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| Journal | The Personal Disquiet of Mark Boulton

The Personal Disquiet of

Mark Boulton

Blog Category: bbc

BBC redesign: tellys have rounded corners, right?

The BBC have redesigned their homepage.

BBC Logo Beta thumbnailI used to work for the BBC. So, I have a good understanding how difficult it is to work there and get anything complete and out of the door to a high, exacting design standard. So, today, when I was told the BBC has opened up the new homepage beta for feedback, and also prompted by Jeremy’s post on the subject, I wanted shove my oar in.

Web 2.0 design nonsense

This is a shame. The BBC, in design terms, used to be a leader in the field. In one fell-swoop, they’ve turned follower. The trends, from a few years ago, are all over this thing. From the ‘Beta’ label and the rounded corners, to the gradients. Why? I honestly can’t think of a sensible response as to why they’ve gone down this route. Hasn’t Facebook proved you don’t need to have reflections or curved corners to be ‘Web 2.0’?

Now, I’m well aware I’m judging this on face value. I’ve not been privy to any discussions that may or may not have taken place.

However, Richard Titus—The acting head of User Experience at the BBC—has kindly written a blog post describing some of the specifications and requirements.

High on this agenda was ‘widgetization’ (oh, I hate that word) of the content. Dynamically generated and syndicated content has been high on the content priorities for the BBC for many years. What puzzles me is why jump on a visualisation bandwagon? Recent newspaper designs, such as The Times, or The Guardian, deal with top-level content in a similar way. To all intents and purposes, the modules on their homepages are ‘widgets’. Perhaps it is that word that makes designers want to recreate netvibes.

Innovation over information?

I’m sure there are plenty of clever things going on under the hood on this homepage. From Ajax, and a move towards PHP, through to localised content and user customisation. My gut feeling on this, and this is a personal view of course, is that all this visual guff gets in the way of the information. The design aesthetic is not ‘simple, and beautiful’. It’s obtrusive and dated.

My lecturer in university instilled a mantra into me: ‘don’t let the type get in the way of the words’. It can be applied to any design. Don’t let the design get in the way of the information, or the problem you are trying to solve. Sure, enrich the user experience by delivering the information in a fulfilling environment, but make the clever stuff invisible.

An example of this is when you click on the four coloured tabs running underneath the main promo. Now, how does that make you feel? Confused? Surprised? Sick?

New colourways on click. Pointless. They also gave me quite a shock.

Why did they do this? Really, what is the value here? To showcase the power of CSS? I’m totally baffled.

The last of the weather icons

The weather icons also breath their last with this redesign. I’m sad about that. Not because they look worse, but they are an inferior solution.

New and old weather icons

On TV, the richer weather graphics are far more useful in actually illustrating weather forecasts, but on the web, when there is no animation, we’re left with icons that mean nothing without the words to describe them. Of course there is an accessibility reason for having the text. However, the text shouldn’t be there to prop up bad icons. I mean, is that one in the middle cloud, or fog?

Anything good to say?

There are some nice things about it though. The buttons work well. I think the on/off state is very tactile. And, like Jeremy, I love the analogue clock in the top right.

Dinosaurs designing websites

What strikes me most plainly about this design is how the effect of a big, lumbering organisation can impact on a redesign. A good few months ago, or maybe years, when this proposal was first taking shape, it was probably the time when curved gradients, reflections and like were at the forefront of the ‘web 2.0 aesthetic’. Thing is, it takes any large organisation ages to get their shit together. Which is why designing to visual trends such as this is so risky. If your organisation can’t react quickly enough to keep up, then go the classic design route every time. If you don’t, your design will look dated within months. Or, in this case, even before it’s launched.

I’m led to believe this project took three months to complete. And I go back to my initial comment, it’s a huge result that the team responsible for this managed to get this project to this state in that time. In fact, it’s pretty miraculous. We’ll see how things pan out over the next few months. But, like some other websites that the BBC produces, they seem hell-bent on trying to make the web like telly.

But tellys have rounded corners, right?

Filed in: bbc, design, personal, site-launch. on December 14th, 2007

Digital Futures

{title}Yesterday I attended a BBC run design event called Digital Futures, for internal designers and invited guests, on the future of design in a digital society. There was a eclectic mix of speakers planned for a packed day.

So, quite a distinquished list and it promised to be a interesting mix of presentations.

The event began with me nursing a hangover outside in the fresh air (you know the feeling, dizzy, too hot, too cold), thankfully after a good cup of tea and a few deep breaths I seemed to knock it into touch. Although I was pretty tired from putting up with a hotel room which was as hot as the sun.

After the usual pre-conference milling around, meeting new people and catching up with collegues from around the country, we all filed into the National Film Theatre on London’s South Bank. What a fantastic theatre and quite possibly the most comfortable seats in the world, and it was dark, I was at the back, and tired. Could be dangerous. These speakers had better be good.

First up… Brian Collin

First up was Brian Collin from Ogilvy and Mather in New York. I really didn’t know what to expect but it turned into perhaps one of the most memorable presentations I’ve attended. I can’t go into too many details because of copyright, but what he had to say was pretty inspiring. There was chocolate, soap and pirates along with every presenation technique in the book, all delivered like a seasoned stand up comedian.

He challenged my expectations of not brand and advertising but of process and handling clients. The overall idea was to challenge, not only your own expectations, but the publics and the clients. Break everything down to the most basic elements, then build it back up and see what you get.

Next… Neville Brody

I was really looking forward to this one. I’d written essays about this bloke in college, I know his work very well but had never met him or heard him speak.

He started off by going through some client work and took about twenty minutes to get warmed up to a very rushed, but incredibly interesting, final ten minutes.

Mr. Brody seems concerned. Not only with the direction of design but by the way it’s led by technology. As designers we seem to have lost our way, unaware of our roots and as a result produce meaningless work. Is this ok? yeah, probably (I think that was the general feeling).

It wasn’t until the panels that Neville said some truly profound things, at least for me, which really struck a cord. He told a story of a friend of his in New York, a designer in his 50’s, who’s lived by the mantra - “Form follows Function”. We’ve all heard it right? Some of us, me included, are beginning to understand it. At least that’s what I thought before he started talking about it. He said that his friend began to feel guilty because he liked certain things - designs, products, whatever - that were beautiful, but also quite rubbish, but he still liked them. Neville went on to say that beauty, entertainment, aesthetic appeal is all part of the function of a design and it’s ok to like things where funtion follows form, because form maybe part of the function anyway.

Inspiring.

Lisa Strausfeld

Lisa is an Information Architect working for Pentagram mostly on exterior information spaces. She gave an interesting presentation on the use of information in a virtual, and real, 3d environments.

I’m quite into information design and specifically the process of breaking down complex, rich, multi-layered information into an easy to understand, navigable space.

She began by showing examples from her work at MIT and then on to some commisioned work for railway stations in New York. Most of this work comprised of information environments to real space and comprised of Media Walls and Signage. Some really great work was on show and i’m sure you can look at some of it on the Pentagram web site.

Paul Mijksenaar

Most people, designers included, don’t notice signage. Or at least don’t notice good signage, when it’s doing it’s job well.

In the UK, we have great road signage, we have a world famous, wonderful Tube Map in London. It’s such a shame our airport signage is generally rubbish. This is where Paul Mijksenaar comes in.

Paul began a hurried presentation by going through his theories on wayfinding and the process of people getting from point A to point B and most of the cognitive patterns in that process. Really interesting stuff. He talked about colour coding and maximising colour combinations for legibility and highest contrast. All of this stuff about signage, as i’ve said before, is incredibly relevant for designing web sites. We need to be looking at traditional wayfinding and signage and moving the model into designing for the web.

Interestingly Paul talked about the death of pictograms in a future where wayfinding will be done on a mobile device. I’d never really thought about it before but it makes sense. Pictograms exist so manufacturers don;t have to create signs in many different languages. Once a user can choose their language, pictograms become useless, or rather they become secondary to the words. Or is it that pictograms are more rapidly understood than words? Certainly made me think.

Marco Susani

Marcos presentation was all about convergence of broadcasting onto several platforms, predominantly mobile, and how those devices integrate with other devices in your life - TV’s, phones, computers, video recorders etc.

An interesting presentation which was very focussed on technology but to be honest i’m getting a little tired of technology presented in this manner. there’s simply too much of it going on. Call me a little jaded, but I know there are going to be devices which integrate with telly, I know you’ll be able to watch movies on your devices on the train. I know all this stuff, but still question the motives to promoting the technology. Yes, companies want to sell products and yes they need to educate the public to do it. But it’s all too much. Too much technology, too many gadgets and too many companies telling us we need to keep up. By this point I was getting tired.

Bill Drummond

Bills presentation was a breath of fresh air. I won’t go into the details of the content as I got the sense that he didn’t want exposure for what he was doing but what I will say is it involved making soup and God. Let’s just say it made me re-evaluate my motivations for not only design, but for life in general. Deep eh?

Thank you Bill, you certainly woke me up.

Time for a pint

After the event we all walked over the bridge to get on a boat on the Thames and enjoy a drink or two before rushing to catch the train back to to Cardiff. Sometimes it’s great to listen to people who not only understand you, but inspire you also. Top notch, looking forward to June now for @media 2005.

Disclaimer: This article represents my views of the days proceedings and does not represent the views of the BBC or the attending speakers.

Filed in: bbc, design. on March 18th, 2005

BBC Wales music site launched

Following a few months of work the BBC Wales music site has been relaunched with a more advanced technical backend, partial CSS and much tighter information architecture.

Filed in: bbc, css, design. on December 2nd, 2004

BBC Vocab offical launch

Today marks the official launch of BBC Vocab at the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff.

This smart application highlights words on a welsh language web page with the pressing of a button. When the user then hovers over these words a translation and definition for that word (including mutations) is available for the welsh learner with links to the BBC Learn Welsh site

I was involved in the design implementation and branding of this translation application. for more details, have a look at the Vocab case study in the portfolio section.

Update: BBC Vocab featured on The Register today.

Filed in: bbc, news. on November 2nd, 2004

Some recent launches

Whilst I was away on honeymoon there have been a number of launches at BBC Wales on the “Slash Wales” service (as it’s being marketed - no comment). Anyhow a number of these sites have been in development for nearly 12 months.

They’ve seen a considerable amount of work on the backend and represent re-engineered content management system and a shift in production methodologies - with an emphasis on User Centered Design, Web Standards and an Object Oriented Approach to the content management, with extensive look at cross promotion and meta data.

In Pictures
in pictures
In Pictures pulls together a lot of content from across the BBC Wales service relating to images and puts it into one place. This was a first go at creating a generic style for all functional portals using CSS to render as much of the presentational information as possible.

Development / IA / Design / CSS

Surfing
surfing
This site represents the most work. A complete reworking of the Information Architecture, User Interface and a lot of time spent on the graphic design integration with the new content management structure. I’ll be giving a more detailed breakdown of these sites once I get my portfolio redesigned.

Development / IA / Design / CSS Implementation

Weather
weather
This is phase one of the weather portal. It’s not quite right yet. The weather app needs some work from a usability point of view and the overall green/blue feel has been lost with the introduction of the garish purple. Hopefully this will be addressed in the next phase.

Development / IA / Design

Filed in: bbc, design. on June 21st, 2004

BBC launches new homepage

BBC new homepage designThe BBC launches it’s new homepage design. Several changes have been made, most noticably the new bbc.co.uk brand. More on the brand from Matt Jones. I’m not going to comment. The usability has been improved considerably with the redesign of the category section. There is a really clear definition now between Wayfinding and Most recent content.

I guess this has been to try and accomodate different users interaction needs, in that some browse, some are very task focussed, some know where they are going, some don’t and need help. For those that don’t, and need help, the BBC has tried to accomodate for the different modes of interaction - library/categorisation and magazine-like editorial content.

Filed in: bbc. on May 18th, 2004

As I live in wales

I should mention it’s St David’s day. So, here’s a daffodil.

A daffodil

Oh, and BBC Wales have a launched Icons of Wales, which I worked on, to celebrate the occasion. This site (although it doesn’t look much) represents about six months work on the backend and partial implementation of some much needed CSS.

Filed in: bbc. on March 1st, 2004

Scrum V Live

scrumvScrum V finally goes live after six months development, design, writing and testing. The site features match reports, clips, man of the match, votes etc. A great magazine site for a large audience in Wales.

The site was designed to coinside with the launch of the new series of Scrum V and the new WRU season, following the reshuffle of the teams this year.

The process started back in April with site categorisation and card sorting. The old site was a huge, tangled site where the content had outgrown the structure. A remit of the new site was to create a simple structure which would handle the growth, whilst retaining intuitive navigation and user journey.

Following card sorting, prelim designs were produced and tested using bipolar testing and wireframes were tested with heirarchical tests. The tests went really well and helped the design process enormously.

Final designs were created some months ago and reskinned in August with the new TV branding. One of the main points in the redesign was that the site has to be “skinnable” in less than a day of design time. This meant that we can turn round changes to the design very quickly to meet the demands of an ever-changing tv brand.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/scrumv/

Filed in: bbc. on September 4th, 2003

New BBC Wales homepage

BBC Wales HomepageThe new homepage for BBC Cymru Wales is launched. The homepage has seen a radical redesign using design and usability feedback from a nember of user testing sessions. The result is a more legible and usable gateway.

The gateway has functionality of chosing a colour palette based on an image. The image quality has improved dramatically and it includes the new News and Sport feeds.

Inital feedback has been good and the gateway page has been well received by management and nations and regions management.

I’ll be wrting a case study for this soon but in the meantime have a look - http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales

Filed in: bbc. on March 10th, 2003

BBC Wales - Dragon’s Eye Launch

Dragons EyeThe new Dragon’s Eye website to coinside with the new series of Dragons Eye.

Functionality of the site includes sms, email and interactive tv voting plus quotes, cartoons, previous editions of the programme which is streamed, also “ask an mp” section by which you can find out your mp for your constiuancy and then ask them a question - quite clever really!

Watch this space for the upcoming launch of “Just up your Street” and the new BBC Wales Homepage.

Filed in: bbc. on January 17th, 2003