BBC News Online Gets a Facelift

~ a review of BBC web design over time ~

One of my favorite news sources, the BBC’s online news site (, just underwent a minor facelift. The changes, while aesthetically small, show improvements in usability and reflect the ongoing logical evolution of the site. Here’s a quick snapshot of how the interface of this influential site has changed over the years. For comparison purposes, all the screenshots below show the use of screen space relative to a 1024 x 768 display setting.

1999: BBC went online early with a web site dedicated to News (Sports was originally a separate site; they would not merge the two for several years). Note the use of screen space here — clearly showing the fact that narrower screen displays were the rule of the day. This basic design was in place for quite a while.

In 2002, the site shows a more polished look than the 1999 version. The primary change being the increased use of graphics. The site now shows the red-toned corporate identity which is with the site to this day. Site search is now placed in the prime position at the top right of the pages. Note that screen width continues to be very conservative.

Between 2002 and 2003 the site showed significant growth in the content areas. Note that the international content areas (left nav) have grown substantially. The look and feel, though has changed little. This version of the site also shows the premier of the image map of the world on the top left; a navigation convention which has served the site well over the years.

In 2005, the BBC finally decides that 800 x 600 has reached a popularity level that it is a safe bet; they expand the width of the main content area. Screen usage also reflects a distinction in management of the areas above and below the page fold.

This version of the site is also more polished, with a visually pleasing header area.¬†(Author’s Note: Apologies for the grayed-out areas on this screen shot — this was the best copy on the Internet Archives.)

2007 shows another revision of the corporate identity and, most importantly, the recognition of the importance of rich media. Audio and video are promoted prominently on the front page.

Minor changes in font size and the screen usage show a clear attempt by the BBC team to get more out of the screen space on this page.

The new 2008 website’s look and feel. Note this design now fills completely the screen when the resolution is set to 1024 x 768, reflecting the growing screen space available in contemporary machines. The use of real estate on the screen is well planned and executed. Despite the richness of the information, the intelligent use of color, fontography and graphical elements allow the site to maintain good information hierarchy and readability.

2008 also shows us a more polished header and the appearance of third party advertising on the home page. Note too the mobile device promotion, which was featured on the header in 2007, is now gone.

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