New BBC iPlayer Layout: What were they thinking?

Quick note: This blog post is old. It was published as a complaint in 2008. Move along, folk.

Sometimes I come across a site and have to wonder what the designers, consultants, marketers, management teams and everyone else involved were thinking when they signed off on the project. The sting is that much worse when it’s a re-design of a well-loved site.

Well, the brains behind the new BBC iPlayer layout have failed, miserably! The new design is cluttered and lacks the wonderful functionality of the older sidebar. Its ease of use is completely gone in favour of… something? I have no idea what benefit the new layout brings. There is no additional feature set. It doesn’t DO anything different.

iPlayer_screen

I have two major concerns with it:

  1. It’s cluttered.

The benefit of the original iPlayer was an ease of use and elegant design. It was simple to find a programme, easy to play it, and easy to find related content. They have now juxtaposed radio and television programming, littered the screen with unfathomable boxes, and made the filtering by category bloody difficult. Its main content doesn’t fit above the fold, making its screen real-estate poorly-used even though there is much more content on display at one time. The wonderfully-simple method of sidebar filtering is gone in favour of some myspace-esque scatter-box setup. It’s complicated, un-elegant, and supremely difficult to use.

Poor effort, badly done.

  1. It’s ugly. I know this is subjective, but the actual player doesn’t fit well in its space. For all the seeming effort to splash content across the screen, the player itself doesn’t use enough of the screen when it’s in viewing mode:

You wouldn’t guess that the better-looking part of this screen is below the window scroll line, would you? Instead you get terminal-esque white text below a plain box which doesnt fit.

Background Rubbish

When I went to the forum to see if anyone else had noticed, I was pleased to see the top-most comments were all complaints about the bad layout. The boards were closed (I can only hope because of overwhelming viscerole being poured out!) but I did note another poor design feature: the background gradient repeats both horizontally and verticaly. What this means is that on a wide-screen layout, you see a tiled gradient instead of a smooth black-to grey.

I hope the BBC Design team heeds the forums, this plea, and countless others waiting to occur. Please fix the great iPlayer. This revamp’s rubbish and it feels like something pushed out to tick boxes rather than satisfy user needs.

20 Thoughts

  1. “There is no additional feature set. It doesn’t DO anything different.”

    I think it does- all the radio content is now integrated into the site, both ondemand and live. I think this is a fairly major feature in itself..

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  2. I have to disagree, I’m afraid. Although that post was written in frustration: (new rule: never post in anger?) I still think it’s a step backwards. The radio was always available via pop-out, and this made finding content far easier—quick, simple filtering. The new design throws everything it’s got at you.

    The sliding menu looks slick on its own, but in context, it’s busy and confusing. The sidebar was a work of genius: it made it very easy to navigate.

    I have to agree with you that the radio is an important feature, and I think it’s time the BBC radio content was presented better than it has for years. However, mixed amongst the television content on a cluttered display doesn’t work.

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    1. if you want radio you listen to the radio, the new iplayer design is rubbish for all the reasons given Zach has explained why and he is so right all it will do is turn people off how about a choice between the new horrible one and the old functional logical one

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    2. Yes..totally and utterly agree. I can’t believe how bad the new design is. Someone has found the xhtml for sliding menus and is really enjoying using it. A little bit of self indulgence perhaps? For me personally, there is just too much wrong with the new design to go into detail. As with any website, of this kind, functionality should be the priority.

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      1. Again, this post is *6 years old*. There have been several major redesigns along the way. This post is completely out of touch with where the iPlayer is at.

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  3. I cannot download tv where I live but loved the listen again feature for BBC radio. I hate the new combination of radio and tv – much more complicated and harder to find programmes, no “go back 15 minutes/1 minute”, does not show rate of download and when I pause it and restart it it turns into a stuttering unlisteneable garble. I have, after much searching, for the moment, found the old radio iplayer on the BBC website. I have e-mailed the BBC asking them to leave this old format available on their website – but they are not known for taking any notice of the licence fee payers. I live in a very remote place and have been using radio iplayer for years with no problems and couldn’t fault it. I think this is definately a backward step perhaps the BBC have a lot of web page designers they have to keep employed – but changing things that worked well into things that don’t seems stupid. Margaret Keirnen

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  4. I have to agree – I’m guessing the new look probably passed through a committee in which the last two members may have never actually used a computer. I’m very pleased about the availability of radio content though, it’s pretty frustrating trying to download ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue’ and being told you have to download RealPlayer.

    K-Lite Codec anyone? 😉

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  5. I have to agree – I’m guessing the new look probably passed through a committee in which the last two members may have never actually used a computer. I’m very pleased about the availability of radio content though, it’s pretty frustrating trying to download ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue’ and being told you have to download RealPlayer.

    K-Lite Codec anyone? 😉

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  6. I think the new iplayer design is pretty nice and clean. The original design didn’t really give the same depth of content. I fear by the design of your own website, Zach, that beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder.

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  7. Oneronaut, you’re right about my site. Also, I hadn’t noticed you can’t actually read the comments very well can you?

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but, in my case, there’s only so much I can do about it. I don’t speak CSS very well, and I have only recently begun to play with all the settings. (Which is why it keeps changing all the time!) I don’t actually like the over-all look of my blog very much, and I’d love to have it properly designed. I haven’t, however, got the BBC’s design team (or their budget) to play with it.

    If you have some suggestions, however, I’d be more than happy to have a look. If you’re a designer, and feel like improving the web, starting with my ugly site, I’d also be happy to hear from you! (if you can read this comment against the grey background!)

    About the iPlayer, though: it’s still difficult to navigate. I’ll concede that the radio is better in Flash than RealPlayer (ugh!), but it’s still all over the place. I’ve heard quite a few complaints about it from “Listen Again” folks too. I can understand where they made their decisions to move away from the iPlayer as BBC TV Online, and towards presenting all the BBC’s content, but it takes all of bbc.co.uk to get that job done, so putting it all in a single player’s a bit mad.

    I think it’d work much better if you could stream off much earlier: TV, Radio, News… three tabs, maybe?. Cut back on the amount of visual clutter on the landing page, and What’s wrong with a sidebar? It’s a familiar navigation tool, and people who are less adaptable might find that easier to use. The one thing which is more maddening, however, and which I hadn’t articulated, is the removal of the date-view. Now, it seems, you can only see what was on last Wednesday by channel. So, If I wanted to see what I could have watched on Friday, if only I had a TV, I have to look through each channel.

    I do, however, have to admit, that the look of it is growing on me. So, maybe their design team’s better than I thought. Maybe they poached someone from Windows Live Writer?

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  8. The old style radio iplayer disappeared from the BBC site today. Whatever you click now you are sent to the new radio iplayer console. After years of happy “listen again” the stopping and starting of the playback on this new player make “listening again” to any radio programme impossible. All my software is up to date and I feel desperately depressed that radio “listen again” is finished for me. Why they couldn’t leave the old iplayer available on the site I don’t know – but, of course that would be admitting that the new player was not working for some people.

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  9. Hello Margaret,

    I’m not sure what problem you’re having with the new radio player on iPlayer? It’s a flash-based player, and you can still “listen again,” can’t you? I actually like that it’s no longer RealPlayer. And you can scrub (grab the ever-moving progress bar) to listen back and forward. You can even pop it out to have a separate player. It loads faster, plays more smoothly and, I think, is more convenient to use than the last one.

    My problem is in finding the content in the first place. It’s unfamiliar, and—I feel—cluttered.

    The comments on this piece have shown that there are those in favour, too. I’d say it’s a mixed bag, but that ultimately they got it wrong in execution. Oneronaut seems to like it, whereas Rob doesn’t. I don’t, but I’m unwilling to say that everything about it is bad.

    What happens when it “stops and starts”? I haven’t had that problem yet, but I’ve finally got my broadband sorted with my ISP (another rant, another time, I feel), so that’s fixed most of my online woes… now if they just stopped charging for additional broadband use… bah!

    Regards

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  10. I agree – it’s gone from a nice little page, easy to use, easy to find programs, to what …
    a bloated triumph of unwanted designer content, that you cannot easily control, no back 1 min etc..

    Nice that it’s not the proprietary real player anymore.

    Still a step backwards on the usability front thought.

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  11. I cannot download tv where I live but loved the listen again feature for BBC radio. I hate the new combination of radio and tv – much more complicated and harder to find programmes, no “go back 15 minutes/1 minute”, does not show rate of download and when I pause it and restart it it turns into a stuttering unlisteneable garble. I have, after much searching, for the moment, found the old radio iplayer on the BBC website. I have e-mailed the BBC asking them to leave this old format available on their website – but they are not known for taking any notice of the licence fee payers. I live in a very remote place and have been using radio iplayer for years with no problems and couldn't fault it. I think this is definately a backward step perhaps the BBC have a lot of web page designers they have to keep employed – but changing things that worked well into things that don't seems stupid. Margaret Keirnen

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  12. I agree entirelyThere was absolutely nothing wrong with the old site – why change something great?I used to like the option of clicking on a channel and seeing all currently available programmes – not available anymore, now you can only apparently see listed programmes shown today and yesterday etc.Utterly awful – and if you email to complain you are only allowed to use 350 characters, which obviously isnt enough!!!!!

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  13. You should have a look at the date of this post, mate. I love the new design. I wasn't so keen on the old, new design in 2008. The new layout is fantastic, so I think we'll have to agree to disagree.

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  14. Why do these companies try and fix things that are not broken, the old iPlayer was perfect. Not is so annoying to use that o have stopped using it. I used iPlayer every night before…

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    1. Um, this post is 6 years old. I had a gripe back then, but the latest iPlayer has moved on so far from the one I discussed that this post simply doesn’t matter.

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