London 2012 and the digital legacy

By Peter Ballard @Ballyfool

As the Paralympics draws to a close, let’s take a moment to reflect on the digital legacy left by London 2012, which has delivered the first truly digital Olympic and Paralympic experience.

The summer of sport saw ambitious projects from two of the main broadcasters, BBC and C4, and the rather more controversial, official London 2012 site. And, for pretty much the first time, a range of mobile and tablet apps to support our desire to keep up to date on the move.

Multi-device games coverage

The much heralded BBC Olympics site took most of the plaudits, delivering a staggeringly impressive array of events streamed live. Using new adaptive bitrate streaming, the video feeds could be viewed on PC, tablet and mobile devices (it even worked on iPad and iPhone!) as well as digital TV.

The power of having an experience vision

The design team at the Beeb showed us the power of having a User Experience Vision, used to inspire a multi-disciplinary team to deliver innovative new features with impressive results. The vision was “Never miss a moment” and this informed the IA, navigation and design of the experience across all devices, to ensure that users could easily find events that they could watch live, or catch-up on missed events, across every sport.

An ambitious task, and in the main, the results were impressive. I know many people who relied almost entirely on the BBC site for their coverage, and there were none of the complaints normally suffered when trying to watch streamed sport.

If there’s one criticism, it’s that whilst the site was good for catch up and live, it was not so good for finding out about events coming up. The architecture of the site made it harder than it should have been to plan what to view. The problem with “never miss a moment” was it created a “fear of missing out” on a big event or GB medal hope elsewhere. The site could have made a better job of fulfilling the role of “editor” or “director”, giving a suggested schedule of what to watch when, to get the best action of the day.

Channel 4 and the superhumans

C4 made a better job of this aspect in their Paralympics site (I have to declare an interest, we were involved in the UX testing of it) and I feel this site strikes the right balance between catch-up and events coming up. In our research, we were able to identify what information users wanted to see most, and one of the main findings was that people wanted to know more about the Team GB athletes, to get to know their stories and personalities ahead of the games. This allowed the C4 site to get behind the Team GB athletes in a way that perhaps the BBC missed in their coverage.

Official London 2012 website

Much has been already documented about the Official London 2012 site in terms of Olympic ticketing and what went wrong. As Experience Designers, it was pretty shocking to see such a high profile site so obviously ignore the various need states of different groups of users in the design of such a crucial process. A ticketing system that was barely adequate for the job of applying for tickets in a ballot, turned out to be woefully inappropriate for users searching for tickets in real-time.

On a more positive note, the London 2012 App was pretty good, and made a simpler job of keeping up to date with what events were going on, and what was coming up on a daily basis, as well as those great alerts, when a buzz in your pocket meant another GB medal had been won.

The digital legacy

Without question, this summer has set new standards for live streaming of sporting events, and has delivered on the old ‘martini promise’ of anytime, anyplace, anywhere. The main broadcasters will need to take note, Sky and ESPN will potentially have to lift their game in marrying up to date content and information with live action. The Ryder Cup, and the World Cup have good role models to follow

And the bar has been set high for Rio in 2016. Who knows what extensions and enhancements to our digital Olympic experience will be possible by then – 3D handhelds? Personalised channels? Athlete-mounted cameras? It might even be possible to buy tickets online!

But the lessons learned should be that having a UX vision can inspire a team to do great things, and involving real users in the design process is the surest route to gold medal performance.

Peter Ballard

I co-founded Foolproof with Tom Wood back in 2002. Today I work across a range of clients, particularly in the roles of Experience Planner and Client Partner. In my role as Experience Planner, I ensure that our design teams have access to the right insight to respond appropriately to the business and creative challenges faced by our clients.

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