Could the BBC News redesign be the saviour of newspapers?

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 20 July 2010

As with every major overhaul of a popular website, the BBC has been facing a barrage of criticism on the new look BBC News site. Users are furious that the BBC has changed the website that they hated when it first appeared.

The redesigned BBC News homepage

But I'm picking up something interesting in amongst the comments - could it be that the BBC News redesign is the saviour of the newspaper industry, and not the iPad / apptop / paywall etc etc as previously thought?

As one user put it:

"Day 2 of trying to use this new site has left me feeling ill and thoroughly grumpy & bad-tempered at work. I rely on the BBC news site to keep me sane at my desk and now it's simply adding to the workplace stress here. If we don't get old site back - perhaps as an alternative to the new one - then I'm seriously considering buying a daily newspaper again, something I have not done since the late nineties. "

Thursday's blog post about the redesign also featured a comment from Norman30, who said "The BBC news website, the best thing to happen to newspapers since the invention of the printing press."

In the latest of Steve Herrmann's blog posts about the changes, Pseudo_John_Savage wrote:

"Oh what bliss. I'm finally cured of my addiction to the BBC News pages. I think it is called aversion therapy - but it has worked for me without any cold turkey side effects. That is not tongue in cheek - the days suddenly have so much more time for other things. The headline news comes from the online Guardian - and their feature articles are interesting too. Definitely time to start buying real newspapers again to read at my leisure in the sunlit garden."

And lordballwatcher added:

"This is not simply an issue of people not liking change. The website looks like a first attempt at web design by a 5th stream ICT student. Poor font choice, jagged text on the larger headlines, and appalling sense of colour; red 'Sun' top (unbelievably tacky), mustard side panels, blue panels, black panels, black text, grey text, pink text, white text. It looks like a botched attempt to rearrange a plate of vomit into something meaningful. I'll be buying a newspaper from now on."

We'll probably never be able to prove this drastic intervention into the marketplace though - I can guarantee that whatever changes have happened to print circulation or online newspaper visitor numbers in the last month will be exclusively put down to The Times' paywall ;-)

13 Comments

I often wonder why companies go in for large redesigns when every time it happens, you get the same reaction.

I HATE IT

It may be apocryphal, but I was told that eBay once had a yellow background, switched to white and backtracked under the pressure of outrage, but then very slowly lightened the background colour from yellow to white over several months. No one even noticed.

I suspect the best redesigns are the stealthy ones that change slowly over time to improve a site without a huge "relaunch" that will inevitably drive away a percentage of users who simply dislike change.

People moaned at the last BBC redesign, people are moaning about this one, people moaned about the Guardian redesign yet the common theme here is that more people end up using the sites afterwards.

I'm pretty sure the negativity is just a reaction to forced change. Give every one of the doubters a few weeks and they will be as comfortable as they ever were.

One of the problems with doing a stealth redesign Ian, is that you can end up with a lot of inconsistency for a long time, and there are some changes in the new BBC site, like switching from left-hand to top navigation, that you can't do without people noticing. In this case I also think the wholesale adoption of a new version of the News CPS in the background meant it probably had to be done pretty much in one go.

It's always the same - you hate it at the beginning but then you get used to it. It's the same when my local Tesco has a change round!

in my opinion, i don't think newspapers are going to be around for much longer, everyone is on the net so much and around my neighborhood, I've seen a decrease in newspaper because my older brother distributes papers and he has told me that customers are canceling their papers so what's the point in redesigning when the market is going down and reforming??

Ok, so the site has changed design, and we do pay our licenses, but come on, the site is kind of free yet people complain about it as if it is their god given right to have the perfect news site. I personally find it fine and if they don't like it, there are plenty of other news sites to look at.

The furore will pass and people will forget. Honestly, it's not that big of a deal. Certainly not terrible enough to go back to (ugh), print newspapers. :)

I guess the real acid test would simply be in the analytics, and they would undoubtedly go up as design improvements in SEO and social media 'sharing' would drive new traffic.

So for the sake of a few disgruntled users, who would inevitably get used to it, it's a no-brainer for a whole sale change rather than gradual.

also for all its UK users, I've always been envious that the beeb don't have to compromise their design integrity with adverts. Surely every web designers dream ...

I know several people who, through choice or due to corporate discrimination are no longer using the BBC news website. The attitude of several commenters here "keep sodding them -- they'll get used to it" is almost as offensive as the site redesign itself. These commenters should save such rhetoric for the visually impaired who can no longer use the site; a clear breach of the DDA. By visually impaired, I am not talking about those who like the new BBC "global visual language". Although we should forgive such confusion on the part of the reader, such folks should be referred to as "tasteless".

The non-sequiteurs of previous commenters aside, the latest travesty is very different to the last redesign and the BBC needs to divest itself of the "talent" responsible.

I wish people could see past the "no one likes change" defense to the fact that the redesign just isn't as good or as unique as the previous, very successful solution. Some of us complaining are doing so on qualitative measures. The design isn't working for CNN, it's not growing on me at the BBC either.

Some users undoubtedly stay after they threaten to leave, I for one have quite the BBC news site cold turkey. It is too offensive to the eyes to be worth wading through to find interesting stories.

Just for the record, I'm one of the users who gets to see a third of the page overrun with ads, so that will be one person less generating ad revenue.

Myself, I like the redo. But it's true that even if it were the most outstanding redesign in all human history and throughout the galaxy, the negative crowd would complain themselves to exhaustion. Good or bad, though, it's not likely a redesign is going to do much to hold back the digital tidal wave.

Keep up to date on my new blog