UPDATED: Freep.com’s Radical Redesign Panned By Posters

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By: Mark Fitzgerald

Freep.com, the Detroit Free Press Web site, launched a dramatic redesign Friday — to cheers of The Bronx variety.

Dozens of users posted comments on the new look, many with the same complaints. Too focused on ads. Bland. Eye-straining with yellow-on-white section heds, and tiny font. (Site: http://www.freep.com).

“Speaking as a professional designer, I may take this redesign more personally than the average reader,” commented a poster identified as “Jharder.” “Unfortunately I can readily say ‘Congratulations, Freep.com, on the utterly crap-tastic new design.’ You’ve managed to trash your old masthead for a paltry dot.com looking logo. Feature photos on the homepage are shrunk to insignificant sizes. In-site navigation takes a back seat to ad links. And all in all everything looks tired and outdated. I think I’ll be spending more time over at slate.com”

Another posting, from “bill lumbergh2” called the redesign “the ‘New Coke’ of web-sites.”

To be sure, the new design has some new fans.

A poster identified as “cranial” said it was a “start in the right direction,” and he urged other users to give it time.

“These (Freep.com) folks are going in the right direction, change for the better takes time and resources,” continued “cranial,” who said he or she ran a commercial Web site. “This is a (sic) ad supported free service. As such it must be given time to ripen. Keep up the good work. You will stay my homepage for sure. And unlike so many others , I THANK YOU.”

Free Press Deputy Managing Editor/Multimedia Nancy Andrews said in an interview Friday night — by which time 112 users had posted replies that were viewed by about 3,900 unique visitors — that she was thrilled by the passion and specificity of the responses.

?What I think is interesting is that this says this is their Web site,? she said. ?They care about this, and we have changed something that is important to them.?

Overall, Andrews added, the debate was ?thoughtful? — and mirrored similar arguments the multimedia team had while designing the new look.

The change, she added, moves from the old model of putting the print edition online every night to a ?more dynamic and responsive? site that can be changed by people in the newsroom, and can be used to respond to different news in different ways, especially with video.

?We didn?t herald this change,? Andrews said. ?It really is based on a restructuring of newsroom … (and) shifting focus to multimedia platforms.?

The new look could be considered a first sign of the arrival of the ?Information Center? newsroom in Detroit, Andrews said, but she noted that changes such as more frequent updating and video and photo galleries preceded that Gannett Co.-wide initiative.

Many of the comments concerned a new prominence to advertising and commercial information that is given a long rail along the left. ?For me, as a consumer, as a member of our audience, that?s news and information I want,? Andrews said. ?Why do you want to separate auto news and auto reviews from cars.com? Isn?t it more helpful to have CareerBuilder there, (given) our economy??

The rail, which Andrews said is a common feature of Gannett newspaper sites, probably looks more prominent because it is on the left, where the eye first goes. Previously, the site had a rail of commercial information on the right, and the first display spot was actually further up the screen.

While the ad rail was singled out for particular criticism, often the complaint was that it doesn’t look as “newspaper-y” as the previous design.

“This format looks TERRIBLE. Not pleasing to the eye at all. You had one of the most eye-pleasing sites out there! Stupid to change it!!” wrote a poster called “nowings”

The yellow-on-white section titles irritated some. That also mirrored an internal debate, Andrews said.

?I like the color palate,? she said. The palate connects the site and has a ?kind of subdued feeling? different from the more riotous look of the old site.

?And the color palate is somewhat the company colors, so they?re not out of the blue,? Andrews added.

A number of posters admitted they simply didn’t like change, and some said, especially out-of-towners, that they would continue visiting.

“Well I would have to agree the ‘new look’ isn’t as good as the old, I too am just happy to be able to read the Freep online without a subscription,” wrote “bassgowings,” adding: “You should try relying on the Chattanooga newspaper for decent journalism!”

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