Oh dear, the second post criticising The Times in two weeks. I'll never get a job at News International now. Oh well.
The BBC News website relaunched today and it looks great. Now, you could argue that they have a far bigger budget and more time to play with than The Times, let alone the average small business. But everyone has the same challenge when producing a site - how to get your information across clearly while presenting a distinct brand identity. So what can we learn from the new-look BBC News site?
1. Know your content For several days running The Times had generic content in the right-hand column promoting their World Cup podcast (see gallery, above). Every day the text was the same: 'Gabriele Marcotti hosts our daily show from South Africa'.
Why not listen to it and pull out a different witty or incisive quote each day? This would draw the reader into this valuable piece of content which sits in such a key spot on the homepage. It would also make the page feel fresh, rather than offering the same look and feel several days in a row. The BBC site tells you exactly what's in each news clip and the programmes promoted on the iPlayer, rather than just a generic heading.
2. Make it easy to read Look at that lovely clear font! They've put accessibility at the forefront, with lovely clear text and generous use of white space around it making everything more legible.
3. Include clear navigation I'm a big fan of The Guardian website's navigation and the BBC News site has a very similar feel. There's lots of content to fit in so let's make it horizontal, no fiddly drop-downs. Let's divide it up intuitively with the most important sections to the left.
4. Think about what's important to your reader It's a relaunched site. So top of the Features & Analysis section is a guided tour of the site, showing off the new features. Great! And, more generally, people come to the BBC News site for news, so there's the most topical stories at the top.
Sounds obvious perhaps but it's something a lot of sites forget to do; think about what's important to their readers and make sure it's easy to find. Like the NHS putting swine flu information on their homepage during the outbreak. The Sun putting a temporary World Cup 2010 section in its nav for the duration of the tournament. Or the Amazon homepage promoting the latest albums from the biggest artists.
5. Use colour to your advantage Use of the colour red was decided way before this particular relaunch but as we know red implies urgency, danger, excitement, so it adds to the site's authoritative voice, implying that it takes its news output seriously. Imagine if it was pale pink, would it have the same clout?
As mentioned in that last post, I find the colour scheme on The Times site to be really dreary, making me feel it's serious news I 'should' be reading rather than news I 'want' to read. It's worth thinking carefully about the colour scheme of your own site and asking other people's opinions about whether it fits with your brand - preferably your designer!