Desert Island Discs recently relaunched on the Radio 4 website (at the end of March) on almost the same date that we held the Desert Island Discs hackday a year ago to explore what we could do with the archive data. Since the hackday a lot of work took place including the rebranding of Desert Island Discs and commissioning magneticNorth to help us design and build the new website and create a compelling experience for exploring the archive. It’s been exciting seeing the project take shape over the year and building up to the launch date.

This project had many challenges and one of the first we tackled was the branding. We commissioned Fallon to produce the brand kit and it went through a number of iterations before we settled on a unique and distinctive design that combines and reflects the concept of music and being stranded on a desert island.

We took inspiration from a number of sources which predominately came from album covers and record label designs. Trojan record covers and the Island records brand stick out in my mind as the most influential pieces of inspiration during this phase of the project.

We wanted the new logo to be as versatile as possible to enable us to use it in many different contexts and permutations, in particular it was important for us to have a toolkit that could be used to give the website a sense of life and distinctiveness which is something we achieved.

The final brand kit provides flexibility not only in how we can use the lock up but also the discs and colour palette.

Another key challenge for this project was creating a simple and intuitive way to explore the archive. Chris Thorne led the IA on the project and has written in detail about how he approached the domain model. The process was iterative exploring different routes to present the navigation, layout and filters.

The result of this iterative wireframing and prototyping process is the killer feature of the website, the search page, which enables the audience  to filter the archive by date, occupation, gender, musical choices, books and authors, presenter and of course castaway names.

This photo is of the search page being pieced together from different options that were proposed at the time.

All searches eventually take the user to the castaway page which the guys from Magnetic North designed elegantly. It’s the overview of musical choices that bring’s the page to life and a nice touch is how each musical choice links to our BBC Music artist pages providing an onward journey to discover more content.

Early in the concept phase we considered many different ways to introduce the audience to the archive, one example was enabling the audience to input their musical tastes or provide their last.fm profile and the website would then automatically suggest episodes for you to listen to. In the end we decided that a strong editorially curated homepage would enable our audience to browse and discover the rich archive Desert Island Discs has to offer. The discovery and serendipity of the homepage works particularly well with the combination of a visually compelling carousel and a selection of programmes organised by occupation.

Myself and David Jones (editorial lead) considered a number of different ideas that could enhance the Desert Island Discs website beyond searching the archive. The programme lends itself well to audience participation because of the loyal fan base. The  rare insight into the lives of very successful people using music as a soundtrack to emphasise particular memories in their lives and provides a stimulus for discussion on social networks. Early on during our development myself and David did a quick audit of Desert Island Discs activity on various websites and we found that there was healthy activity on facebook and twitter. This initially made us think about ways in which we could encourage audience participation on the Desert Island Discs website.

At the time we thought this would introduce a new dynamic enabling the audience to contribute their content to the website. Although it felt like an exciting avenue to pursue eventually we decided time and effort was better spent on the core editorial proposition of the archive. This doesn’t mean we may never do this in the future however…

The Desert Island Discs website is, in my personal opinion, one of the best BBC websites we’ve ever done as it provides such a rich resource of unique and intrguing content that you cannot find anywhere else. The beauty of it is that it presents a simple user interface with an elegant design, driven by a considered data architecture that provides the audience with opportunity to discover and stumble upon insightful and thought provoking content.