Systems Building, Through the Lens of BBC Sport

BBC Blogs discusses the Sport Refresh. Admittedly, I’m a bit obsessed with what the BBC is doing online these days, because I think it’s some of the most forward-thinking work happening on the web, particularly where data and responsive design are concerned. The article highlights some of what I find very interesting about what the organization is doing.

Nuts and Bolts

They’re using structured data and true CMSes to attach increasing amounts of metadata to their content. Neil describes how this allows them to create dynamic pages for not only the most popular sports but also the less popular ones. An author attaches metadata to the content, and their assembly layers grab the articles and put them together on pages.

Their work also highlights a real attempt to serve one codebase to every device. This is a very powerful idea, and when coupled with their metadata and assembly layers, gives them far greater options for what content they can show visitors. Related, they recognize that consistency in experience is important not only across types of sports, but also across devices.

This article focuses on the changes to BBC Sport, but if you look across their entirely online offering, you do see uniqueness across the different properties. TV looks quite different from News, which is somewhat different from Sport. Inside these properties, you see less variation, but the variation you do see is very directed. It creates a system that is recognizable to users, easily navigable, and usable. When you look at all the divisions together, you see how their global system accommodates these variables, and makes the entire unit much stronger.

I think some sites get in trouble trying to provide uniqueness as a way to provide compelling experiences. I don’t think this is something that should stop, necessarily; but I think we need to assess how successful that is for our work and for our users. If we stood back and assessed our work, would we still stand behind our decisions? As we look at the work BBC’s doing, how can we apply similar approaches with clients. Can we build initial stages of systems like this that allow significant expansion of their offering after that engagement ends? If so, what do you need in our clients, colleagues, process, and thinking to enable such a thing?

My concern is that there is a temptation to focus on insignificant differentiations or attempt to manufacture differentiation in some place where it doesn’t exist * instead of identifying the truly unique features of that organization/product.

When working to design consistent experiences across all touch points of a branch, it’s important to ask if our discussions, processes, clients, and colleagues fully appreciate the work that has to happen to guarantee this consistency. If a client request would undo that effort, are you prepared and in a position to guide them to another solution? If a colleague is pursuing a design or code decision that would undo that effort, are we in deep enough to be able to identify that and guide them to another solution? Are mechanisms in place to enable us to have these kinds of discussions and outcomes with all parties involved in the work? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. My hope is that when the answer is no, we’re able to identify why and be empowered enough to make the necessary changes.