Designing BBC account : with BIG data comes BIG responsibility.

The BBC is a large and complex organisation. We serve 308 million households worldwide and 64.1 million people in the UK alone. 65% of our audience uses our digital services and 35 million unique browsers access them every day. Creating value for these audiences means getting the right content and information to the right person at the right moment. Enabling personalised content discovery and recommendations relies on two main elements: clean, meaningful data and sensible, enjoyable user journeys.

I’ll tell you how, as a User Experience Architect in myBBC, I used data to create information — using structure and context — and how I used the user experience to improve the data quality.

The new BBC Account Overview page featuring David Attenborough
“Almost all of the UK uses the BBC each week (97% of UK adults) and these audiences spend a considerable amount of time with BBC services (around 18 hours per week, on average)” — BBC Report, Feb 2015

What is BBC account?

BBC account is the BBC identity management platform. In other words, it’s the space on BBC website or apps where users can create, access, add and edit their account details and preferences for all BBC digital products. It is the front-end, user-facing expression of one of the main BBC goals: to provide an accurate and customisable BBC service that caters to everyone. 
How do we achieve this? By allowing personalisation of products and by using these users preferences in a clever way, in order to provide a tailor made service for each of our users.
This is a huge challenge to tackle given the amount of content the BBC can serve on one hand, and the proportion of people interacting with at least one BBC product every day on the other.

Enabling personalisation of products

Every signed-in BBC user — who chooses not to disable personalisation — can feed our systems with their preferences. Some are explicit actions indicating a user’s taste (“I want to bookmark this episode”, “I want to follow this program”…), some are more implicit and based on content consumption (“I’ve played this clip”…). Our ambition is to ensure meaningful links between all types of BBC content — articles, videos, sounds, live feeds… — in order to provide users with the most complete personalised cross-product, cross-media and cross-platform experience.

This sounds amazing, but it takes time. It’s still very early days. In terms of connecting content together, some work has already been done: BBC Sport and BBC News or BBC Radio and TV. But a global solution is still being worked on.
The Audience platform team provides a Recommendation service, but its scope is currently limited to a single product only. The bit I had the chance to work on is the identity management system, which is nonetheless as important: in order to make sense out of those preferences, they have to be stored against an actual identifiable user.

Some types of users activities on BBC website
One of the ambition behind BBC account is to give BBC users full control over their data; eventually they should be able to add, edit or delete each and every part of it.

Helping users ensure the privacy of their data

As any service provider gathering users’ data, the BBC has to follow some strict privacy policies, and the company takes this very seriously, especially with GDPR kicking in. The information required from our users is mostly used to provide them with a better BBC experience. A very comprehensive help section — Using the BBC — explains in detail the reasons behind each requested piece of information. 
One of the ambition behind BBC account is to give BBC users full control over their data; eventually they should be able to add, edit or delete each and every part of it. From a UXA point of view, the more granularity of control you give to your users, the more use cases it creates. Which makes the whole system’s architecture very complex.

Behind the scenes: making complexity invisible

Catering for a large and diverse audience

Almost all of the UK uses the BBC each week”. As a User Experience Designer this makes my job really interesting. My designs have to cater for literally everyone’s needs. This is the broadest target audience I ever had a chance to work on so far. To give you an idea of what it means, less than 1% of our users are non-JS users. This could sound anecdotal and wouldn’t require spending so much time on having a proper non-JS version of our digital products; it’s 2017 after all. However 1% of 40 million users represents over 400k users, and we can’t afford leaving that many users without any BBC service. This is the beauty of public service: it has, per definition, to be accessible to all. The challenge here is to create a service which is accessible to everyone but adapted to each individual.

From a dataset point of view, our signed in BBC users are classified according to their age group; this allows us to be compliant with legal requirements, especially regarding users who are under 18 years old.
With this new BBC Account, security around data privacy has improved a lot; not only do users get more control over their data, but our youngest audience (those under 13 years old) require parental (or guardian) permissions to perform some specific actions such as commenting or receiving notifications.
This implies a different set of data requirements but also a different user experience based on age group (and as you know, age is a variable that evolves with time).

This Child Permissions section varies depending on user’s need, which depends on user’s age group

Another challenging aspect of this project was the current state of user’s data at the point we started designing this new BBC Account; we were working with the legacy of years and years of changes, and as many different datasets. In other words, we knew where we wanted to go data-wise, but we couldn’t fully picture the current state of the art. Our account upgrading process had to be flexible and comprehensive, which is a proper maze to work out from a User Experience Architecture point of view, and a fantastic challenge.

Document showing the different datasets for under 13 years old users

How did we get there?

Defining a clear goal and values for the product have been keys to the success of this project as they allowed us to define a direction for our application.

Our design framework: product direction & shared values

With so many constraints and requirements coming from legal, engineering, business and our vast target audience, designing the best user experience seemed at first like an impossible task to achieve.
Thankfully, the team I had the chance to work in was an amazing one: a bunch of talented and passionate people who truly care for the end user, and design and develop for them. When love of well crafted work is shared across all team members, it makes difficult tasks easier to achieve.

We, as a team, worked toward the same objective: creating an identity management application that would empower users and enable personalisation, in order to create value. On top of this common goal, our team’s way of working shared BBC values — trust, audiences first, quality, creativity and respect. Applied to our application, those values mean data security and privacy, personalised content, accessibility and empowerment. In other words: any piece of information requested from the user is safely stored, used for the user’s best interests, in order to increase the quality of their use of BBC services, and users have control over each piece of information they provide. We’re not there yet, but we’re definitely going in that direction.

Defining a clear goal and values for the product have been keys to the success of this project as they allowed us to define a direction for our application.
Despite the challenges and occasional confusion that all those requirements represented, always going back to our objective and values helped us to work out what the best solution was.

It’s more than designing a page or a user flow: it’s designing a system.

Given the amount of unknowns and requirements — sometimes conflicting with each other — I often felt like my job was to knock on doors, hit walls instead, then try to find windows which I could negotiate my way through.

It took resilience, patience, interest in areas that may not seem your responsibility in the first place, and an ability to negotiate, or compromise.

Improving data circle

Designing with data in mind

We used the data we wanted as a goal. We used the data we had to create the right information architecture, the right journey for each individual user. And eventually the user experience helped us to improve the overall data quality.

In order to achieve this, we’ve had to design scalable and flexible journeys adapted to any state our users could have been in. It’s more than designing a page or a specific user flow: it’s designing a system. Flexible enough to adapt to whatever comes in, and solid enough to always deliver what is expected.

Today, every BBC user who uplifted their account can enjoy a more secure and more personalised version of the BBC website or apps. From a data quality perspective, this is a great achievement for the BBC.

Data is giving us a great insight about our user’s behaviour.

Of course the whole application will improve as we gather more and more data about how our audience is going through our system. We measure success rates, pain points, drop off, and we study with care every message sent to our customer service team in order to improve the current experience.
As an example, we found out that a lot of confusion resulted from the parent/child linking journey we designed (in order for a parent or guardian to give permission to their kid to comment, they need to link accounts), because users from the same family were sharing the same device. Therefore, as the “wrong” user was signed in at the moment they had to create the link, our system returned an invalid code.

Data is giving us a great insight about our users’ behaviour. This made us consider other routes, other ways for parents or guardians to give permissions. After a day of workshop between UX designers from my team and UX designers from the CBBC/CBeebies team, we’ve considered options going from a simple fast account switching feature, to a family account model, where account would represent households and profiles would represent users. 
However whatever it is that is going to be implemented, it will have to match our application’s goal and values, fulfil legal requirements, and be properly tested in real conditions.

New journeys being worked out — absolutely not posing for the pic

The main User Experience Architecture challenges

A pan-BBC way of thinking

This identity management application is at the crossroads of all BBC products. All of them want to create value based on personalisation and in order to achieve this, all of them rely on our application at some point.
To achieve our goal — allowing cross-products personalisation– we also have to make sure that the data stored by products through our application and using our journeys, is meaningful and that its meaning is shared across all products.
Making every product care for a shared understanding of meaning has been a challenge as well. It comes down to convincing people of benefits they can’t immediately see. It makes them consider constraints sat beyond them but which impacts their roadmap. This is where Data Governance played a fundamental role: raising awareness around the full life cycle of every single piece of data stored at any point by any product. The success of this system is everyone’s responsibility.

A contextual experience

From a visual experience point of view we had to find the right balance in between communicating around BBC account being a single account for all BBC products, and at the same time providing a tailor made experience adapted to each individual.
In order to achieve this we created a styleguide that every product had to follow when implementing with our product. That way we could ensure consistency of experience. Then we focused our effort in contextualising that experience, using strong themed background images. For example, an iPlayer user registering would see Claudia Winkleman or Graham Norton. A CBBC user signing in would see Radzi Chinyanganya (Blue Peter presenter) or the characters from Sarah & Duck.

Contextual background

What did I learn?

Being right is only 10% of the job.” — danramsden

This has been a really rich year and a half at the BBC. I’m very grateful that I’ve been given the chance to work on such an interesting and exciting project. I’ve learned a lot about complex information and technical architecture but most importantly, I’ve learned that more than ever in a company this size involving so many products, stakeholder management is key. As my line manager danramsden tells me quite often “Being right is only 10% of the job.”.

Not only must a User Experience Architect care for data — as data is information’s raw material — they also have to be able to communicate the importance of it. We are the bridge in between all the different parts that compose the business and we need to be able to communicate consequences of design choices to everyone, whether they are designers, engineers, product or marketing people.

I haven’t always been successful. I still regret some decisions which have been made by stakeholders. But changing a company’s culture isn’t easy, especially a company as big and old as the BBC. When managing stakeholders with different goals and ambitions, a solid yet flexible framework driven by user centric principles is the best asset. User testing, MVT and analytics reports are other tools that must be part of our UXA toolbox.

Data shapes your product. But designers shape the data.

Launching this new BBC Account application was a long process, not always easy or simple, painful sometimes, but with a clear direction — supported by stakeholders — a well defined and sensible objective, patience, resilience and communication skills, it drew a path and started a journey toward a better and more user-centered BBC service.

Today millions of users have already been through the system I’ve designed. This is huge. On a very personal level, this blows my mind every time I think about it. On a more professional level, it also makes me realise how important it is for any designer to care for clean and meaningful data; data shapes your product. But designers shape the data in the first place, through their flows, information architecture, interactions, copy or interface. They are responsible for conveying the correct user intention and right meaning to the system. How could me make impactful improvements if the data we base our analyse on has lost its meaning on the way?