The 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.
I 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.