Monthly Archives: December 2011

Lessons from Auntie – web design for fingers

Many moons ago, I used to work for the BBC on their websites. Opinion is divided on the BBC’s web empire (a free-enterprise crushing monolith fueled by TV licence tax, or a hugely important catalyst for web engagement).

I happen, perhaps unsurprisingly, to fall into the latter camp. There are a number of things Auntie Beeb has got wrong with its web presence – it took far, far too long to make its content work with the social web for instance.

But on one thing it has always been pioneering and industry-leading – working with how people use the web.

The BBC site is a bellwether for usability and user engagement – where it leads, most eventually follow.

For that reason, it is extremely important that anyone involved in web design, or commissioning websites, for their charity looks at the new BBC Homepage

Why? Because that is how your website is going to look.

Big content, slide-to views, no fiddly little links or complex nav, no drop-downs. This is webdesign for the touchscreen age.*

The traditional design of a website is based around navigation using a mouse or touch-pad, floating a cursor around and making it interact with content.

The modern web replaces the cursor with a finger. It is for poking and prodding, pushing and pulling. It is for small or large screens, smartphones, tablets – and desktop computers which will – are – moving to touchscreen too.

Touchscreen technology has already (finally) killed monsters like drop-down menus and Flash as a web development platform. It is now killing all previously held notions of usability. You can use your old copies of Steve Krug and Jakob Nielsen to insulate your lap when using a MacBook. (Only joking – particularly about Steve Krug, whose beautifully explained overall principals still apply)

The most relevant of the old usability advice out there is that written for children’s websites. Usability for children has always been based around big, colourful links, buttons and graphics – stuff that looked like you’d want to poke it even before poke-phones came along.

With the inexorable rise in touch-screen technology, you shouldn’t even be thinking about updating your website’s design without giving consideration to touch-screen, otherwise you’ll risk investing in redundancy.

Listen to your Auntie!

*Funnily enough, this version of the site is not the one served up on your smartphone – and the desktop version doesn’t work that well on a small screen. However, the motivation behind the design is in large part to work with touch-screen, the implementation is simply lagging behind the design.