BBC News – Responsive

BBC News - Responsive

Project Overview

In 2011 the product variety for BBC News and BBC World Service News was vast. Each of the 27 language services had (dependent on their market) a desktop site, a mobile optimised site and native apps. Which proved very labour intensive to maintain. But more importantly we were seeing an enormous growth in the usage of mobiles and tablets with some of the World Service markets becoming mobile first (where the products were accessed more by mobile devices than desktop devices.)

The editor of the BBC News website at the time noted that, in an average week, the BBC News sites and apps we’re visited by around 9.7m users worldwide on mobile and tablet devices. That represented about 26% of the total users coming to the BBC News website and it was consistently growing. It was decided that best way we could improve the products was to move to a responsive template for all the sites. To avoid a ‘big bang’ launch we decided that the simplest, most lean and agile way for us to start to replace the products, was to begin by replacing the mobile optimised sites. These were very simple products with very limited functionality. We would first build a responsive news site with the same basic functionality and switch over the mobile redirect. Then through iterative releases we added new features and functionality, which allowed us to gather constant feedback from a live product. Eventually the responsive site was as good or better than the desktop solution and we could switch off the old version.

I worked as part of a small multi-disciplinary team on numerous aspects of the project. A deep and progressive knowledge of responsive design was essential.  I helped explore opportunities around 
our specific vision, articulated concepts by prototyping and conducting guerrilla testing. I created user journeys and wireframes and helped shape formal usability testing. I produce final pixel perfect visual designs, provided design assets and build support for developers. Whilst regularly presenting my work at sprint demos 
and stakeholder reviews to insure as a business we stayed aligned.

In December 2012 we launched the BBC Indonesia responsive site. As far as I know this was the world’s first responsive website in an Asian language and one of the very first non-English responsive sites. This technology was particularly well suited to the Indonesian product. More than half the visitors to BBC Indonesia come on a mobile phone and they come using an explosion of different handsets: it its first week of launch there were more than 1,200 different phones using the site.

As mentioned in a previous portfolio post one size fits all product is simply not possible for the World Service News sites. User are not a single distinct segment or type of audience and the journalistic offering for each site is very different. However we simply couldn’t create bespoke sites for each of the services, so we strived for a global grid with enough flexibility to suit each team.

To capture the requirements of each of the services and to simply educate the journalists about what responsive design was (this would be a major change for them and alter the way they created and uploaded content) I designed and facilitated a workshop. First of all I printed out huge versions of a feature phone, a smart phone, a tablet and desktop and tapped them to the wall. Then for each of the services I took an audit of their current site and captured how they were currently using their template. Then for every module I created large dummy versions of each. The aim was to invite the key stakeholders to the workshop and begin to layout their new site. We would start mobile first and then develop up to desktop, this way I could easily explain the reflow of content that our responsive template demanded.

Over the next 12 months, with the buy in of the stake holders, we one by one replaced each of the language services. Constantly testing and iterating our designs as we went.

When I left the BBC in January 2014 I had led the roll out of 21 of the 27 language sites to the new responsive pattern.

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