BBC News Site Redesign and User Feedback

You may or may not be aware that the BBC recently redesigned its news web site. I’m not going to comment on the merits of the redesign (well, okay, I like it) — there’s plenty of that going on elsewhere:

As a web designer, what’s interesting to me are the reactions of users to a redesign that was no doubt well-researched and thought out by a team of talented web professionals (take a read through The Glass Wall (PDF 6.7MB) to learn more about their design process).

If you read through user comments, they appear to be largely negative. Therefore, the redesign was a disaster, right?

Well, let’s not be too hasty.

Firstly, let’s not forget that the online feedback makes for a pretty biased sample. It’s a fact that people who feel strongly about something — especially if it’s negative — are most likely to make their opinions heard.

What stood out to me in reading through the negative comments and feedback was the overwhelming desire to turn back the clock and return the site to its old design. Basically forget the whole redesign thing ever happened.

Funnily enough, this appears to be the very same reaction that many users had when the BBC News site went through its last redesign, back in 2003.

Comment on the 2008 redesign:

In terms of style, if the old look was the Times, it now looks like the Beano. I thought the old style had more gravitas.

Comment on the 2003 redesign:

Looking at it from the most basic level, nothing stands out and i don’t know where to look first.

So, the 2003 design that many users want to return to is the same redesign that initially drew similar criticism to that which is being leveled at the new 2008 design.

It seems to me that perhaps people are reacting more to the fact that the design has changed rather than whether it is inherently better or worse.

E-commerce site redesigns have a similar problem in that sales may initially drop because visitors are unfamiliar with the new design.

So, what’s a designer to do? Well, firstly realize that no matter how great your design, some (even many) people are going to hate it initially — and will do so vocally.

But also recognize that this reaction may be due largely to lack of familiarity with the new design more than anything.

Therefore, it’s important to gather user feedback once users have had time to get used to the new design — say, after one and three months.

This will likely be a truer test of whether the redesign has succeeded than relying on initial reactions.