BBC to roll out new visual language

The BBC is a publicly owned organisation, which means that the BBC website belongs to the people. As a result there is tremendous affinity and popularity for the website.

Although if you were to look at the website in 1997 you might be a little disappointed as you can see below.

BBC homepage 1997

This was a basic offering with two sections to the website. Over time it has grown to encompass a great deal more. However due to the organic way in which the website evolved and the old structure of the business, with dozens of small design teams working independently of each other, the website had a fairly schizophrenic nature once you delved into its depths.

About 2 years ago, after printing out the website onto what has now become jokingly known as the ‘Wall of Shame’ the BBC decided to embark on an ambitious project, called Global Visual Language 2.0, with the aim of unifying the visual and interaction design of bbc.co.uk and the mobile website.

The BBC created a new wider, centred page template to take advantage of wider screen resolutions and for the first time created an underlying grid. They rationalised the hundreds of different banner styles into a new global and local branding and navigation system.

The scores of different audio and video players were discontinued and they created a universal embedded media player. They also redesigned the homepage creating a visual style that began to ripple through the website and onto the mobile platform.

The BBC showed excellent mastery of ‘web 2.0’ which is an approach that has been adopted by many other businesses and organisations. However the BBC now believes it has served its purpose and it is time to move on.

They have set out to broaden their ambitions to create a design philosophy and world-class design standards that all designers across the business could adhere to. They want something distinctive and recognisable and they knew whatever was created needed to be truly cross-platform and that with simplified user journeys.

The BBC didn’t do it on all by themselves. Together with representatives from across the business, led by the project’s Creative Director, Ben Gammon, they formed a Global Design Working Group, and created a GVL Steering Group to help manage and direct the course of the project. The BBC also approached the industry to find a partner to co-create the styleguide: Neville Brody and his agency, Research Studios.

Over the last four months, they have spent countless hours and created countless iteration designs, components, mastheads, footers, polar maps, word documents, pdfs and grids… and this is all still a work in progress.

They are creating a design philosophy, or a set of values, to unite the user experience practitioners across the business and have settled on nine keywords which sum up what they’re about and what they’re trying to achieve:

Modern British
The BBC want to create a modern British design aesthetic, something vibrant and quirky that translates outside our national boundaries.

Current
It needs to feel current and reflect what’s happening in the UK right now, in real-time with links to the past – to a rich archive.

Authentic
Need to sound authentic and relevant, warm and human.

Compelling
The BBC engages the audiences with compelling storytelling with voice ranges from serious and authoritative through to witty and entertaining.

Distinctive
Standing out from the crowd, the BBC is bold and dramatic.

Pioneering
They pioneer design innovations that surprise and delight.

Joined-up
All services and platforms as one connected but deliver experiences that are sensitive to their context of use.

Universal
The services are open and accessible with simple, useful and intuitive interfaces.

Best
The BBC’s ambition is to be the best digital media brand in the world.

In doing this work they have begun to distil the essence of a new visual style. Taking inspiration from many sources to try and achieve “an underlying grid system that was flexible enough to enable many unique design variations whilst still feeling coherent and considered.”

The new grid is based on 31 sixteen pixel columns with two left hand columns that can be split into four, and one wider right hand column.

A key feature of the new GVL is a much more dramatic use of typography. As well as Gill Sans they have introduced big bold type in Helvetica or Arial and restricted variations in size so that we have much greater consistency across the website.

Below and on the left is an example of it all pulled together on a new story page, and examples of typography styling in promo drawers. It is focused on signposting and articulation; you can see the time stamping treatment and signposting for live content.

The BBC wanted to create something that is flexible enough to allow all the brands their full expression whilst uniting them into a coherent user experience.They also wanted to strip out any superfluous decoration and allow the content and imagery to shine through which we find exciting and refreshing

The final push is to finalise the masthead and footer. They are also looking at mobile, IPTV and social elements on the page (social bookmarking, share functionality, comments, ratings, reviews etc).

As to when exactly this will go live, it is hard to say. There will need to be a significant test phase because maintaining their status as a very reliable website is very important. But considering they are in the latter stages of the build it could be as soon as this summer, but we may have to wait until the winter. Whatever the case maybe we are looking forward to its arrival.

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