Critical Thinking: Which One Website Component Would You Focus On Redesigning?

By: Nu Yang

Critical Thinking: Which One Website Component Would You Focus On Redesigning?

Q: If you had to focus a redesign of your newspaper’s website on one component, what would it be and why?

Trenton Sperry, 22, senior, Oklahoma State University (Stillwater, Okla.)
Sperry is editor-in-chief of The Daily O’Collegian, the student newspaper at Oklahoma State University. He is studying political science with an emphasis in legal studies.

A: As with any venture in design, a newspaper’s Web design should focus on simplicity. With the advent of Twitter, today’s audience demands simple and straightforward content. The more bells and whistles a website attempts to throw at a viewer, the less time that viewer is likely to spend on the site.

It should be painless for audience members to find exactly the section or story they want to read. Newspapers themselves no longer dictate the most interesting stories for readers; the Internet has spoiled us with individualized content. By the time a reader finishes one story, the site should be able to guess what content he or she will likely want to read next and make it easy for them to reach it.

An important aspect of simplicity is advertisement type and placement. Videos, pop-ups, and distracting ads do more harm than good for visitors. Just as in print, ads should never become barriers to visitors’ ability to consume the story. If visitors spend most of their time on the site battling diversions, eventually they will give up and move on to a more convenient source.

But media is an important part of content flow. Users don’t just want to read a story; they want to see it, watch it, and hear it. Slideshows, videos, and audio recordings should be sprinkled throughout the written story, allowing the visitor a short break to better envision what they’re reading.

Looking forward, however, websites may very well become unnecessary. In the college market, news is almost exclusively gathered and consumed via tablet and smartphone applications. These applications allow an audience to reach out and touch the news in front of them, a more personal experience than moving an arrow around on a screen.

Gregory Bryant, 55, online editor, Cape Cod Times (Hyannis, Mass.)
Bryant has been with the Cape Cod Times for 28 years, starting out as a town and business reporter. He has been online editor for the past 15 years and a central figure in several redesigns.

A: If I could focus on one particular piece of the website redesign puzzle, I would free some of our commercial content from the frozen, windswept steppes of the website’s right column.

An unusual sentiment from a news guy, for sure.

But let’s face it: Online users are long inured to the right-column wall of commerce. Many don’t necessarily see it because they know it’s there. But advertising is good. It’s essential to the survival of all the other great stuff we do online, like our news. And to relegate it to a predictable slice of our websites doesn’t make sense.

Instead, why not grab some of those ad units — and those homes for sale, employment, cars, classifieds, and daily deals modules — from the right-column Siberia. Redistribute them by integrating them into the other two-thirds of the Web page on our section fronts.

Let’s mix it up a bit without tarnishing our journalistic souls. I am not advocating a stealthy ruse to disguise our commercial content as editorial news. But look at the print newspaper. Advertising has crept into formerly sacrosanct spots like the front page — and paid advertising “adheres” are now there too.

So, redesign and spruce up the clunkier right-column commercial modules — i.e., real estate, jobs, and such. Maybe even sprinkle in some links to relevant news content such as a house-sale trends story in the real estate module or a job trends story in the jobs module,and move some of them out of that right column. Consider doing the same with the ubiquitous top-of-the-column ad unit. Do some trading: Put some news content into the right column. See what works and what doesn’t. Let’s stop treating some of our online commerce like some kind of exile on Elba.

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