Back in October I took part as a judge for the BBC User Experience and Design Connected Studio.

The brief for the event was focused around One Service. We want to create experiences and connections across the BBC portfolio so that whichever of the ten BBC products you are using it’s possible to move between them seamlessly through features and interactions.

It’s a brief that conveys the role of User Experience and Design at the BBC. The team work right across the BBC portfolio ensuring that whatever product we are working in we are reflecting the Global Experience Language (GEL) which informs the way our products look and behave.

But GEL is something that is continually evolving and it’s important for us to look to the future. Multi-platform, personal, participatory and live experiences are all things that are influencing the future outlook of our products and the challenge is how we integrate all these things into one coherent experience across the BBC that we call One Service.

The UX&D Connected Studio highlighted how complex meeting this challenge is but it also brought some fresh perspective on how we might begin introducing some great new features that could make a really distinctive digital BBC service.

Six teams were shortlisted for the build studio on October 30 and 31. The outcome of those two days varied between the teams but the most successful projects did three things really well:

1. They had insight that illustrated that their idea was meeting a real audience need.

2. A clear articulation of why the project would help to achieve the One Service ambition.

3. A demo or prototype to bring the idea to life.

At the end of the second day all six teams presented 12 minute pitches with a Q&A afterwards from the judges. Here is an overview of each of the ideas.

383 Project showing a demo of their project BBC Highlights.

383 Project showing a demo of their project BBC Highlights.

383 Project created a prototype called BBC Highlights. It’s a feature that enables the audience to create and share their own personal highlights. Using Top Gear as an example they illustrated how their feature could work in the context of the current BBC video player that exists across

When the team pitched the project they did some research using Twitter and found that lot’s of people refer to particular moments within programmes, sharing timecodes or references. This sparked their motivation behind the project and it was great to see how they pursued and developed their idea from the pitch to a working demo.

The pitch was a good example of how the team took on board the brief and thought about how their concept addresses the BBC’s four screen strategy.

In contrast the project Crowd Surf evolved quite a bit from the original idea that was pitched during the Creative Studio. The core idea of reflecting moments of popularity across content remained. However, the method of navigation and discovery moved away from the idea of zooming in and out of popular content and seeing the number of people watching/listening.

Instead the team chose to develop a multi direction nav that delivered onward journey’s deemed most popular by other users.

BBC and System Concepts demo Crowdsurf

BBC and System Concepts demo Crowdsurf

The most radical idea during the connected studio was Face Value by Soda and Nottingham University’s Mixed Reality Lab. The team developed facial recognition software that could respond to audience reaction. So it could tell you whether or not the person sat in front of their laptop with a webcam switched on was happy or sad watching something on BBC iPlayer for example.

For me the idea was reminiscent of the Meet the Listeners project by Radio 1 back in 2010 but that relied on people taking photos of themselves and sending them to the station.

This idea sounds fairly novel but it’s an interesting concept to consider when many devices that people buy now have built in cameras. It’s a method of input that is rarely considered when designing experiences for content, but as the recent version of iPlayer for Xbox (that uses kinect for gestural navigation) illustrates maybe that could change in the future.

Soda and Mixed Reality Lab showing a demo of their face recognition software

Soda and Mixed Reality Lab showing a demo of their face recognition software

The agency TorchBox teamed up with BBC to explore an idea called the Live Companion. It’s an app that enriches a live event by collating relevant information from around the BBC and enables the audience to add their voice creating a mix of social and BBC content. The team put together a simple prototype using Javascript and CSS to present the idea.

Sarah Plant from TorchBox has written a good overview of her experience of the Connected Studio which is worth a read.

Torchbox presenting their mobile app prototype Live Companion

Torchbox presenting their mobile app prototype Live Companion

I’ve always been interested in how you can use time as a method of navigation through content so it was great to see one team try and tackle this concept.

Mudlark and the BBC teamed up for the project Time Machine – an interactive timeline of BBC content that lets you explore the threads of a story. The used BBC News as their starting point. So, if I’m reading a story about the Leveson enquiry for example, Time Machine would enable me to go back in time and explore all the events leading up to the most recent event.

We Are Mudlark presenting their Time Machine concept

We Are Mudlark presenting their Time Machine concept

BBC People is a really compelling concept that explores the idea of using BBC talent, historical figures, contributors or subjects as a way to navigate content across products.

Professor Brian Cox was their example of choice and although the team didn’t have a working demo to show they were able to tell a good story with some nice illustrations of user journeys that conveyed how their idea would meet the audience need they had identified during the creative studio.

BBC People presented by Faith Mowbray at the BBC Connected Studio

BBC People presented by Faith Mowbray at the BBC Connected Studio

It was a tough couple of days for the teams but as a judge I found it really inspiring. It was interesting for me to see the range of approaches that the teams took to convey their ideas and also the fidelity of their visualisations and prototypes.

Hopefully the UX&D Connected Studio provided the teams taking part with an insight into the BBC, not only its complexities but also the opportunities that exist to create new kinds of experiences.

It was good to have people from my team at the BBC working together with external companies as it gave them an insight into how other teams work and think. This kind of collaboration is important to encourage innovation.

Although we only selected a couple of projects for the pilot stage each project that was presented during the build studio offered lots of food for thought in terms of how we might approach creating a One Service BBC.