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BBC iPlayer Beta: Less is More

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Fabian Birgfeld | 17:39 UK time, Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Good design is simple, reducing complex tasks to straightforward sequences of elegant interactions, making sure that there is no unnecessary step in the way.

The big design challenge for the next version of iPlayer was how to create this simplicity in light of more features and functionality without overwhelming our audience.

Let's consider the two basic tasks: find and play. The goal is to minimise our audience's time spent on the first task while maximising their time spent on the second one; ultimately discovery is just a means to enable people to watch their favourite show, which is why they come to the iPlayer in the first place.

Thus, the primary design challenge was to elegantly weave the new functionality and features into the iPlayer fabric while keeping the user interface simple. The following four design strategies informed our solution framework:


We recognised that watching TV and listening to the radio are two different activities that respond to different user needs. The previous version of iPlayer mixed radio and TV content on each page. However, user data showed that very few people used the iPlayer for both at the same time. Radio and TV iPlayer use peaked at different times of the day and had little overlap. (Table 1 most likely overstates the overlap as the number reflect hardware not users).

Bar chart showing the majority of iPlayer users use either TV or radio but very few use both at the same time or in a single session.

Table 1: Average Daily BBC iPlayer Users

In other words, very few people are indifferent to whether they watch TV or listen to the radio when they come to the iPlayer. This makes sense as watching TV and listening to radio are not perfect substitutes; TV is an immersive experience that tends to get the audience's undivided attention while listening to the radio tends to complement other activities and is a less immersive experience. People come to the iPlayer to either watch TV or listen to the radio.

Chart of radio and TV usage against time.

Table 2: TV and Radio Use by Time of Day

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