E&P’s Web Site Redesign Contest Take 3

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By: Jay DeFoore

Earlier this month we challenged our readers to take a look at a number of recently redesigned online news sites and send in their critiques. Although the responses have come in a trickle rather than a torrent, we’re grateful to those who have contributed.

Jay Small of Scripps Newspapers and Jeff Johns of MCall.com started the ball rolling. Today’s Gold Star Performer is Susan Hardin, a digital media consultant and former director of design and operations for ajc.com, who offers insights into what’s implied by font color choices, why clear labeling matters, and much more.

If you’d like to contribute your own critique, e-mail E&P’s Online Editor, Jay DeFoore.

BostonPhoenix.com (Phoenix Media)
Nice palette. The color choices are cool yet vibrant and match the content. The nomenclature is clear and simple, but I think the label “culture” could use a little tweaking. Readers won’t know what to expect from it as it sits between other more clearly labeled sections. And how does it differ from “life”? While “life” continues to work for legacy print content, what does it mean online? Most papers struggle to translate that section for online users. The blogs are well placed and show the site’s interactive energy up front. A greater headline count above the scroll and less readout text would increase traffic. Readout text doesn’t do well in usability studies. Story layout is nice and clean, although the text comes off as gray instead of black, which takes away not only from its readability but also from its significance.

Chron.com (Hearst)
Great headline count. It’s good to see newspapers getting away from the lengthy readout text below headlines. The home page is more informative this way as a stand-alone read and I feel as if I walk away informed after my first visit. But why is the time so large? It’s the first thing that draws my eye and I’m not sure that’s the desired effect of the page. Content is king yet my eye is taken to large type in the primary optical area giving me the time of day. When an item appears in the primary optical area it doesn’t need large typography to accent it. That’s a double whammy. One of the best navigations I’ve seen — I’m sure it was no easy task to whittle sections down to seven core buckets plus blogs. It takes users into your core channels for more, and takes away from clutter and confusion. However, I wouldn’t use “blogs” as a content bucket. It describes a format or function, not the content. Blogs should be listed in the content area so hot topics can be described rather than the function. This page has a great sense of urgency, no mistaking their mission of breaking news, with one of the best packaged stock tickers I’ve seen. No need to include “more” under the weather. It’s a word that shouldn’t be used in navigation or linking. Instead, link “Today’s Weather.” Also, found duplicate weather links above the scroll.

HamptonRoads.tv (Virginian-Pilot)
The inline video is spectacular. I imagine that one day, as bandwidth and good experiences with video grow, that all of our sites will begin this way whether it’s with an advertisement or news. Hats off to the “submit your video” feature. Great leadership. The home page UI looks and functions like some of the better video players in the industry (but the frames should be eliminated). Usability and familiarity are growing fast in this area. I’m just wondering where the revenue placements are. Most business needs would never let off a site designer this easily. Enjoy it while it lasts.

KnoxNews.com (Scripps)
As much as we want it to, rotating or flashing centerpiece content doesn’t work for our users. They don’t stick with it and metrics will indicate that eventually. The drop shadow type on the navigation and in the photo display area looks like a holdover from print. It’s not a good read on the Web, especially when it appears on a photo. And it adds unnecessary weight. Interesting that they dropped the date. Clean news categories appear below the photo with a great way to present the labels with sub-channels. Type color is soft, not hard news. The “new” label doesn’t work in front of some of the top headlines. What’s the message? Is anything old as opposed to new on the front of a news Web site? And how new is it?

MCall.com (Tribune)
Toggle boxes for the lead position are an excellent technique. The display was so subtle, though, I didn’t notice them at first. And they’ve nailed the three core categories. I used them and found them both informative and entertaining. Glad to see them resisting the temptation to rotate with Flash. The font color is soft and not serious or urgent. I envy the search photo function, as I’m sure many editors do. The poll in the right rail draws interest to an area usually designated as revenue. And you can’t beat the “most discussed,” “most emailed,” and “recent comments” feature, something missing on the other sites. I’m sure it’s a big traffic draw. Some air is needed between headline to relieve the clutter, and the cutline is just as deep as the photo … a design to avoid in any medium.

NaplesNews.com (Scripps)
The mast is beautiful. I wish the page began with the “Top stories” section on down. It’s highly readable at that point with an envious headline count while not looking too cluttered. A good balance of readout text and headlines. The multimedia placement is aggressive, showing energy, innovation, and ability. This designer knows readers don’t care as much about the “container” as they do the “content.” Revenue opportunities seem a bit limited on this page.

Where is the lead? News judgment remains a valuable commodity and with automation threatening almost everything else, we should showcase it. I know what the top three stories are but not the lead. Good placement of mobile news link. “Most discussed” is a great way to promote interactivity over a simple label such as “Blogs.” Everyone should use it. Seems odd to call something a “spotlight” at the bottom of the page. Black and bold font signals news to me. Good choice.

RegisterGuard.com (Eugene, Ore.)
Another attractive mast. Headline count is low with too much readout text. The goal is to get readers to click for the story and to offer a diverse mix. Strong and welcoming palette but the gray text for readouts is soft. I’m missing a sense of interactivity, but news coverage is strong. The consistency in design is carried over to section fronts and increases site usability.

The functionality of the horizontal navigation is creative and useful. Its consistency throughout the site adds strength. Section labels are creative as well and work for me. I get the exact feel a weekly should give me — insider and entertaining news that complements my daily information. Strong use of photos makes this an entertaining visit. Applause for keeping the navigation nomenclature simple and descriptive rather than cute or clever. The sub-categories are exactly what I’d look for. The green headlines and type would work better in black bold. What does that particular color signal? What’s the message behind a colored headline? There usually isn’t one.

StarTribune.com (McClatchy)
The modular layout really works on this home page. The weather is packaged nicely and is inviting. The content over the right rail ads carries me over to a section usually cordoned off for advertising. This brings readers into a space they’d often rather avoid. The font colors clearly signal what is clickable type and what isn’t. Wonder why the XML feed is buried? A brief word on design and XML feeds: Try not to describe the technical function of the RSS; instead tell users why they should have it and what it does for them: “Personalize your news” works so much better. This page has a good presentation of classifieds that shows energy, an area sometimes neglected by news designers.

Recused (employed by Cox)

I’m missing a statement in the mast describing the mission of this site or its coverage area. “Offbeat” is an entertaining and welcomed feature page. I’m sure it generates an enormous amount of traffic and is well worth the dedicated resources. I’ve bookmarked it. The scroll is long on this page. Does anyone go down there? I counted nine and a half scrolls and I have a big screen. A high sense of interactivity is given by telling me I can comment on every story on the home page.

Emphasis added by E&P.

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