Tuesday, 31 March 2015

If in doubt ... redesign

There are many reasons why a web site should be redesigned. Being stale is one, as is following a rebranding of the organisation it serves. Catching up with user habits and new technologies is yet another.

The arrival of a new iteration of the Bootstrap framework from Twitter, which reached version 3.1.4 a couple of weeks ago, coincided (coincidentally) with the launch of the latest version of the BBC's web site. Being one of the most visited online destinations in the world, and also being an organisation who generally try to 'do the right thing' when it comes to its publications, this is worth looking at in more detail.

While not linked, the two changes are connected in that both revolve around responsiveness. For quite a while, mobile users of the BBC web site had been redirected to a responsive version, and I have been using this regularly. I should also add that I use it instead of the BBC News app on my iPhone.

I suggest you start with Robin Pembrooke's blog piece entitled BBC News: a single web solution for everyone (One web to rule them all, perhaps). This links onwards to further background information. You should also read the comments: they do seem somewhat unhappy, but this could just be following the basic rule of comments that people complain (which allows specifics) rather than praise (which is more general). Personally I find the layout a bit large on a desktop screen, with some images not only over-sized but even over-stretched (a problem with responsive sizing of images), but on the whole I am happy to continue using it.

The image problem, whereby an image is set to fill a particular cell of the layout and so changes its displayed size dynamically, is a symptom of the increasing reliance on JavaScript to manage the layout based on things such as window width. This runs counter to the older guideline that you should tell the browser how large something is before it renders the page. This can be bad enough on a desktop but on a phone it can be really irritating as things you start reading suddenly disappear below the fold as the browser inserts an image further up the page. For the latest kit with fast processors and download speeds this will be disguised by the speed at which the page is put together but a slow connection or a slower browser can make this build process very evident. (I should add that this isn't a problem I've seen on the BBC site.)

If you can, then, see how your responsive pages render on slower systems.

Of course, sites don't always have to keep revamping themselves if they just work from the start. I regularly use the MacInTouch web site and this doesn't appear to have changed ever. No images, no advertising banners (apart from a funding plea), but plenty of useful content.

Update 1st April: After getting on for a lifetime, MacInTouch changed their design today! Were they listening? It's still simple though ... and hopefully not an 'April Fool' prank.

Update 2nd April: It was an 'April Fool' prank. Ah well ... back to the spaghetti tree harvest.