I’ve given it a fair crack over an extended period, but I’ve reached my conclusion: I just don’t like the redesigned BBC News site. In ‘standard’ conditions, a desktop PC running at 1024×768, it’s clearly an improvement: brighter, more airy, less cramped. But away from the norm, they’ve broken the golden rule of any revamp: don’t make anything worse.
As any website’s usage data will show, most people are now running a 1024×768 screen resolution. And monitors are just getting bigger, right? Wrong. I have four ‘web devices’ I use on a regular basis, and the two I bought most recently – an Asus Eee (classic edition) and a Nintendo Wii, both of which have sold like hot cakes – don’t operate at the larger resolution. So when I look at the majority of pages on the BBC News site, I have to deal with arguably the Number 1 no-no in web usability: horizontal scrolling.
(Curiously though, I see the second-level / subject homepages – eg UK or Politics – the page body remains sized for 800-sized screens?)
What’s infuriating is that (a) for all the BBC’s army of supposed design and usability managers, consultants and experts, nobody considered these widely-used devices worthy of appropriate support; and (b) it doesn’t have to be like that. CSS-based coding using DIVs could allow the site to work ‘well enough’ at 800-width, whilst looking its best at 1024. Instead, the site continues to use TABLE markup for layout, in clear breach of W3C advice dated 1999(!):
Tables should not be used purely as a means to layout document content as this may present problems when rendering to non-visual media. Additionally, when used with graphics, these tables may force users to scroll horizontally to view a table designed on a system with a larger display. To minimize these problems, authors should use style sheets to control layout rather than tables.
When I do a coding job, most of my time is spent working with DIVs and CSS, trying to make designs work acceptably across all browsers and all common setups. It’s not fun. TABLEs would be much easier, much quicker and much cheaper for clients. But coding with DIVs is unquestionably the right thing to do.
The BBC isn’t alone here: the major UK news sites are all – without exception, as far as I can see – forcing screen widths beyond 800 pixels. The Telegraph also uses a TABLE approach; whereas the Guardian and Times don’t. But we expect higher standards from the BBC. And that’s what annoys me most. Like a lot of people, I used to advise that whatever the BBC was doing, we all should be doing too. I don’t feel I can say that now.
Am I just being too idealistic here? And where does it leave government’s commitment to dated accessibility rules: what’s the point, when sites with receiving many times more traffic – the sites which define the typical UK user’s internet experience – are imposing a contradictory de facto standard? I’d be more than happy to go back to TABLE coding.