Me vs. the Stream: Design Rigor Still Matters at BBC

If you are a content provider (magazine, newspaper, TV channel), does the design of your brand and your content still matter? So many of the digital experiences we have today are mediated abstractions of the original and/or are driven by the device we consume it on. Think: we get our newsfeeds via RSS, read through our preferred reader (google reader, etc.), twitter updates in the Facebook stream, Facebook updates via text and email, NY Times stories on the blackberry. Does anyone see the content displayed as it was originally intended by the team of designers?

Design still matters at the BBC. Check out this really thoughtful, really detail and very impressive overview of the BBC's efforts to rationalize and maintain a wholistic visual design framework. It's an amazing story, really. Well worth the 15 minutes it will take to read through it and digest it.

As someone who is (now very) indirectly responsible for the visual design of some important content-driven digital platforms, I look at this with envy. I envy the time the designers had to be thoughtful, practical, intentional. I envy the trust the organization gave the designers, and i envy the power of persuasion that must have been employed to get the top of their house to believe so strongly in the value of an investment in a unified design language. 

I love deeply immersive, well organized and thought-through digital experiences (like, well, the website and the BBC ipad reader), but i'm worried about our ability to truly deliver them as we move into the stream phase of the digital evolution. The "content" we used to experience as a whole experience is getting broken into it's components (text, images, video) and we're losing a lot of control over the experience (if we haven't completely lost it already). 

Question for designers: How much to invest in the "experience", when most of our content will get delivered via some device/reader/api/filter where we can't maintain control over the look/feel/design of our content.

Counterpoint: Invest more in the design of the "original" content and create a remarkably better experience, so those who see it in the second-generation, mediated form want to come back to the original. Frankie Goes to Hollywood's version of Born to Run was good, but the orginal source was better.

One Comment

  1. Jim – This is a great point and one I’ve been debating over on our side as well. When Twitter revealed that 75% of their traffic, it really him home for me. After all, when Twitter redesigned their home page, I remember not even seeing the resdesign for probably 2 months after it went live since I always just use Tweetdeck.
    Now with that said, I do think design matters more than ever when it comes to creating content sites. No matter how many people we pull into the funnel to experience content through the stream, many people first experience our content through search. When they first open the door to the experience we created, design will have a major impact on them coming back again. And if anything, the proliferation of new devices makes design even more important because its not just about a good experience in a web browser but also a good experience on a smartphone, iPad, etc.
    Its a great discussion and one we will constantly have to remind ourselves about


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