The BBC has finally switched off its old desktop site and is now redirecting mobile users away from its .m site to its brand new fully responsive news site.

BBC News’s previous iteration was four years old, and although it regularly broke records for attracting worldwide traffic (64m unique visitors in January 2013) the site has been need of a multi-screen compatible upgrade for some time. In fact since inviting users to trial a beta version of the new site in December, BBC News has seen 65% of its users now accessing the site from tablets and mobiles.

On Monday 23 March at 2pm, BBC News switched off the old site for good and also began redirecting mobile users from its two and a half year-old specific mobile site to this single solution design.

Let’s take a look at the new responsive site and see how it compares to the old one.

Homepage

Even though you probably don’t need reminding of what the old BBC News website looked like (it has only been a couple of days) let’s take a look at it anyway, being as I was savvy enough to take a screengrab of it before it disappeared into the Wayback Machine forever.

Here’s the homepage…

It was starting to look quite dated, with its blue links, grey boxes, multiple on-page navigation menus and sheer volume of text.

How’s how it looks now…

The first thing you’ll notice is the white space. Although it feels less cluttered, it still manages to fit the same number of news items in the main space as it did before, only in the new version its just the top three stories that have more detailed extracts under the headline.

In BBC News’s own story about the responsive redesign (trending at number one in the Most Popular section for a short time this morning), there’s a comment stating “some users said the design felt empty and too bright”

Well it’s certainly brighter, which is to its benefit, and the ‘sparseness’ is much more preferable to the tightly packed way the older version’s content was laid-out. This is certainly improvement.

There is a larger focus on video here, with the Watch/Listen section greatly expanded to show a fuller range of clips from current news stories.

There’s more of an emphasis on feedback with a prominent Twitter and Email link, which were absent from the previous incarnation.

At the top of the screen, the main navigation has been cleaned up and made more obvious, with the secondary menu now hidden in the ‘more’ link, which opens up when you click on it.

BBC News has also ditched the news ticker, which personally I always considered a distraction. Instead it brings up a banner whenever a new story breaks, which pins to the bottom of the window and you can dismiss it whenever you choose.

Mobile

Of course the BBC News website’s most fundamental improvement is in how it adapts to different devices, and it does so very fluidly.

What becomes apparent when looking at this new site on mobile, is how it’s identical to the previous mobile site…

New responsive site (after 2pm):

Old mobile site (before 2pm):

So it seems BBC really did take a mobile-first attitude in designing the new desktop website, it already knew it worked well after testing it as a mobile site first.

One of my favourite touches here is how BBC News has localised the experience for desktop and mobile users. 

It’s possible to set your location directly from this large button on the nav…

And then geolocation will pinpoint your exact position to serve you with your very local news.

Overall it’s a great experience, and unlike many other site overhauls, the difference in layout and navigation doesn’t require the user to relearn how to use it, probably because the changes have happened over a longer period of time, incrementally across devices. There is certainly a lot to be said for going for the ‘soft launch’ option.

Christopher Ratcliff

Published 24 March, 2015 by Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff is the editor of Methods Unsound. He was the Deputy Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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Stuart McMillan

Stuart McMillan, Deputy Head of Ecommerce at Schuh

One thing I'd love to see is some eye tracking analysis of the homepage; it's just a feeling but I think the new layout is harder to visually digest, there are a lot of items competing equally for my attention.

over 2 years ago

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Chris Hainstock, Senior Lecturer at University of Lincoln

But it looks awful on a PC screen. Really awful.
What's wrong with having text ? - its supposed to be a news site not a comic.
However when it comes to visuals- the jpeg images are now far more compressed than before so that makes viewing on desktop far inferior.
The font is very bland - no gravitas or authority to it - and that RED TOP MAST its so, well RED - I feel like I'm reading a tabloid website. Very disappointing indeed.
I do not understand why you would compromise your entire output for the smallest screen and not at least have a different CSS plan for PC screens.

over 2 years ago

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Linda Russell, re at Retired

Oh, what a shame! Every morning, when I open my laptop, the first place I go is BBC News. It was always bold, beautifully ordered, and easy to read. Now it looks almost random; so much white space, with various topics floating in midair. No one piece draws the eye. My first thought was that this was an interim format...is this really 'it'?
I understand that the BBC needs to accommodate small screens, but it seems that this has been done at the expense of the PC.

over 2 years ago

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Dan Cookson, Director at SeeIT Ltd

Now an appalling reading experience on a big screen. Will go elsewhere but where?

Sparse, constrained. The paragraph seems to have been consigned to bin - avoided at all costs. Choppy single sentences.

It is the equivalent of the BBC Breakfast News on TV. Everything cut up in to tiny bite sized morsels to simplify and pander to lowest common denominator.

over 2 years ago

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Grant Wray, London at IT manager

You need to learn to count, mate. The old site had links to 26 stories with the three main stories getting an additional four links each to relevant focus areas for those stories. The new site has just 18 story links with a total of 7 links in the top three articles.
This new site has now been removed from my favourites panel and is likely to remain off. It hurts the eyes, is harder to read and generally has no demarkation across the page. I don't know how you can see this is an improvement or that is an improvement. It clearly isn't,

over 2 years ago

Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff, Editor at Methods Unsound / Search Engine Watch

@Grant - In the main news space there are 12 headlines to news stories in both the old and new versions of the site.

over 2 years ago

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Grant Wray, London at IT manager

And 15 video story links in the old to 6 in the new.

over 2 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, CINO at Fresh Relevance

Main difference is less pictures (18 reduced to 9). Interesting decision by a TV media organization. Probably no bad thing for those of us who use mobile outside cities.

over 2 years ago

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Jess Abbo, Illustrator at n/a

Well the new News has been up for a while - and on my relatively large and relatively clear laptop screen it looks as awful as when it was first foisted on us. Most items are, until clicked, meaningless and in no context. Gone are the boxed groupings by interest (technology, science, arts etc) as are most of the brief summaries under what are now just enigmatic headlines waiting to be ignored.

The old website may not have changed for four years and that can be a good thing, suggesting confidence in what was a functional design. Harry Beck's 1931 London Underground map has only 'evolved' since its introduction, it does its job well and is familiar with users - and if it was drastically changed because for looking 'dated' after 8 decades they'd get lost.

As it is now, I'm no longer using the BBC News as my homepage nor looking at it much.

over 2 years ago

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John Carol, YSC at NHS

Really hate the new boring featureless website, which I view mostly on my PC, where it looks like amateur hour, and is awful by comparison to the old one which was fine for PC's.
In updating it, did they have to get rid of a format suited to a PC and import something that's fit only for a tiny screen like a mobile's? Why can't they have formats that suit each medium?
As a daily user who loved the old site, I'm astonished that experts inthe field can endorse this change.

over 2 years ago

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