Tag Archives: BBC

Drawing Fire: How transparency in User Centred Design brings out the worst in our users.

There are certain roles in digital user-experience design that are coveted. Coveted for the opportunity they present to have your work seen and interacted with by a huge number of people, coveted because they represent Britain at its best, most accessible and world leading.

Jobs like the Government Digital Service and the British Broadcasting Corporation.

The new BBC.co.uk homepage across three screen sizes.

In that context, I’m a keen reader of the blogs both these organisations put out that explain and add authenticity to their work; the rigour and integrity of which is inspirational. [GDS & BBC]

Imagine then, having spent weeks and months developing user-centred solutions, using all the best thinking you can bear to the project. Deploying some of the brightest UX, Information Architecture and interaction design minds, commissioning (extensive) user testing and getting the buy-in and agreement of savvy and critical stakeholders. Imagine the end result being pushed to the expected audience and, in the spirit of transparency, sharing that journey online.

And then you read this response:

So another blog by another name showing all the hard work that has gone on the background, trying to justify the latest reason for the ‘responsive’ redesign. Just like the news app, just like the news page, you may have spent weeks shuffling you coloured bits of paper round on the wall and getting each other so excited that the toilets have never seen such use before, but the fact remains, you work has been pointless. The home page is crap, the news site is still crap and the news app still remains so crap, that those of us who still have access to version 2 now refuse to update.

And what will we see as a response to comments in this blog? Dismissal of those telling you that you have got the change wrong and continued insistence that this is the way forward. At least it’s something you can proudly tell you grandchildren in years to come, “I used to work for a Great British institution called the BBC and was involved in its downfall.”

Granted there is just a group of detractors and critics who are so full of hatred for a ‘biased’ BBC that one will never convince them, but even so, does this not make your heart sink? Sink at the ignorance, the stupidity at a group of people that cannot see how a truly incredible digital public service is designed entirely around the users. The undermining of the craft of the people that work on sites like this is deplorable. Patronisingly assuming that it’s just a self-congratulatory exercise involving coloured paper makes my blood boil.

When I read Hugh Gummett‘s original post I read about competitor analysis, stakeholder reviews, detailed requirements capture and interrogation of data. I can see there was more than cursory user testing, namely:

32 in-depth qualitative sessions and collecting quantitative feedback from around 400 people through surveys. Those recruited to provide feedback covered a wide range of demographics, had varied interests around areas such as news, sport, entertainment, lifestyle and learning..

Furthermore, the testing included a BETA site (opt-in) and multivariant testing of the implementations for the homepage. To give the team credit one really has to acknowledge that this was not a design done in a sealed room and foisted on a gullible public. But they can’t even win there, other commenters assert that 400 users aren’t sufficient as the BBC has 8 million users – not understanding how representative sampling works at all. Design a site for each one of those 8 million users? How does that work then? Sigh.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have looked at the comments, perhaps the UX team doesn’t either, nothing good ever comes from comment threads after all but my goodness me, as a way to demotivate this afternoon’s reading takes some beating.

Of course, if your head is as far above the parapet as it is at the BBC this kind of attack is inevitable. In our industry, we do have to stay strong and continue to work with confidence that we’re going about user-centred design in the right way. I take comfort from the fact that as practitioners we have raised the bar and are getting some many things right now that it takes a bit of pedantry and comment flaming to stir us and increase our resolve to ensure each implementation gets better and better for those that care about what we do.

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Draw Sometimes


News reaches us today that Draw Something, a game I’m not ashamed to say I recently played A LOT, is suffering a sharp decline in usage. Unlike Angry Birds or similar meteorically successful mobile games, Draw Something exploded very quickly, peaking in April and has boomeranged – at least for frequent users – in recent weeks.

The BBC article raises the argument that this might be due to a general drop in appeal but doesn’t really explore what the pathology of this malaise might be. Here, for what they’re worth, are my thoughts:

One of my biggest bugbears with mobile app developers is their lazy attitude to making their apps work without a connection. Designing and testing an app in a production house with a gigabyte network is great but it’s not the real world. Draw Something is a time-killer app that’s perfect for the train, the tube/metro, planes and so-on – i.e. all the places you can’t get a reliable connection. That Draw Something insists on a connection is an Achilles heel. It wouldn’t be hard to design an offline process where you could complete your drawings and the data is cached to send next time a connection is obtained.

The game used an American-centric dictionary and American-centric references. Obscure pop artists, minor celebrities and TV shows would regularly appear in the word list and lead to frustration as you’d have no idea who these people or items were – and could be pretty sure your friend wouldn’t know either. Cue using up valuable bombs to get new words. How hard would it be to localise the word database? Even when you did know the word the spelling might be the Yank version … again, easily fixed.

Roz points out that each game actually takes quite a bit of time. From the viewing of the other player’s guess (even if you skip it) to then watching the other player’s drawing. As an aside, even though there’s fun in seeing the construction of an image, especially when done by an artistically gifted friend, I still want to skip to the end and see the final image  in most cases. If you could just do your guesses and and leave the drawing bit until you have more time, that might make it feel a bit more manageable. There’s no ‘I’ll just have a quick go’ process built in to the sequence.

All of those elements add up and As Ben Griffin says, the app was initially easy to manage as you had two or three friends playing. Once it became successful you could find yourself inundated with drawing requests. Compounded by the time it takes to play each game this meant that you are having to administer an ever-growing and impatient list of friends wanting to play. It’s a nagging list that feels like an unmanageable inbox which you, albeit in a mild way, resent and duly avoid.

Whilst I’m confident that Zynga and the team behind it will continue to develop the app and ensure its long-term success (releasing commenting features shows it understands how people use the app – replacing artists writing messages to each other in the first frame), the undeniable failings I describe above do give us pause to reflect what makes a truly engaging mobile game experience that, importantly, can scale with popularity.

In the meantime, take a look at this collection of the most-talked about Draw Something efforts.

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