Posts Tagged ‘bbc’


Device Independent Web – All For One, One For All

by Haro Lee

“All For One, One For All!”


What Happened…

A few days ago, I got an email with a url to an article on a website.
I clicked it without giving it much thought and the page opened on my web browser and for a moment I was puzzled as it looked quite not what I expected.

The font size was unnecessarily big, the paragraphs filled the entire width of the window, images were stretched, and I scrolled down and on the bottom of the pages there were several huge buttons filling all the available width.

At first I thought ‘what a badly designed website’ and then realised something was not right (other than it looked bad…).

I checked the url and it started with “mobile”.

Yes, it was the mobile version of the webpage.

I removed the “mobile” bit and it reopened the normal desktop version of the webpage now with a lot more comfortable look.

I figured out what happened there. The colleague was looking the webpage on his mobile phone and shared it by sending the url.

I’m sure many of you have the same experience.



I don’t want to start yet another debate what should a mobile internet be like or even the point of the existence of mobile internet (such as “There is no mobile internet” debates). There are plenty of other people talking about it with probably more knowledge than I have.

This post is not to argue or teach others what to do but just to talk about a little detail seems to be forgotten sometimes.

I appreciate the extra effort the people pour in to make their website look better on mobile devices or smaller screens.
Most of the times, it really helps my browsing experience.

But sometimes they seem to forget how advanced the mobile and web technology is becoming.

One example is Chrome browser on all the different devices.
As far as you are logged in, your browsing history and bookmarks are shared between devices. It knows what were the webpages you were looking on your phone so you can open them again on your desktop and vice versa.

It’s not just the browsers.

There are many many chances that you send an email with a link to somebody or even to yourself while browsing on your mobile phone and the recipients may open it on their desktop exactly like my experience above.  

That brings forward the importance of being versatile between devices.

In many cases if you open a webpage saved or sent from desktop on your mobile web browser, it correctly shows the mobile version of the page.

What it seems to be often forgotten is the opposite case.

Even a big company like BBC ( has forgotten it.

Maybe it’s like that so the developers can check the mobile version of website easily on their developing process, or just a simple memory loss, or hasn’t been considered at all, I am not sure.


A Little Thought…

One way to fix this quickly is just not to forget to check what device the webpage is opened on even on the mobile version of the website.

However, if you can afford to re-make the website, probably one of the most manageable ways of ensuring cross device experience will be using responsive web design. This may bring another good old everyone’s favourite debate of what and how responsive design should work but that is another story.

May your tool be Twitter Bootstrap (, Skeleton (, or HTML KickStart ( or whatever you choose to work with for an easier start, or even your own creation.

Responsive web design lifts at least the burden of managing two or more different versions of the same page or template for different devices and it comes with an extra peace of mind that you don’t have to worry about the different devices and screens available on the wild all the time.

Another side effect of responsive design I like is that it makes the user experience less cluttered by forcing the designers and developers to think more about what and how to show and not, of course that’s if they are bothered to be bothered…


BBC Connected Studio Pilot the story so far

by Sari Griffiths

We are now well into the second phase of BBC Connected Studio’s pilot project ‘BBC Now!’, developing away. (If you haven’t heard about Connected Studio, check out this blog post “Connected Studio: the first pilots” by Adrian Woolard.) The first phase has been about exploring what’s possible then distilling, finalising and crystallising our concept until we have something we are happy with.

What is BBC Now?

We have written a bit about the project already in other posts, but here is a quick summary of what BBC Now is all about:

The project was born out of BBC Connected Studio for Homepage, Search & Navigation in spring 2012. Our challenge and what our concept is all about is how to make BBC Homepage more dynamic and lively – giving visitors greater exposure to the content the BBC can offer and making that content more ‘real time’.

Our project champion Eleni has written a blog post about the concept and findings, so I am going to tell you a little bit about our approach in the discovery phase.

Exploring wider context

We kick-started this project by seeing just how far we could push our concept. This might seem an odd thing to do – after all it’s a rapid prototyping project and time is tight so we could only do a fraction of what we discussed. But for us exploring the possibilities is a vital part of the whole process.

Think of it this way – rapid prototyping is not just about being quick. It’s about being really focused on testing a specific proposition. We believe the only way to pin down the most important aspects of a concept is to explore the wider – if not the whole – picture. What would we wish for if we could wave a magic wand?

(Update: if you’re wondering what is rapid prototyping, I’ve just published another post: What is user-centred rapid prototyping? Part 1: Discovery phase.)

User testing

We were given access to a fantastic user testing facility at BBC in Salford to test out our early thinking. With archetypal rapid prototyping this is something we wouldn’t get an opportunity to do until the end of the project.

Having gone wide initially, we were able to hone in on a series of reasonably focused features that we wanted to test with users. We decided the best way to maximise the feedback we got was to create an animated Flash prototype with some functionalities, rather than creating a paper prototype.

As we were testing BBC homepage, we knew one of the most important aspects of user testing was to keep the content as real as possible, so that the lack of realism didn’t become a blocker and we could be sure we were getting a more natural response to the concept.

(If you are a UX or a designer, I’m sure you know all too well how easily people can become fixated by random typos, the mismatch of image and text or latin as a placeholder. Something written down is always easier to talk about than generic concepts of ‘layout’ and ‘experience’…)

We tried to capture a snapshot of what’s going on the day before the testing, frantically cutting some images and adding text in xml.

The testing was very beneficial. We had many interesting insights. Some positive, some negative. All contributed to make our list of features more focused and informed for the next phase.

Learn fast and learn cheaply

With an organisation like the BBC, there are understandably very strict sets of rules and guidelines that have to be adhered to. It affects all areas of project, from UX to development. But being a pilot, we are given a lot more freedom, which is great.

We often say that rapid prototyping is about ‘fail fast and fail cheaply’, but the important message behind this statement is to understand that, ‘fail’ leads to ‘learn’. We all learn from mistakes, and it’s the quickest form of learning.

So try something new and see what happens!


Is the BBC Connected Studio programme a good idea?

by David Wynne

We were very pleased to be invited back by the BBC to attend the second BBC Connected StudioCain and Alex had attended the first Connected Studio which had focused on Homepage, Search & Navigation.  Thanks to their efforts we progressed onto the subsequent Build Studio where our team brought their concepts to life and we’ve just announced that we’ve progressed again to the pilot stage.

This time around Sari & I took the short walk from the Red Badger workshop to the new Google Campus in the “the heart of East London’s Tech City”.  It’s so new the new car smell (read: “paint”) hasn’t had time to dissipate.  The focus this time around was Weather and Travel.


Rather than re-tread Cain and Sari’s already expertly trodden diary style accounts, I thought I’d try and take another angle on the day and provide an alternate view.  Given our experience so far, is the BBC Connected Studio programme a good idea?

Are real ideas created in a day?

I have approximately 43.4 ideas a day, most of them don’t make it past my internal monologue to my mouth.  The majority of the rest get shot down when it’s pointed out someone has already done it or actually implementing the idea would be too dangerous and/or against the law.

Coming up with an idea is easy.  Proving that it’s a good one is the hard part.  More to the point, developing the right skills to prove or disprove an idea is something that takes practice and this format is the perfect training ground.

Many people have spent many millions following through with their idea before proving it.  The lean start-up movement is about testing your ideas with your customer cheaply and quickly.  Looking your idea straight in the face and truly asking, is this a good idea or not?  And if it’s not, move on.  The PoC/Concept Lab/Launch 48/lean start-up (whatever you want to call it) is all about failing fast, failing cheaply.  Short cycles of trial and feedback, rather than the traditional secret bunker and big bang approach that’s littered with casualties and lost investment.

Who owns the IP?

The BBC have been pretty open from the start that the initial creative studio is very much an open pitch process.  If  you progress onto the build and pilot stages, these are covered by a mutual confidentially agreement – but you’re still ultimately working on your idea openly alongside you competitors.

In the first creative studio, there was the option to pre-book a closed pitch session for those who were pitching ideas that contained IP they didn’t want to share.  Interestingly at the second creative studio they had decided that all pitches should be open.

On the downside you have to show them yours and risk embarrassment.  On the upside they have to show you theirs and you get to checkout the competition in an open and healthy manner.  It’s fascinating to see what other ideas people are coming up with, and to see the common themes emerge.

We’ve always been pro open and honest, so the Connected Studio process fits the Red Badger ethos rather nicely.

Aren’t you being taken for a ride?

So two of you spend a day working for free, then a team of you spend 2 days working at cost, then another team works for 6-8 weeks after that.  All with the prospect that Auntie could say no thanks at any point.  Aren’t you being taken for a ride?

Anyone who’s been involved in a tendering/pitch/sales process of any kind will know; stuff takes a long time.™  They will also know that in the consulting game you’re basically selling your ability to do stuff better than anyone else.  If at any point your prospective customer doesn’t believe you can do it, doesn’t like you or finds someone else who can do it better and/or cheaper – you lose.

As I’ve said before when discussing concept labs, the idea is not to do things differently, but to distil best practice and fail fast.  In that respect the Connected Studio programme applies the same attitude to the pitch process.  If anything, the prospect that you get instant feedback is fantastic. If our idea really isn’t up to scratch, then put us out of our misery so we can move on to fight another day.  No problem.

Tell me something else

It’s a fresh approach from a huge organisation.  It’s a chance to tell the BBC what you think they should be doing, rather than doing what they ask you to do.

I’ve been involved in a lot of Proof-of-Concept-type projects and whilst they’re nearly always fun and enlightening, the toughest part is to do something positive with the discoveries you make.  The BBC have been quite wise in making a commitment up front to an end goal.

Ultimately the proof will be in the pudding as to whether they follow through on that commitment and whether the results from the programme go on to improve people’s lives.  But if you don’t try, you’ll never know.



BBC Connected Studio–HPSN Pilot here we come!

by Cain Ullah

So, you may have seen our recent blogs about the BBC Connected Studio for Homepage, Search and Navigation – Creative Studio and Build Studio.

So far the experience has been an incredible one. The BBC have run two fantastic events that have been very well organised and almost militant with their timing. In brief, the Creative Studio had 32 teams presenting which was then whittled down to 9 for the Build Studio.

It sounded like the BBC judges had an incredibly hard time in choosing the finalists to go into the funded 6-8 week rapid prototyping Pilot phase because there were some incredible ideas amongst the 9 participants.

We are really pleased however, that we have been chosen as one of the three teams to go through to the Pilot stage. The other two are Kent Lyons and Goss Interactive so congratulations to both of those as well.

Our original concept in the Creative Studio combined a number of ideas including a time based homepage combined with varying levels of manual and automatic personalisation and the semantic web. In the Build Studio we had 2 days to focus on one idea and the BBC wanted us to explore the timeline view. It was a bit of a risk but the team chose to rebuild the prototype for the homepage from scratch using Node.js (rather than using the existing PHP codebase that was provided)  in the 2 days allocated.  This was integrated to real BBC data and demoed at the end of the 2nd day.


So, in the Pilot we will more than likely be taking the timeline view further and making it production ready. We haven’t yet defined the requirements for the 6-8 week project and it going ahead is subject to some business case analysis and agreement being reached on costs, deliverables and timescale. If it does go ahead however, once we have built it, the pilot will be live to the public on the connected studio site so the BBC can gather some real feedback before making a decision on whether to implement it into

So far the Connected Studio has been a great experience. We have given the opportunity for a a number of our staff to be involved (the team for Build Studio was entirely different to Creative Studio) so it feels like it has been a real team effort. We’ can’t wait for the pilot to begin.


BBC Connected Studio – Behind the scenes of Build Studio

by Sari Griffiths

Following the BBC Connected Studio’s first Creative Studio for Homepage, Navigation and Search – attended by Cain and Alex, we were one of nine ideas invited back to work on two days of rapid prototyping to prove our concept at the Build Studio. On Monday 21st and Tuesday 22nd , four of us – Stu, Haro, Can and I – went up to sunny Salford for a couple of days of intense developing.

The background of BBC Connected Studio is covered by Cain in his blog about the Creative Studio, so I will go straight into describing the two days.

Day one

After a smooth registration and a much needed breakfast, we gathered in the bright and airy 6th floor room at Dock House, Media City, Salford. This was going to be our home for the next couple of days.

Adrian Woolard (Project Lead R&D North Lab) got the day started again. Briefing was short and to the point, already feeling the heat of the day. Everyone in the room was itching to get started. All nine teams grabbed a table each and started straight away. Faulty power sockets were sorted out within a minute, and a mountain of sweets and snacks arrived shortly after – though unfortunately without Wagon Wheels (Much to Adrian’s disappointment). 😉

While we were setting up and getting ready, Adrian and Eleni (Senior Product Manager of BBC Homepage) kindly gave us some brief feedback from the last session as none of us individuals attended the Creative Studio. Many BBC gurus stopped by to chat to us, and especially Ross – the personalisation guru – gave us lots of interesting insights. It was brilliant to talk through your ideas and try to explain concisely, the best way to visualise your idea with clarity.

We spent the rest of the morning reviewing what was available code/data wise, and planning what we were going to do. In terms of concept, we decided to be single minded and focus on one aspect of Cain and Alex’s original proposal, that evolved into “Discovering new content in real time”. In terms of code/data, we decided to start certain areas from scratch (rather than using the homepage code that the BBC provided) using Node.js alongside using the data provided as is. It was a difficult call, but given the time frame, we felt that would be the quickest route to what we wanted to achieve.

After a good lunch, we were running at top speed. Actually the whole room seemed to be running at top speed. There were lots of conversations and frantic tapping of keyboards. You could almost hear the hums from everyone’s brain working. We were all blinkered, totally focused on what we were doing. Everything must be done by 4pm the next day!

By the time we left the building, you could probably see some steam coming out from our (and everyone’s) ears… We had some much needed drink and food, then straight to bed!

Day two

bbcphotoAnother beautiful sunny day.

All teams were given a slot to talk to the audience in the morning to see what they thought of our concept. As Stu, Haro and Can were developing away, I picked up the task to take the audience through some flat visuals.

The audience responded to the idea very positively, and it gave us great insights. Some confirming our convictions, some giving us new ideas.
“It would definitely change the way I use the homepage”
“If it’s like this, I don’t mind logging in”

Encouraged, we worked through the afternoon, and before you knew it, it was 4pm. We were all still buzzing as we sat down for the presentation session.

Nine teams presented in a friendly atmosphere, all listening intently, exhausted but proud of what they achieved in such a short space of time. We were also keen to finally find out what all the other teams had been doing around us.

We presented some visuals to explain our concept along with the prototype. Stu wanted more from the prototype – as he always does having such a high standard! – but I thought what we achieved was just right as a proof of concept.

I personally really enjoyed presenting which I don’t usually. Talking to so many people before hand helped me hone what to say and the very positive atmosphere at the presentation undoubtedly helped too.

That was it. It was brief beer time then home time.

So what did we think?

These were a frantic and fantastic two days and it was amazing to see that everyone achieved so much. After all it was a sort of a competition, but it was such a positive and buzzing atmosphere, it didn’t feel like it.

It was a shame we had to run to catch our (very delayed) train at the end. It would’ve been lovely to catch up with everyone over some drink. But hey, I’m sure our path will cross again.

Big thumbs up and thanks to the BBC Connected Studios team. It was run very smoothly and everything seemed to go to schedule. We enjoyed every minute of it.

If you are thinking of attending the future events, go for it. It’s exhausting but so much fun!


BBC Connected Studio – a fun day of innovation

by Cain Ullah

WP_000670On Friday last week (that is the 4th of May 2012 just in case you are reading this in 2013) we spent an excellent day up in the BBC’s plush new MediaCity, Salford offices with a bunch of BBC folk, other start-ups and generally bright, vibrant people. The cause was the first instalment of the BBC’s Connected Studio. First, a little about what the Connected Studio is and then I’ll tell you some more about the day.

BBC R&D are looking at innovation all the time with the real possibility that some of the very cool new tech they are currently working on not surfacing for another 10 to 20 years.The Connected Studio is an initiative to look at how the BBC can innovate just a little beyond the existing roadmap for digital. The intention is to do this in a collaborative manner with BBC staff working with invited external digital agencies, technology start-ups, designers and developers to participate in generating new ideas, concepts, features and functions . Find out more here.

The main focus areas each having their own creative studio days are 1) Homepage, Search and Navigation 2) Weather and Travel 3) BBC Children’s and 4) The Olympics. There is a reasonably detailed engagement charter detailing the steps to achieve the goal of generating ideas and moving them rapidly through concept to proof-of-concept to pilot. Each focus area will start with a Creative Studio day. This is a one day event (the first being 4th May. More on that later…) to facilitate ideas and concepts. Out of the ideas pitched at the end of the day, a number of the companies or individuals will be invited back to the Build Studio. The build studio is a 2 day innovation workshop to develop ideas and proof-of concepts much like a Launch 48 (although you already have the concept by this point). The objective is to have a working PoC at the end of the 2 days. Of these PoCs, up to five will be invited to work on a 6-8 week Pilot Build for which there will be up to a £50K budget. The BBC then has an exclusive option for a 6-12 month period to take forward any successful pilot it chooses for full product development.

There is a total fund of £1m to develop concepts throughout the year, with an additional £1m of BBC staff time.

That was a quick overview of the overall concept of The Connected Studio I’ll take you through the experience of participating in the first Creative Studio.

The Creative Studio

We were limited to 2 attendees, as I believe was every other company. So I attended along with one of the UX Consultant’s in our network Alex Ng. The Creative Studio on 4th May was all about Homepage, Search and Navigation. Prior to the day we had been provided with a creative brief so knew that the focus was to explore the potential uses of customisation and personalisation.

You have the option of booking in advance, a 15 minute closed pitch with the BBC and a third party. This is for those that already have a developed idea and want to protect their IP. Everyone else presents in an open session, the time you have to present largely depending on the number of people presenting.

Arriving at MediaCity between 9-10 for registration (I left my house at just after 5am) you get a good breakfast before getting started at 10.

The new BBC Office has lots of space that has been built to foster collaboration and creativity. WP_000669We were situated in an events space that had been segregated into a number of areas for the main presentations, break out areas for collaboration and another presentation area for some presentations by some key BBC experts that were open to all if they chose to attend.

Adrian Woolard (Project Lead R&D North Lab) got the day started, introducing us (probably about 60-70 people half of which were the BBC) to what the Connected Studio is, the vision unveiled by Raph Rivera and what was expected of us. James Thornett and Clare Hudson then introduced us to the current homepage and it’s journey to now, their strategic objectives and the challenges they face. At 10:40 we were ready to go and had a 4pm deadline to be ready for the presentations.

We had developed a few ideas into one concept on the train up to Manchester so requested a closed pitch on the day but they were full. So, it turned out soon after that we had a 2 minute slot to present in the open session in front of the audience and the camera. Not nerve racking at all! As we already had an idea we went off into our own little space to develop it further, prepare wireframes and a presentation to fit into the 2 minute time slot. Other people gathered around the “ideas wall” to collaborate with others who up to now, had only half an idea and wanted to create a team to work up some ideas on the day. Others went to speakers corner where various BBC experts were waiting to answer any questions.

Supporting the open spaces were a number of 15 minute “expert” presentations in the morning. The agenda was as follows:

  • 11:00 – 11:15 – Audiences: Simon Williams (Audience Planning Manager)
  • 11:15 – 11:30 – Market Analysis: Tim Fiennes (Senior Market Analyst)
  • 11:30 – 11:45 – Homepage Tech: Tom Broughton (Senior Technical Architect for Homepage)
  • 11:45 – 12:00 – UX&D: Steve Gibbons (Head of User Experience and Design)
  • 12:00 – 12:15 – Personalisation: Phil Poole (Senior Project Manager: Personalisation & Social Platform)

I didn’t attend all of the morning sessions as I was deep into developing our idea but both the Homepage Tech session and the Personalisation session were very useful. Both gave an insight into the current state of their topics plus a view of the roadmap ahead. Especially interesting was Tom Broughton discussing their ambitions to implement a Triplestore to allow semantic search features – something that was prevalent in the idea we were presenting.

A very nice free lunch was available from Midday and then the afternoon session was focussed around developing the presentations whilst those that had closed pitch sessions were presenting in a private meeting room. Linda Cockburn, a creativity consultant that led the BBC’s Creative Network for 5 years, did a presentation on how to present and then there was an opportunity to present your pitch back to her and real members of the Homepage audience to get personalised feedback prior to the 4pm deadline.

At 4pm we were all ushered to the presentation area where a number of plasmas, a microphone and a cameraman awaited. There were twenty-three 2 minute presentations. The whole day (as expected from the BBC) was run to strict timelines, the excellent event production team running a tight ship for everyone involved including the 15 minute morning expert sessions. So, the pressure was on to fit our presentations into the 2 minutes, some of which were cut off because they ran out of time. All-in-all there was a high quality calibre of presentations with some excellent and varied ideas produced. Some were digital but to my surprise most were hand drawn presentations on flip-board paper and there was one presentation told in the form of a story.

At the end of the presentations at 6pm, beer and wine were provided (until 11 if you wanted to stick around for that long) for all of the attendees to mingle. Some very interesting people and all in all an excellent day of fun and innovation. The next step is to wait to see if we get through to the build studio (we should hear by the end of this week). The concepts presented will be judged on, Distinctiveness, Relevance to brief, Innovation, Value, BBC public purposes and Connected Strategy (One Service, Ten Products, Four Screens –

Our Concept

Without doing too much of a reveal, our concept was based around turning the home page into a living thing that is more dynamic and more real-time rather than a navigation step that users spend very little time on. Less than 10% of people used the personalisation features in the previous version of the homepage and lots of people will continue to ignore it. With this is mind we introduced various levels of personalisation and testing the idea of machine learning to automate personalisation as much as possible. Once a semantic Triplestore is introduced, this could be taken a lot further.

Our key points were the following:

  • Make the homepage more useful and more relevant
  • Make the homepage more real-time
  • Surface content that uses automated personalisation as much as possible
  • Cater for varying levels of personalisation from none at all to more interactive users
  • Use the semantic web to improve the “discover” features of the site to be specific to you

Here’s one our mock-ups that we presented to give you a taste of what we were thinking:



I doubt we will pitch for Weather and Travel or BB Children’s creative studios due to this being less relevant to the work we do but you never know. If they interest you though, I would highly recommend getting involved in The Connected Studio whether you are a digital agency, tech firm or and individual designer or developer. It really is an excellent day.

Here’s a few links of interest: