Recently the BBC User Experience and Design Connected Studio was announced. Taking place on the 4th, 30th and 31st of October the Connected Studio is an opportunity to brainstorm, design and build future BBC products and services.

Ulrik Hogrebe has written a blog post describing the UX&D Connected Studio and how to get involved and the brief can be downloaded from the website.

One of the themes for the UX&D Connected Studio is Time. I’ve spent many years working across a multitude of different broadcast propositions for the BBC and reflecting time is the thing that always makes taking these broadcast propositions online the most challenging. So I thought I would share some thoughts based on this experience at the BBC.

The most interesting aspect of designing a time based experience is reflecting what is happening live right now because you are creating a system that has to accommodate and adapt to different situations.

One of the best ways to see this in action is on the Radio 1 website which launched last year. The interface constantly updates to display tracks that are currently playing, audience tweets and messages from the studio. Presenters refer to the website frequently during their shows helping to drive people to the website to interact with the content and the show itself.

The homepage stores all the live content so that the audience can go back in time and see what was played or tweeted during the show. This enables the audience to catch up on what they may have missed, particularly fans of music shows that are interested in seeing a history of the tracks played out on a show.

The homepage also changes to reflect big moments such as a celebrities visiting the studio. When this happens the Radio 1 team can switch the cameras and the homepage adapts to show live video from the studio with additional information about the guest and social media.

This Radio 1 example demonstrates some of the core principles of designing a time based experience:

  1. A flexible interface that can accommodate different moments in time from a big event to not much happening at all.
  2. An interface that feels ‘alive’ and constantly updating.
  3. An interface that provides a mechanism for the audience to interact with the output itself.
  4. The ability to join in with the moment but also see what you have just missed.

Using these principles as a starting point its possible to consider how they could evolve into design patterns that could potentially work across BBC Online. Live output for TV and Radio is an established convention whether its news or music events there is a certain aesthetic to live output that differentiates itself from something that is prerecorded. For the digital space we are still exploring how best to reflect liveness through interaction and visual design.

It’s worth noting that my definition of a live experience within an interactive, digital space doesn’t mean just embedding a live news broadcast on a webpage. It means augmenting the live broadcast content with additional data. This could be tracks that are currently being played on the radio or live video with sports statistics overlaid and social media. How we present this real time information in a compelling and accessible way touches on one of the main aspects of the Connected Studio brief, which is to explore how the user experience of BBC online becomes a recognisable part of the BBC brand through features and interactions.

The components that make up a live experience include motion to indicate something is updating to features such as alerts to keep the audience engaged with the content. How we create a common ‘live’ language across the BBC and a set of features that enable rich interactions with live content is an example of how the Global Experience Language (GEL) can expand and evolve to incorporate more than just guidelines and the use of typography.

History also plays an important part of time based experiences. The data that is generated during the live event can be captured to enable us to go back in time and see what we missed and what was said. One of my favourite projects is ‘Meet the Listeners’ where Radio 1 presenters asked the audience to submit pictures of themselves throughout the day. To navigate the content we used time as a filter. Users were able to select a specific time period during the day and then view the show that was on air accompanied by photos of the audience that was listening.

The ability to aggregate content by time across the BBC and infuse it with contributions by the audience would create an interesting historical view of live events. It would also enable rich user journeys when historical moments become timely and resurface because of their relevance to live events.

My colleague Paul Rissen has written a great blog post titled ‘How to Build a Time Machine’ where he suggests that we:

‘Make time addressable – give packets (i.e. spans of time) URIs, and then we can link to them, we can build services, applications, imaginative creations on top. Web Standard Time.’

Again, GEL feels like the place where we can start to introduce these concepts. By making time addressable we can start to introduce time as a key navigational element that could potentially sit across the BBC website and the many platforms we produce content for. This would enable journeys that would create interesting stories in themselves, curating moments that are relevant to key moments in time or to a persons own personal history.