Dear god, where to start. I worked on the Times web site for 7 years (dev, not design). Before I even saw his "redesign" I read his preamble. First, lets be clear, he is working from the wrong assumptions. He demonstrates clearly what is wrong with many news outlets but then he lumps the Times in with them too. Since his piece is about the Times I have to feel all assertions he makes are about that too, and not just media in general.
Digital news is broken. Actually, news itself is broken.
No its not. The business model is broken. Print is declining. Online revenue is being experimented with. Could be better, could be much worse.
Almost all news organizations have abandoned reporting in
favor of editorial; have cultivated reader opinion in
place of responsibility; and have traded ethical standards
for misdirection and whatever consensus defines
Please don't lump the Times in this category. They have a small amount of clearly stated Editorial content. Separate from that is the Opinion pages, and what is completely separate from that is News (thats the bit where they try their damnedest to keep Opinion out of it and cite sources, provide analysis and present facts).
And this is before you even lay eyes on what passes for
news design on a monitor or device screen these days.
We'll get to this part...
In digital media—websites in particular—news outlets
seldom if ever treat content with any sort of dignity
and most news sites are wedded to a broken profit model
that compels them to present a nearly unusable mishmash
of pink noise…which they call content.
Actually that "broken profit model" isn't broken for some but thats another argument. If you have ever sat in a newsroom meeting, or a design review, or a meeting where product people spar with editorial who spar with developers you would realize that dignity is a big deal. A big FUCKING deal. You might not like the fruits of that but don't never say they don't give a shit. The Times prizes content to a fault.
In an effort to disguise and mitigate the fact that they
have little idea how to publish digital content
properly—often sneakily called "differentiation"—some
news outlets release apps for digital devices. These
apps typically (but not always) do a better job of
presenting content and facilitating navigation, but
they’re a band aid on a festering abdominal wound.
Digital media is simply digital media; if you do it
right you publish once and it works anywhere. If you’re
using an app to deliver content, you’re doing it wrong.
First, its not clear that this criticism is Times specific. However its still wrong. I've been in plenty of meetings with bright people from inside and outside the company where we started off with the goal that, as he put it, "if you do it right you publish once and it works anywhere". It didn't work. These were not just "old media" types either - these are talented people, some of whom who don't even read the print edition. gasp
Its something thats very easy to say - hell I wish it were true. It is not. Devices, apps, platforms, whatever. They have strengths and weaknesses. You can not have one magic solution for all. This is a crappy comparison but its a bit like saying you have one single car for every type of terrain - same car for soccer-mom and deer-hunter alike! Sweet!
Instead of working with a handful of redundant,
mitigating formats (websites, mobile sites, apps, etc...)
for content delivery to popular devices, news
organizations should simply deliver it correctly in
...oh, and design. The employment of content design
would be quite refreshing, actually.
Sadly, this is very much an example of a person looking in. I'm not sure how to counter this. Its simply a matter of not knowing what happens on the 7th floor of the Times Building. Nor could he. However I can only assure you that a very dedicated group of Designers are actively working on NYTimes.com and they know their shit.
There is definitely a crap load of work to do to fully redesign a web site that was last done in 2005 - but it does happen. A couple of URLs come to mind which are not illustrated in his piece:
So whats next... well too much actually. I do not have the time nor the patience to dig at all of Andys points. Im sure not all of them are bad, but there is enough there to make me wonder whats wrong with this guy. Again, he is a professional. I am sure he has had critics of his work, and he knows that there was an inner process where a lot of those points were brought up and shown not to hold water. He is now doing the same thing.
So I'll leave it on one final point. Mobile Sites. Its an example of what happens when you don't know that the Times is aware of his point and we discussed it and there was a damn good reason we made the decision that we made.
What am I talking about? He shows the iPhone with the full NYT homepage and has the caption "Um, are you frisking kidding me?". In other words why not a mobile site.
Well, very simple. The iPhone is capable of rendering and interacting with the full page. It was the first browser to do so - it don't require a lite version. You could tap, zoom, pinch, drag and get the full depth of the page. Other browsers - like those for Nokia, RIM etc couldn't handle that.
This was talked over to death. There were compelling arguments about going down this road - or not. In the end, the decision was made to NOT redirect those advanced browsers to the mobile site. You can still go to m.nyt.com if you like, we just wont force you too.
but it should not require anything more than a media
query fetching different CSS and perhaps some additional
scripting so as to simply restyle the content experience
Andy does say that all you need is media quires for the CSS and such and bingo. Well, no. No its not that simple. If you want to redo the homepage for a specific mobile experience then you probably want to serve different sized images, maybe not have some Flash stuff on the iPhone, maybe drop the bandwidth intensive stuff that works well on desktop.
CSS media queries does not solve the problem. It is never that easy and shame on your for saying so. You are a professional. You should know better. Bad Andy. Bad. No biscuit for you.
"In the end, the decision was made to NOT redirect those advanced browsers to the mobile site. You can still go to m.nyt.com if you like, we just wont force you too."
Thank you so much. Seriously. It's extremely rare for it to ever be enjoyable to use a "mobile" site on an iPhone. At least for me.
I feel like sending you a cake.
I wish there were some way to disguise the iPhone as a PC, so that no website automatically redirects me to any mobile version ever.
EDIT: For example, I just got an email saying I've been tagged in a photo on Facebook. So I go to facebook.com on my iPhone, and they've managed to completely break scrolling in their mobile version. I literally cannot scroll down on any page. 100% certain, and 100% aggravating --- and as far as I can tell, no way for me to get to the full site.
I actually read the online edition of the Times and I find it highly readable. A very enjoyable experience. I suspect this designer isn't a regular reader. News organizations are viewed as easy targets for designers trying to increase their brand by writing a sensationalist article (did we really need any more convincing after "news itself is broken"?). So don't be bitter. The good work being done at the Times is self evident.
I sound more bitter than I am. I guess I am defensive. Very it seems. I know the people in the design group at the Times and Andy writes like there is no Design group, thats its all slap-dash and easy-peasy to fix.
That fact that Andy is a design profesional makes my blood boil. Andy should know that is easy to look in from the outside, make grand statements without knowing the truth and reality of why things end up the way they do.
If this were some kid in design school I'd brush it off - but Andy co-own a design firm in TX and wrote a book called "Design Professionalism". WTF!
I'm actually getting really tired of this trend of stripping every UI design down to a moronic level of simplicity. There's probably some room for simplification in the front page but gutting it down to next to nothing is a big step too far.
The thing that sticks out the most to me in Andy's critique is how he skims over the fact that news sites currently have a lot of ads to keep them afloat, and removing them requires dismantling entire ads sales departments, marketing departments, industry standards for ad sizes that must be available on your site for advertisers to even want to talk to you, and the bottom line: huge chunks of money (especially for big homepage campaigns).
This is something that every designer (and developer) at every media organization has to struggle with. And it speaks to what you said about someone looking in from the outside. It's very easy to create something like Andy's lovely design (and I'm sure every designer at every media organization has created or has wanted to create something similar), but it's another thing to design around all these ad sizes and push back on ad sales to have more room for creativity.
Andy Rutledge has very strong right-wing/libertarian opinions and has long hated the New York Times. I think that's why he chose it to dissect, when there are more obvious choices with a clearly strong editorial bias that need a "re-design"
Thanks for the heads-up. The problem with the Internet is that sometimes you end up reading things by people with inappropriate political positions, and it's not immediately apparent. Hopefully the addition of social networking features to search, etc, will help resolve this problem in future.
Does his political position really have any impact on his ability to redesign? How would knowing his political positions help you to come to a judgement on whether the redesign made a position difference or not?
However, knowing his political positions would immediately put you in either a positive or negative (depending on your position) frame of mind and would stop you from having a fair and balanced opinion.
While I disagree with most or all of his political opinions, I wouldn't necessarily call them inappropriate. I find it strange that he consistently chooses to combine business and politics, but it's his company so it's really not my problem. Maybe it works really well for him.
You beat me to my reply about Andy. I almost regret taking his blog off my reading list, because he's a fantastic designer that has a special skill for teaching design fundamentals by example.
Unfortunately, I couldn't tollerate slogging through all the political grit to get to any design points he had to make in his posts.
FWIW, I've read NYT in everything ranging from BB OS 4.5 browser on a Pearl 8100 (woo 2007!) to Opera Mobile 11 on a 7" tablet and it was some of the best experiences I've had on mobile devices. Kudos to any and all involved in its creation.
Nice reply. I agree that this guy seems to have it in for The New York Times. He says, "CNN has a nice format halfway down the page". How is that different from the INSIDE NYTIMES.COM section of the Home Page?
His case for clean design rests on his assumption that the Times can charge enough for content to pay the expenses of the newsroom. He says nothing to back up that assumption. I love his confidence, and I wish shared it!
I know it's easier to throw the same page no matter what screen size it is.
First you say that there is no single solution:
"You can not have one magic solution for all."
"Well, very simple. The iPhone is capable of rendering and interacting with the full page. It was the first browser to do so - it don't require a lite version. You could tap, zoom, pinch, drag and get the full depth of the page."
You just defend your ugly design by "it's not doable" and by "we know better"
Well, very simple. The iPhone is capable of rendering and interacting with the full page. It was the first browser to do so - it don't require a lite version. You could tap, zoom, pinch, drag and get the full depth of the page. Other browsers - like those for Nokia, RIM etc couldn't handle that."
That's your main reason for not having a mobile site?
In terms of usability, zooming in on a mobile device to click on a website designed for a desktop browser is a nightmare. Just because it can be done, doesn't mean that's the way it should be. It results in a horrible experience.
That's your main reason for not having a mobile site
No. I never said that. We do have a Mobile site. If you're not going to read the comment please state tl;dr so I can save replying and just go to bed.
I said: because the iPhone has a very very advanced browser that is more than capable of handling our Homepage we do not REDIRECT them to the Mobile site automatically. You can still go there if you like.
I am also adding: We did find that a larger chunk of users preferred the regular Homepage on their iPhones and did NOT want to go to the Mobile version.
In terms of usability, zooming in to click on a website designed
for a desktop browser is a nightmare. Just because it can be done,
doesn't mean that's the way it should be. It results in a horrible
Agreed. It wasn't done because it could be done. You may not like this choice. However, this wasn't about what you or I or the Times wanted, this was about our readers and what they wanted.
I keep saying "we" as in the Times and I. I don't work there any more but the strongest force in the universes is still the force of habit. Apologies.
Mobile sites suck; I detest when I get redirected to them on my Android phone. About the only time they are justified is when the site is heavily dependent on mouse hovering and other desktop-centric interaction idioms.
"I said: because the iPhone has a very very advanced browser that is more than capable of handling our Homepage we do not REDIRECT them to the Mobile site automatically. You can still go there if you like."
My point still stands. Just because Apple give you the choice to pinch and zoom doesn't mean that's the way it should be.
The fact you already have a mobile site but choose not to put it to its full use baffles me even further.
Please re-read my response. I said it is what our readers wanted. Readers. Sometimes your audience isn't always right and you have to deal with that and show them the way (like Apple), but was not one of those cases.
To re-iterate: OUR READERS WANTED THE HOMEPAGE AND NOT THE MOBILE SITE ON THEIR IPHONES.
Personally I dislike it when a site redirects me to some mobile version (often breaking the permalink and sending me to the main page). I think a URL should render the same no matter what browser it is being viewed from.
Well having been in the person in charge of a major news website myself I can say we all have lovely designs like this pinned to the walls next our desks.
And while I really like his designs and have turned to Andy many times for inspiration, there are some serious context problems... and while I'm bored and off work I might as well write a critique...
I had an near identical sports section to the one he designed pinned to me wall. But I can say he's screwed a few things up, gallery needs to be higher, users can't find a gallery that low (I know user testing surprises them hell out me to), no ads again. To use templating that image has to be shrunk, the quality you get through from external sources if often extremely poor, a reality he doesn't seem to have considered. Nothing screams amateur news like big pixalated images some non technical journo uploaded, and credibility is your only asset really.
Another reality is the business requires as many ad units as you can fit on a page, big media is expensive. Way more than a blog with 10 or so staff. Flying people all over the country, investigating stories, hotel rooms. Its like covering CES every day, which for most tech blogs would be there biggest yearly expense. Moan all you will but most people are out of touch with exact what it takes to make decent news.
And you can't win an argument about ads, you get dragged in front of finance, and if you convince them sales will drag you in front of the board, if you win that you get dragged in front of agencies to justify changes which may effect upcoming campaigns. Its a horrible process and really have to have solid arguments and research, essentially you are risking entire revenue streams, for what in a lot of cases isn't even break even business.
He's got what appears to be a lot of promoted content, thats expensive from a support point of view. I had a guy working under me whose job was literally to make the decision about what story superseeded the next.
The back lash you get from people for having a story up too long or not long enough is amazing. I've been called every name under the sun. Your audience isn't a defined well behaved demographic at all. Its like 4chan discussing politics, just a complete mess always on the attack.
..but at least when thanks comes its usually really good, for example this year I got a hand made Christmas card from the Indonesian Fishing Association for getting a reporter in touch with them. Somehow it made up for a year of insults. It was real touching.
The only real solution, and we worked damned hard with Google on this is indexing getting people to the page directly, forgetting all about overview pages and landing pages.
We ended up constructing a 24 hour social media team. We pushed the news via automation, blood, sweat, and tears to the people. And Google rewarded us, we entered the elite list of news suppliers whom google monitor for breaking stories. It works, it really does, but its hard work. I bet there aren't many people hear who have brought Google employees to an argument with your boss ;)
Anyway he's also under estimating the sheer volume of stories being generated. He's designed a nice blog template, not something that produces several hundred of stories a day over dozens and dozens of subsection. He's hasn't considered the scale, and the unreliability of content. You can do editorial pages like that for major events, but not the daily drab. The real solution to the problem was as noted above social engineering, you need to get people (super nodes) who act as conduits to propagate good stories for you.
The next is the infographics. Again beautiful, I used to kill for decent info graphics coming in. If I wasn't snowed under I'd try and create them myself.
But the reality is graphic designer can't do it, they have huge work loads already, and remember you can't just hire more staff, its break even business. THEN you need a subject matter expert to assembly it and give it to the graphic designer.
Infographics takes time, and its something that Google and Twitter have taken away from news journalists by the creation of an attention economy. You need to break a story immediately or you run the risk of not covering your production costs.
You don't have time to crunch numbers, you are literally scrambling for eyeballs to stay in business. You can do it with editorials fine, and one trick I learnt quick was guest bloggers are GOLD. They often bring a crowd with them, they often have great researched stories, infographics you name it. So it became my goal to build those relationships.
But alas 3 months without weekends, high pressure workload, high pressure targets, unyielding worldwide competition take a toll. So I quit. Theres still an open position for me if I want to return, but I don't think I'm ready just yet ;)
EDIT: I don't mean to be harsh towards Andy. I love his work, and his intellectual exercise into improvement is great. I even forwarded it onto my old team for review.
But what I guess my point is sometimes there a reason why things are crap, and fixing may be a hell of a lot harder the moment you try than you expected.
So don't judge people/teams to harshly, instead offer a hand like Andy has done, sometimes they need it (especially in big media)
Also probably worth mentioning while on the subject all my research and experience added up to designs that are very close to Al Jeezera.
Perhaps I just favor it because it resembles my own thinking but I believe they have one of the best designed news sites out there: http://english.aljazeera.net
Clean, crisp, clear, all gridded up nice and tidy. Handling information overload well.
Being a new kid on the block, no legacy systems or clients to contended with, learning from every one else's mistakes I assume play a huge part in why Al Jeezera looks so good.
If I can remember the worst news site I've seen I'll post it. Its a state level TV station from America somewhere, shocking abuses in design. It was like trying to read at a pocket dictionary from 10 feet away, total text chaos.
One of the best online newspaper designs I've seen recently is the Indian paper The Hindu (http://www.thehindu.com/). While most Indian newspapers will give you eye-cancer just by looking at them (ex: The Times of India, which is one of the oldest newspapers in the country also has one of the most horrible online editions, plastered with spammy ads and horrible layout). The Hindu has always been a bit of a boring (some might call it lack of sensationalism) but it's got an excellent new redesign. (The original design was like a 1995 webpage)
Yep, I'm working on a political community lobby site ATM.
Essentially I am planning on creating a build your laws site. More or less a wiki with better forum support and auditing control.
A major talk back radio station in my country is prepared to support it if I finished it. I also looked after them as my role was looking after the "current affairs" suite, which included radio as well as TV.
But I have to build it myself. I have to many features that using a turn-key solution would be more harmful than helpful, and a wiki isn't really that hard to build. But some of the features I want I have never seen implemented else where so it may be a trial by fire with lots of problems.
I can easily get funding for it because of its ability to be high profile, but a conflict of interest arises taking money. For it to work I need to be able to take a stance against other lobby groups, takings a stand for the community, make the user feel like they are changing the world. And TBH if it can make noise in the talk back crowd then hot topics will probably end getting shunted into politicians faces.
Taking money corporates instantly devalues my only assets however. I'll work that out though, lots of talk still to be done, and I need a web concept up. Current all my work has been at a database level handling versioning, commenting within comments, hierarchy structures and stuff. Designing a living document is quite fun :)
I also own a really decent domain name which I plan to launch political satire off. Basically many journos I know I want an outlet to say things that the eat at them every day. You could say something along the lines of Stephen Colbert but done news/blog style. Thats on my back burner though, I'll get to it when I get to it, which maybe never.
What's your take on the strong emphasis he puts on separation of "news" and "opinion" and whether an editorial team could adequately resolve that? As a reader the distinction seems very artificial. I can see how senior newspaper executives might like his argument about emphasising the volume of "editorial writers ... promoted as exclusive, valuable properties" though.
Editorials and blogs are the same thing. They are opinion pieces, they are not news, they are bias, and often have an agenda. Sometimes they are satire. That isn't news its entertainment.
From a purist point of view the news should be factual and impartial. Editorials fail to impartial most of the time.
You have to choose what side of the fence you sit on, are you the BBC or are you Fox News? are you news or entertainment?
I support editorials because they are usually done by journalists who love there craft and do so on there own time, brings job satisfaction to staff.
It also helps pay for the craft to continue. I'm not so hot on celebrity bloggers though, thats just cheap money grabbing most of the time that can devalue the brand. Subject matter experts like sports stars I'll support, but bringing in some TV star to comment fashion is a joke.
But it works, and you have to take the bad with the good.
And most importantly because I think person X is a moronic jerk doesn't make me correct. It causes debate which is good, a long as debate isn't distraction. Which often happens.
I agree that provocative regular columnists and guest feature writers are the equivalent of bloggers, and his bold use of regular columnists' names is one of the things I like about his design. I guess that my original point was more that the tendency to editorialise in and around news articles themselves is widespread in modern news media (my perceptions being shaped by a UK print media that wears its biases on its sleeve) and the readers seem to demand it; it seems odd for a designer to come along and assert editors ought to separate anything with any semblance of commentary into a distinct section "separated from news" and apparently subordinate (at least in page position) to it.
Personally I don't like seperating them into "news" and "entertainment". I wouldn't ever class an opinion piece as news, however it is possible for an opinion piece to not be entertaining (as in, not try to be) and to actually be a useful aspect of finding out about current events.
I must admit that it was with some amused curiosity that the primary thing removed to make the site cleaner was "ads". That along with opening paragraphs were the two major changes in layout.
It seems that the author thought that his solitary 'subscribe' button would provide enough income to support a large media organisation and make it nicely profitable - all internet commentary to the contrary.
The other thing I took away was from the navigation bar. So what if it's long? If I'm a regular user, I prefer a mildly long navigation bar as long as the items stay in the same place. I can then get to the subsection I want very quickly, without having to wait for some eye-pleasing pretty animation slowly exposing the subs of some higher heading. Obviously this is a highly personal issue, but his 'prettier' version of doing this involved horizontal nested menus that take up a monstrous amount of vertical space. Most of us have widescreens (not tallscreens) on our non-mobile devices - and woe betide those folks using netbooks.
I think you're right - it's a nice layout for a blog, but doesn't really suit a rapidly-changing, info-packed news site.
Obviously he's not a NYT reader. I love the times. It's not broken. Their website is fantastic in every way. You can spend hours upon hours on it and digest more content, in whatever style you wish to navigate. It has a certain unity within the chaos. But it's not really chaos. The content is the layout. You won't find any other News organization who understands design more than NYT. They let the content design the layout, not the other way around.
Andy turned NYT into a Wordpress blog. :|
I'll give him credit for the work though, but I personally think NYT is an exception. But go ahead, every other news website, you have Cart Blanche.
I feel the same. I think the NYT's online page is fantastic - so much so that I pay $16 a month for it. I think they do an excellent job of laying out pages online yet still feeling like a newspaper. I like looking around the page for different stories, just as I would in a newspaper page. It's engaging, and I can't help but scan the whole page, read the headline, check out the picture captions.
When I look at his blog-style page, my eyes just glaze over the headlines.
The NYT App on the iPhone is basically his mobile mockup. And I've found that even on my iPhone, I'd rather look at the proper front page.
Yes. While I think he's right about the top nav, I bristled at his knock on the massive list of sections in the left nav. It allows discovery in the same way a massive Sunday Paper sitting in your lap does. You glance at the headlines for a moment and then decide what you really want to read first.
I agree, and I'll add that Andy's proposed reduction of the front page to a simple series of articles (as in the search interface) is a terrible idea.
He does not understand the value of a long-time reader's experience with parsing text-dense front pages, where headlines give way to subheds, and where reporters' bylines are visible. The whole point of the front page is to tell me what's important at a glance, and they really do a great job at that. It's clear that the editorial team puts a lot of thought into curating the "top half" of the front page, and the "series of articles" approach throws that out.
I don't like the final result, and Rutledge dismisses many of the realities of site design.
I think the existing NYTimes site is among the examplars of good Web news site design. My principle gripe is that there's too much whitespace around the primary content. That's probably a consequence of both a 1920x1080 display (laptop), and highly aggressive ad blocking. (Yeah, yeah. I'll stop blocking ads when advertisers stop being complete fckwits about making annoying ads, and/or when hell freezes over, whichever comes first.)
There are a few valid points Rutlege makes. Many of the navigation elements are little (or never) used by me, including the left and top sidebars.
I want my microcontent.* That means a brief story summary. I have an RSS reader and subscribe to the NY Time site on it. I rarely read it. Why? Because there's no microcontent. For most news stories, the first paragraph is all I need (actually, in all absolute truth, the headline itself is far too much). If I want to read more, that paragraph really helps make the decision to do so. Jacob Nielson's covered this topic very well.
Presenting the content on the homepage, while making for dense page, does make a good jump point. My eye can scan far more quickly than I can click back and forth through pages.
The classic wastes of time for me on the Times are:
- Video content. Really, text tells the story far more quickly most of the time. A video feature can be a benefit (and for some rare stories it's hugely useful), but I _don't_ think it belongs on the homepage.
- The "Talking Heads" features. There's something in how these are set up that frequently makes for a compelling lede, but fails to deliver. The format just doesn't work for me.
- The formulaic three-headlines-per-section on the front page. Some days some sections deserve far more news, and some sections (sorry, but "Dining", "Fashion", and "Automobiles" hold little or no interest) deserve none. To me.
Rutledge has succeeded in vastly simplifying the Times's front page. By removing most of the informational content and utility from it. His design works for mobile (and as he notes, the Times has a good mobile site). It's not a good full-featured site design.
Video content brings in 20x the ad rate of display ads. The news agency I worked for had a "push video for all content" stance because of this, I assume all other news sites have the same stance.
You bring up the biggest argument of them all, I had it every day with the site I was responsible for. I'm a minimalist myself, and the person I reported to was a everything and the kitchen sink guy. We had some heated arguments followed by days of ignoring each other LOL
I hated his approach, but our numbers did suggest many people landed to the front page each morning and read the whole thing. So having a lot of information and links on the page is very important. So assume your behavior validated as normal viewing behavior. Behavior changes through out the day though which sucks LOL
And the most amazing thing was user testing is near useless, the demographics, experiences, behaviors are so vast. Even as noted the time of day has a huge effect on readers.
So no matter what you do you isolate a community, so you compromise and compromise, and produce the most average pile of junk anyone has ever seen. But people understand it, sure they moan, but they get it. Go for the lowest common denominator.
The times uses the motif of a news paper online, I guess because it's contextually people understand. I don't know if by design or accident, but there is a level if usability there because of the fact.
Its messy but its reliable, and sometimes thats what design is about, not a great looking product, but something that does its job.
The lifesaver for me has been the "Remove This Permanently" Firefox plugin (well, that an the Flashblock plugin).
If something's sufficiently annoying, I just find its xpath and remove it.
Does this put me in the top fractional 1% of browsers? I have no doubt. Does this work for me? Yes. Does the 1% bit bother me? Not in the least.
If anything, it's the final trump card in an argument I've had with web-design geeks that the end-user ultimately trumps style.
Video very likely does bring in the money. I can live with that. But so long as I can rip out the offending content, I'm cool with it.
I've also seen some other good/bad paper designs. In the Bay Area, I'm continually amazed at how good the _design_ of the SF Chronicle is (the content's of course gone fully to crap), and how poor that of the San Jose Mercury News (in the capital of Silicon Valley) is. I actually did an analysis of how much (and respectively little) content was presented above the fold in each design.
Sadly each, even in their online incarnation, is becoming increasingly irrelevant and local-focus blogs/news services are emerging.
On the topic -- if you haven't read John Sealy Brown's _Information Rules_, I'd highly recommend his section on the community-binding element of newspapers (and sports teams). It's a strong indictment of micro-targeted / individualized news streams.
The formulaic three-headlines-per-section on the front page. Some days some sections deserve far more news, and some sections (sorry, but "Dining", "Fashion", and "Automobiles" hold little or no interest) deserve none. To me.
That's one of the big arguable weaknesses Andy could have mentioned. If you have a subscription to a newspaper website they ought to be able to algorithmically identify which sections and columnists you read the most and prioritise content from them on the home page. The problem with "visual noise" on headline pages is far more to do with displaying excessive quantities of uninteresting content than lack of white space; Andy's design goes too far the other way in leaving one homepage story above the fold on a typical user's browser.
I sit in the middle of blocking ads - I block flash, but leave images. Animations are distracting, and 'proper' advertising tends to use low levels of animation in their images (by 'proper', I mean that newspaper sites don't tend to have "you are the 1000000th visitor!" animated gifs)
The worse ad culprit I ever saw was an ad on article pages that would wait on a timer that would have you about halfway through the second paragraph... then expand to cover the article text. I can't imagine what kind of fresh marketing graduate thought that that would be a winner.
Also, regarding your comment on microcontent - it's often a necessity in the news world because Subeditor Bob has come up with a wacky headline that sounds witty, but out of context has nothing to do with the article. I'm all for the brief illuminating blurb.
You shouldn't underestimate how much newspapers know about the economics of their inventory. In many ways, ad slots are price discrimination. Companies that want 100% share of voice (ie: no one else gets ads on the page) will pay a premium to get it. A small company may just buy a cheaper ad slot at the bottom of the page. They have thousands of permutations on how they can sell ads, and they will shut off as many slots as necessary to get a premium campaign going.
Indeed. It can be a reinforcing cycle either way. On the one hand, you devalue your ads by taking any offer that comes along, ignoring the effectiveness of ads, and cramming your content with as much ad space as possible. In this mode readers have no value for ads and ad space becomes less and less valuable. On the other hand, if you put a lot of effort into procuring good and relevant ads, if you maintain a high standard for the ads you accept, and if you keep ad space under control then ads can potentially become more and more valuable.
If you come into the problem with the idea that the only way to control ad revenue is by the number of ads on the screen you've already lost, you're playing in the amateur leagues.
It is easy to create a redesign for a website. It is less easy to pivot a billion-dollar business which has the agility of an aircraft carrier while she is sinking. If your answer to that question is "What do we really need the planes for, anyway?" and "I think the conning tower would look much better in teal.", you might find a wee bit of difficulty getting taken seriously.
Exactly. One thing the author conveniently forgot to take into account is the performance of the current site. If you don't have access to actual usage data such as heatmaps, click rates, page browsing times, you are quite likely shooting yourself in the foot just for the sake of beautifying the website.
He could argue that he was consciously only looking at the design aspect and that would also be a mistake. You can't isolate performance and design for a site. And when it comes to business, function takes precedence over beauty.
I was involved in a major redesign of the BBC News Website - when it went form a sigle column approach to the current two-dimensional layout.
What is interesting about Andy's designs is that he's basically taken the current thinking in 'modern' news website design (two dimensions) back to the single column layout. I think this is a fundamental flaw in his design.
People come to a news front page to see the editor's prioritization of the days news agenda. With a single column approach it is very difficult to editorially prioritize stories of similar importance. It works for blogs because they don't have an editorial prioritization as they usually sort by chronological order.
Two-dimensional layouts, like NY Times and BBC, allow for editors to give several articles (perhaps a politics story, a business story and a sport story) equal visual importance. If you have a mainstream appeal you need to be able to give different audiences something of relevance.
The final result looks nice, but I hate these exercises, because if you are not fitting the same number of ads in the page, then you are not actually solving the same problem. You are solving a much easier problem, as almost all sites look better without ads.
Also, there's a major divide between what people seem to think looks nice and what seems to succeed. The Huffington Post is the biggest example of recent success in the news realm. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/
Is that despite of its design or because of it? I don't know. It's hard to separate out the effect of the editorial content from presentation.
Andy's redesign is a disaster for various reasons stated by others, but this is possibly the most important and underlying reason for its failure: The existing design visually demonstrates that 'there's a lot going on here'. His does not.
He failed to communicate the good type of busyness in his re-imagining -- the redesign makes the site look like a five-articles-a-day blog.
Exactly. nytimes.com gives the visual impression of being dense with fresh content and that's what keeps news junkies coming back for more.
His redesign not only lacks compelling visuals (huffingtonpost.com wins that category, sorry but tabloid style is here to stay) but also advertising: still a necessary evil, got to make room for the ads.
As one of the designers of a major news organization redesign, it's very nice to do a pretty page but to honestly think you can get away with no ads is a not only a losing battle but one that doesn't take the needs of the client seriously.
I also like how the NYT's website looks like a newspaper with a variety of content. The redesign looks like a Wordpress template.
>The Times politics page. I think the object of the game must be to fit as much “content” onto the page as possible in an effort to overwhelm the reader, tricking them into believing that the NY Times is just bursting with a mindbogglingly-bottomless array of important information. If only the reader could learn to ignore 60% of what’s here, she might have a chance at a pleasant experience. Please stop helping. What you’ve got here is not content, but noise.
You can't get a good coverage of world events in the number of items that Rutledge wants. The world is noisy, and what Rutledge is suggesting vastly oversimplifies. I'm sure it would convert wonderfully, raise ad revenue, all that. It wouldn't be good journalism. Even if the NYT is full of pointless noise, it's still better than a handful of painstakingly crafted articles. A handful of pretty, well-formed articles cannot accurately reflect a disordered world. If the NYT isn't noisy it's not doing its job.
so, remove the ads... and replace them with infographics?
forgive me for being crass but this whole post seems naive. don't get me wrong, it's pretty; but we're talking about the new york times. i think this is more accurately "andy rutledge redesigns nyt for andy rutledge". which is fine, but not at all the same thing.
"broken news" is a big claim. i'm not sure a sleek blog theme is going to fix it.
I really think this looks amazing. It would likely function amazingly well, too.
However, for this to work, you have to eliminate the space for ads. To deal with this, Rutledge suggests "Quality news is subscription only. You pay for valuable information. Fluff you get for free."
I somehow don't think it's that simple.
If you slam the digital door shut (much more than it is now at the Times), and only allow subscriber access, you'll do two things:
(1) vastly reduce your readership; if you want to go back to showing ads, you can't, because you no longer can brag about the vast numbers reading your website daily
(2) create a hyper-focused pirating scheme around disseminating NYTimes content for free
I love news. I love good reporting. When I'm no longer a student, I'll pay to get the Times at home. BUT, we've got a serious problem here; this design, while well thought-out, fails to acknowledge that it can't exist (eliminating ads) without changing the industry (changing readership drastically).
As a total noob in comparison to most readers of HN, I have to totally agree with this sentiment--not that it's a noob idea but I feel like there are very skilled and brilliant people here that want to show the world their amazing talents and sometimes lose sight of things. It reminds me of what I always see on that show with Chef Gordon Ramsey where he's always telling these hot shot Chefs to stop being so cocky with their creations and that simple is often better; no one wants a 58 flavour chocolate creme brulee steak muffin.
Better is Better, but again I think we have to remember, that it's all subjective.
The problem with such a post is that it violates the first principle of user centered design. Talk to your users. Did anyone tell him that NYT is broken? Did he go and ask a single user who goes to NYT everyday to figure out what his problems are? Or saw him use the site.
It's easy to re-design something from outside in. It's much harder to design it inside out when you have a more complete picture of what users are doing and have a rough idea of what they want.
The design has its moments but I actually like NYT. The only thing I would like more is fixed dimensions for items on the front page, maybe 2 column layout with both sides perfectly aligned per item. The draw of newspaper sites is both the quality content within articles but the curation of articles themselves so having everything in uniform lists is too confusing. Additions I wouldn't mind are most tweeted or tweeted by your friends type social media integration.
If design was the only thing killing the newspaper industry their problems would be solved.
I think Andy's design is very stylish and presents the content in a tasteful way. I have no significant qualms about his design in any way.
When he goes into business territory, however, he loses his shit. This is the money quote:
"Since news is accessed only via subscription, most of the ads can be eliminated from the pages. Story pages could still have one or two tastefully-presented ads, but preservation of the content is what will keep readers happy, engaged, and willing to continue paying their subscriptions…just like in olden times."
People didn't pay for news in the olden times. They paid for printing and distribution, and then the advertisement covered the rest, with some tiny variations on that theme. Not significantly different from today.
If you were to make the content subscription only, and some publications have tried this recently, you'd lose 90% of your readers. That means also losing 90% of your ad revenue. Now the remaining 10% of your readers need to make up for that loss. That makes it a rather expensive subscription, losing a lot more subscribers, and around it goes, the vicious circle.
That doesn't mean digital news isn't horribly broken, it is. Just that making it subscription only isn't the solution.
Andy's designs look beautiful, but I'm reminded of the old saying: "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy".
I'm afraid that if you take his designs as a starting point, and revise them based on the needs of the NYTimes and the expectations of its millions of visitors, they would require a large number of changes and would more closely resemble the current NYTimes.com
The one thing I dislike (on the main page at least) is the separation of news and opinion/analysis. I can't think of many times where I've visited a news site and wanted to read only opinion or only news, but I can think of times where I've visited a site to read about a particular story - and read related articles that happen to be opinions/analysis.
I suspect that while this is a reasonable and logical redesign, it misses out on some non-rational behavior of the majority of people who read news. I know that, non rationally, I quite like a bit of "jumble" from my newspapers and news sites so I can just "wander" around from thing to thing for a while. The redesign showed here turns it more into a blog and I think I'd have trouble wandering around it.. I'd need to know what I was looking for.
I dislike the Daily Mail but I know their site is almost entirely driven by numbers and what catches on (and what doesn't): http://www.dailymail.co.uk/ - it has a certain formula to it but it still has an element of randomness and chaos because, I suspect, that's what readers are going for, whether we like it or not.
Andy is a talented designer, but his style shows through a bit too strongly here. He knows how to utilize whitespace to create an aesthetically pleasing visual flow, but I don't think he pays enough respect the essence of a newspaper—namely density of information.
To me it is incredibly important that an abstract is presented up front before I click through to the article. For other news sites (like CNN) that are more about breaking news and less about well written and researched journalism - just the headline is fine (because chances are the article won't say much more than the headline).
NYT's strength is that it is a professional journalistic organization and thus taking words _off_ the page would only serve to betray the value that the NYT offers.
I think the object of the game must be to fit as much “content” onto the page as possible in an effort to overwhelm the reader, tricking them into believing that the NY Times is just bursting with a mindbogglingly-bottomless array of important information.
That's just what paper newspapers look like. I don't think that's an accident, either.
A few years ago, I laid out head-to-head comparisons of the top newspapers in the US with and without adblock and noscript. NYTimes, on a screen, is easily the best newspaper. Unfortunately, the pressure of jamming more and more links and stories above the fold seems to have eroded the NYTimes usability.
We should do a poll too: I think a lot of netizens would support NYTimes to the same degree they do NPR, but I don't think the average netizen donates $260 to NPR annually (the price NYTimes is asking for their tablet app).
This is in the vein of just about every 'xx person redesigns yy site'. The elaborate comments from others have done a better job than I could of laying out the details. I don't know why people insist on publishing articles such as these. Oddly, as in in this case, often they end up with a pleasant, but rather common looking, design which is blissfully unaware of all the different constraints and special issues that guided creation of the original.
The conclusion of this article is a rather bland design, in my opinion, which looks like 50 other sites out there and has no space for ads. Hardly worth the wall of text created to herald it.
While we're on the subject, I recently did a news site design myself, even though it's not my main area of expertise (I'm more of a UI designer). I can attest that news sites are probably among the hardest sites to design, since there are so many parameters (and yes, ad units are very important!).
Anyway, I'd love to get some feedback on the design:
"If you’re using an app to deliver content, you’re doing it wrong."
He's completely wrong about this. I love the NYT Android app. I can start it at home, while I have decent coverage, and am then able to read the paper any where I am throughout the day, including the subway, because it caches every story on sections you open, even if you don't open those stories. It's one of my favorite Android apps because of this.
"I’m purposefully not identifying this person or the project or providing a link back to the redesign itself, mostly because I think it’s counter-productive to continue to reward this effort with more unwarranted attention. To me, it felt less like constructive criticism than link-baiting, and so I have tried to avoid making any public comment."
Anyone else see the irony in the fact that the very bottom of Rutledge's web page where this article is found is improperly formatted on the iPhone (background color not extended far enough to the right to cover all offered links). Petty? Yes, but if you're going to blast away at NYT, you better make sure your house is in order.
"Since news is accessed only via subscription, most of the ads can be eliminated from the pages. Story pages could still have one or two tastefully-presented ads, but preservation of the content is what will keep readers happy, engaged, and willing to continue paying their subscriptions…just like in olden times."
Rutledge hasn't apparently visited the NYT often and maybe hasn't picked up a newspaper in awhile.
1. Not all of the NYT's traffic is through subscribers: it lets the average user access at least 20 articles a month, and its "paywall" is very permeable.
2. Even when you pay full price for an issue at the stand, that newspaper still comes with ads. Subscriptions have not accounted for the entirety of newspapers and magazines revenues in a while...