It wasn't broke, but it is now.

I am in the business of redesigning websites. A good portion of the work we do at 3W Studios is redesigning existing sites. There is always a good reason – it’s too old, there is a new president, the logo changed, there is a new product, it’s March – whatever the reason, we like to think we always come up with something that is better than the previous version.

However, there is that fact of nature, that phenomenon, that designer’s nightmare – the human resistance to change. We all like what we know, and we all have some resistance to change – more so if the thing that changed was something we really liked. In the case of most of our redesigns, the leap is big enough, the gain in functionality or service or ease of use is so big, that we get very little negative feedback. Hate-email about why we made it blue is pretty rare. Actually, I don’t recall any such problems.

A few weeks ago, the shoe was on the other foot. The BBC, my source for news (not opinion) and one of my links back to the homeland, redesigned their news website. I don’t like it.

In fact, lots of people don’t like it. The BBC blog entries discussing it got over 4500 posts (unverified), many of them from irate users who were swearing to abandon the site. In the other corner, there was a small group supporting change and ridiculing all the people who “just can’t handle change”. Lost in the slanging match, however, was the plain fact that the new site wasn’t very good.

At the time of writing, you can still see how the old site looked by checking the sports pages. You can see the new design here, whoops, sorry, that’s CNN, I can’t tell the difference now – you can see the new design here. Whether or not you’re a regular, you can form your own opinion of which is the better site.

There is much speculation about motives; was it make more room for ad banners in the international version, or to make it look better on the ipad? Auntie (affectionate name for the Beeb) will tell you it was to take advantage of new technology. I still have enough trust in Auntie not to question her motives, but I think she failed to move forward.

It is easiest to explain what failed by explaining how good the old site was. It was organized, strongly branded, enormous and yet easily navigated, and easy to read. The new site has taken the term white space to the extreme
and made the colums
much narrower which
interferes with reading
as you can tell.

So what’s my point? Well, I remember the last redesign, and how they had moved things around and how I got upset for a few days until I learned the new system. But the difference was it worked. The system was a good one. I could see the benefits and adopted them quickly. The new site is painful to use and I still cringe when I pull it up. But the real point is that most of the critical analysis of the site has been lost in the noise about “people who cannot handle change.” Sometimes, the old cliche about not being broke holds water. If Alexa rankings are to be believed, readers are voting with their mice (although this is historically a slow time of year for the site).

Let it be a cautionary tale then; not all progress is forward. Don’t be afraid to listen to criticism, it might be valid.

I’ll let you know if I ever get used to it.

Posted in Web

One Comment

  1. Steve says:

    Love the narrow colums demonstration! Nice article Jeremy.

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