Why everyone hates the BBC news website redesign

22 Jul

tasty poutineThe BBC has recently redesigned its news website… and the consensus  is that people hate it. Not my words, hate crops up time and time again in the comments that appeared in BBC Editor Steve Herman’s blog post introducing the new look. Also present are disappointing, awful, horrid, ugly, appalling, disgusting and a whole host of terms that would be put to better use describing what Poutine looks like.

There are some positive reactions, but the overwhelming majority are negative, with a few going as far as saying they’d stop using the site and go elsewhere, although I suspect they won’t. For the record, I love it; so to understand what might be driving the comments it’s worth considering a few things:

Updating a site of this size is a huge undertaking and a substantial investment of time, effort and money. This isn’t something that the BBC’s design and technical teams wouldn’t undertake without good reason; especially when you consider that bbc.co.uk’s global reach of all daily internet traffic is 2%, of which half of visits are to the news site.

The design team mentions that they talked to audience groups, held one-to-one user testing sessions, and invited several thousand visitors to try a prototype. Unless the design team decided to ignore all their findings you can be sure that we wouldn’t be seeing the new design it if it wasn’t an improvement, so why the disconnect?

I suspect there’s a couple of factors at play here. Firstly, there’s a common adage online that your competition is only a click away. Whilst this is true, users will often learn to cope with a site’s problems and sub-consciously work around them. User will even go so far as to blame themselves for a site’s failings, assuming that they’re at fault or ‘just missing something’.

This behaviour is especially strong if a site’s content is good, and the onerous alternative is conduct a possibly lengthy search for an alternative. Once a user has learned their way around a site’s problems, they become invisible. This acceptance is what leads people to get upset by change, even if it’s for the better.

I remember when the previous BBC News website was new. Thinking back, I remember finding the huge amount of information and links bewildering. Now stop and consider how someone with cognitive difficulties would struggle and you can see what might be driving a re-design. Especially as the BBC has a remit to be accessible to all.

social validationI also think there’s a very strong degree of social validation occurring here. However much we like to think of ourselves as strong-minded individuals, we have a desire to conform and be accepted by others. In this instance I suspect a few strong negative reactions started to influence the opinion of others. This effect is magnified as more people join in. The effect can be so strong that it can make someone question their own first impressions and reverse their opinions.

To end, I’d suggest that if you waited a year and offered all the people posting negative comments the choice of going back to the previous site? Most would reject the offer.

So until the next redesign and corresponding outcry, I’d be interested to hear what you think of the new design?

P.S. it’s fine if  you don’t love it.


7 Responses to “Why everyone hates the BBC news website redesign”

  1. Michael Tension July 22, 2010 at 10:31 am #

    I wonder if the age of the average user of the site has something to do with the negative response.

  2. Connor July 22, 2010 at 3:16 pm #

    I like the new site, but – as a disclaimer – I don’t read the BBC enough to remember exactly how the old site appeared.

    The site in its current form is clean, concise and to the point. It’s well laid out and any ads are non-intrusive. I am, however, surprised that they didn’t incorporate social media to a further extent.

  3. tomhammarberg July 22, 2010 at 3:28 pm #

    Thanks for the comment Connor

    Your reaction supports the my theory that redesign is actually successful, but familiarity is blinding regular users to the improvements.
    The old design followed the look of the current sports section, what do you think of them side by side?

  4. dougbrowncreative July 22, 2010 at 8:02 pm #

    I also didn’t know the old site, but find the new one fab. I noted the social media links down the right straight off…I guess you missed them Connor as you have to scroll down. I thought the hierarchy of information was really easy to follow and from a usability perspective, it was ideal. What’s with all the moaning and complaining?? Oh wait….Brits….sorry Tom. The old stereotype rears its whinging head.

    One thing I would like to note about your post from a purely Canadian perspective is that the image you used is poutine, a much-loved French Canadian dish. There you Brits go, taking digs at the French again! Very entertaining post.

  5. Connor July 23, 2010 at 5:51 pm #

    After comparing with the Sports page, I definitely prefer the new site. I find the old design to be too text-heavy for a homepage – just be a personal preference.

    Doug – I saw the Facebook and Twitter logos first too, but I thought that was a feature article *about* social media and not links to their actual accounts, no? Today, there’s an article about “America’s secret war” in the same widget.

    Happy Friday and enjoy the Victoria weather! It’s not so great here in Cow-town, but it’s supposed to get better for the weekend. Cheers, Connor

  6. Elena Berry August 5, 2010 at 3:30 am #

    I’m one of the many BBC news website readers who’s very disappointed with the new website. Contrary to your statement,
    “with a few going as far as saying they’d stop using the site and go elsewhere, *although I suspect they won’t*” (my asterisks)
    That’s a rather arrogant statement. I *am* looking for alternatives. The current BBC news layout, with the huge red “ribbon” on top, with white links against a red/burgundy background is very hard on my eyes and there’s no alternative other than the limited text-only version. I avoid all sites with that layout type. I only use bbc now if I “must” know what BBC says about something, but it requires a lot more visual effort and more mouse clicks to search than the previous way. Sad, because I’ve been using BBC as my preferred news source for almost 20 years.

  7. dougbrowncreative August 5, 2010 at 7:51 am #

    Thanks for the comment Elena. I’m not sure the statement Tom made was arrogant. It was simply his opinion. It would be arrogant coming from the Beeb! I hope you find the news you are looking for in a format that’s more user-friendly to your eyes.

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