BBC : Design disturbs a story

An article's intrusive design makes it hard to read.

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The feature

The BBC website has many feature articles. One that has been promoted recently is 'Does Putin's Russia reject the West?', by the Moscow correspondent, Sarah Rainsford, and explores the views of a cross-section of Russians across the country. It is lengthy but is held on one page – navigated either by scrolling or by using 'chapter' numbers (one to seven), which stay in place at the top of the screen. Each 'chapter' is headed by an image with a headline superimposed.

On a desktop or laptop screen, design features include images that stay in place as the text is scrolled past them, photos that transform into another automatically, (it is necessary to wait for this process to finish before continuing scrolling), and a split screen with images scrolling past text – sometimes the text is on the left, sometimes on the right. These features start in chapter two, and continue to the end. On a mobile phone screen, the text is always in the centre – the only devices that are used here are static images with text scrolling past them.

The takeaway

This is a well-written and interesting feature, with nice illustrations – it would make a good read in a colour magazine. It is however very long, so the way it is presented is key to helping readers get through it.

The 'chapter' device is strange, because without headings there are no clues as to what might be found in, for example, chapter 5. But the real problem is that the design is too gimmicky, piling one device on top of another. The still photos that are scrolled past by text are fine, but when the scrolling is blocked by the need to wait for pictures to transform and – particularly – where text moves from one side of the screen to the other, the design becomes distracting. It is as though the designer has decided to use all the tricks in the box to create variation for its own sake – the needs of the reader have been largely forgotten. Evidence for this comes from the mobile view, where design is much simpler, and the story easier to read.

Scrolling stories such as these have become common on corporate sites, and are often elegant. They were pioneered by media sites such as the BBC, but these latest complications mark a path other organizations would do well to avoid.
First published 21 March, 2018
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