a tweet from Audio & Music chappy Jem Stone and found myself unable to resist sharing some thoughts.

Some thoughts quickly noted

1. On the whole, I like it.

2. It needs more work (especially in the categorising of stories)

3. The layout of the homepage is pleasing. The use of larger rounder-looking Helvetica is a simple touch (but I’m look at it on a Mac).

4. Content pages are a distinct improvement.

5. Left hand justification of video players on content pages is long overdue. Lovely.

6. I feel less like a child, more like an adult with a groovy modern-looking design I want to show off to my foreign friends.

7. Can’t make up my mind whether the preponderance of white is a good thing or bad thing. On the one hand I miss the defining edges of the page, on the other hand it feels clean and forward-looking.

8. Does it adhere to the BBC’s Global Visual Language? It does in terms of how the page is broken up into blocks and in that case the use of white is a subtle way of implementing that but ..

9. … the Barlesque header and footers being starkly visually different from the rest of the BBC website does rather make me screw my nose up when I read Erik Hugger’s line …

“This is part of an ongoing process to make BBC Online feel like one coherent service, rather than a disjointed collection of websites, which is greater than the sum of its parts.”

And it’s probably there I take issue in a desperate attempt to throw this blog post wider than just the title which kicks it off.
Personally, I think far too much store is put in striving for ‘a coherent service’.

Just as the plight of 6 Music was important to protect the BBC’s public service ethos amongst its audience (not to mention avoiding pissing off the core audience who enjoy listening to the station), so too I see the BBC’s virtual image which exists – largely undefinable – as a result of its output.

When I listen to the radio, I don’t choose to listen to Radio 4 and see what’s on. I choose to listen to the Archers, Broadcasting House or PM. They’re all different animals. They all have very different methods of delivery in terms of style. They’re collective styles make up Radio 4 for me.

Equally, in online terms I don’t yearn for a stridently similar look and feel to the News website as I get from the Doctor Who website. I don’t want the entertainment section of news.bbc.co.uk to look essentially the same as Strictly Come Dancing or the entertainment genre page. If I want to go these separate – seemingly disparate-in-design – websites I will. I’ll consume the content and gradually become accustomed to the surroundings.

Just as I don’t gravitate to one particular hotel brand because I know everything will look the same, so too I want the BBC’s online presence to show individuality in all of its constituent parts.

That opinion won’t go down well. That’s why I’m publishing it on a day when I won’t be sat at my computer nor have my mobile switched on.

My point is that there will – inevitably amongst those of us who produce websites and spend most of our day consuming them – be quite of a lot of back-chat about the newly designed site. People will do what I’m doing now – holding Erik Huggers words up as something to judge the new site with (or if someone is especially is particularly disingenuous, judge him by). It will be all-consuming. It will seem like the most important thing in the world.

It is. Especially to the many drones who have – no doubt – sweated blood producing this little bit of online wonder. Don’t underestimate how painful, demanding and potentially demoralising such a process can be. They should be proud. Give them a day off Mr Herrman sir.
But now the curtain has gone up on their sterling efforts, focus should – in a typically BBC way – return to the core component of such a proposition: the content.

This site is not defined about how the top level navigation appears, nor is it really defined by the amount of whitespace or the judicious use of fonts. Those are irrelevances. What’s matters most are the words on the page.

Content comes first. Design comes later.

UPDATE

I wanted to revisit my thoughts about the redesigned news site for a couple of reasons. First, I skidded into an incident earlier on today entirely of my own making. You know, one of those “I’m saying exactly what I think in an impulsive kind of way.” A subsequent large glass of Merlot made me rethink. Regret may not have been one of the emotions worth tagging, but it did make me think about my earlier opinions (above) about the website.

So, having had a quick look at it on my way in to work this morning, how have my feelings changed or developed on a second glance?

Again, some quickly scribbled down thoughts.

1. I’ve probably totally fallen for the news homepage now (six hours later) almost to the point that I’ll happily ditch my RSS feed (almost).

2. The lead story is clear and (as long as the headlines continue to maintain house style) reflect an overall acceptance of SEO-driven titling. It’s clear, but it doesn’t scream.

3. There’s more space given over to images promoting AV content. The words “Features & Analysis” communicate this isn’t just a news service, there is in depth stuff. I like that. Again, it makes me feel like an adult.

4. Bizarrely, I have to tell myself to keep looking at the newly positioned top-level navigation. This indicates to me that I still want my news served up to me.

5. I’m disappointed I have to scroll down to the personalisation element and – when I have put my postcode in – I’m going to have to scroll down to that element. Having said that, what I appreciate more is not being able to move the localised news/weather element around the page like the BBC Homepage. Having the option to change layout is irrelevant to me.

6. I love Helvetica. Nuff said.

1. I’m loving the content page more than I did this morning.

2. The content area does make me want to read the actual copy in a way that the Verdana font version of the previous design didn’t. That’s important because I’m convinced that when I do finally capitulate and buy an iPad I will almost certainly want to read a news story on it because its the optimum size.

3. I particularly like the increased size of the pictures (see above). It makes them appear less like an afterthought. It will take time for me to get used to the text not wrapping all the way around the image. It’s nice. In a kind of a new way.

4. I don’t like JLS. I don’t think anybody should write any news stories about them (especially the gay press).

1. What I’m really warming to is the bottom of the page. At first, I wasn’t entirely keen on the related stories and other stuff on the internet being left to the bottom. It felt as though we were saying “yes, we’ll link out but we won’t put those links at the right hand side, you’ll have to read the entire thing / scroll the entire thing to get to them”. Maybe that is what the thinking was, but if it was it is fair enough. The page is a BBC story.

2. The ‘Services’ element is a gorgeous piece of functional design. I like that. Especially on a white background.

3. The footer is the best kind of low-key BBC branding/statement I could have wished for. It completes the entire statement in a suitably cool and reliable way.

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Posted in: Internet, Journalism