New York Times' new website design: an early appraisal
The New York Times is currently redesigning its website and trialling a new layout, offering a preview of the first phase of the project which focuses on the "look and feel of articles". We asked a few editorial designers to assess how the NYT's new look is shaping up…
But before we look at the new design, here's a quick look at how a story looks on the current version of the site:
And here's how an article viewed on the new site (you can see more online here) will look:
It's clear to see that the new design approach minimises the previous clutter, with main stories clickable across the top of the page with a "sections" button top left offering the chance to navigate to different sections of the paper:
"I'm really impressed by the demo, it's the latest in a number of projects pushing towards a calmer, more reflective online reading experience," says regular CR contributor Jeremy Leslie of magculture.com. "Matter, Aeon (a client of mine) and others are looking to provide an elegant reading environment: less interuption but with neccesary elements (commenting, ads, sharing etc) appearing as required rather than jumping at you," he continues. "Taking advantage of the retina resolution, they are typographically fine-tuned and are built and designed to take longform content and make it legible and accessible across multiple devices."
Leslie hints that this approach is now the way forward for newspapers' online offerings. "Not so long ago all the 'broadsheet' newspaper websites looked the same," he says, "sporting system fonts, familair grids, common design tics. The Guardian, for instance, was very influential when it relaunched years back (it's taxonomy etc) and other UK papers followed. It now looks very dated, as this latest NYT demo establishes."
"The big decisionn seems to be to streamline the reading experience," says Mark Porter, principal at Mark Porter Associates who worked on the editorial design of the Guardian newspaper and also its iPad app. "The article pages look as if they will have a lot more space, and a lot of the clutter will be hidden away until activated," he observes. "In most editorial websites the content on the article pages is swamped by navigation, links, promos and marketing material, which makes it hard work getting to the story, and after all, that's what you came for.
"The NYT appears to be taking a lead from the kind of design we're seeing on touch-screen tablets and smartphones, making the content the hero, and trusting the reader be smart enough to invoke the naviagtion, comments and links when they want them," adds Porter. "This also unlocks the possiblity of making the site much more responsive, and a better expereince on a wide range of devices.
"On this showing, it promises to be pretty revolutionary. In recent years, the New York Times has been one of the densest and most cluttered editorial sites on the web; but if they get this right they will become one of the cleanest and most usable."
Above: a small speech bubble and counter top right of an article's page can be clicked to open a side panel revealing comments actually alongside the article
Jon Hill, design editor at The Times is also positive about how the NYT's online articles are looking in the proposed redesign. "For a while now we've seen websites care more about typography, grids and layout – for want of a better word," he told CR. "The early indications are that the NYT site will adopt their elegant and recognisable palette of typefaces and page furniture from the print edition and bring them to their website," he continues.
"This has to be a good thing for the reader and commercially as I think it stacks up to be a more valuable product, and not just another news site."
This longer section of a news story shows how links to related content can be neatly flagged up alongside a story, and also how image captions too appear to the right of the main text and image column
Hill is also impressed with the thinking behind the redesign approach: "Editorial design aside, I think the most exciting developments here are ideas like the navigation changing depending on what you're reading and if you're logged in. For me, some of the most exciting aspects of digital editorial design is thinking about the conditions in which the reader is looking at your site / app. For example, can you give them related stories or updated stories because you know they've logged in previously and read these subjects. Or can you provide an abbreviated version of a story because you can tell they're reading on a smartphone.
"The NYT site seems to be taking all of these ideas on board and, like any big site redesign, is thinking about creating responsive systems so the site works well across all devices and screen sizes.
"The most mind bending part of all of this for editorial designers is the idea that wysiwyg is dead," Hill suggests. "The most sophisticated sites, particularly sites that contain lots of editorial components, like NYT.com, have to be built around the principles of responsive and fluid layouts. Hats off to the New York Times, they seem to be making some intelligent moves in this direction."
Explore the NYT's proposed redesign of its site at nytimes.com/marketing/prototype.
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It is interesting to see the investment in design that the NY Times is making. With this new layout and articles like 'snowfall', editorial design online is moving in the right direction. I do wonder if this is a direct relation to the website moving behind a pay-wall? (ignoring the free 10 articles you get per month). The new design looks instantly better from not having external advertisements (as opposed to the tacky Starbucks ad in the existing layout).
To think the NYT will not have advertising on it's new pages is very naive Jamie
Tom, I didn't mean it to sound like that, as I know it will do. Was highlighting that they are using the ads to make the new design significantly better than the old one, by not including them.
I am not sure what level of research and UX understanding went into this design for the New York Times, however, it looks pretty bland to us. The beauty of taking a printed platform digital is that we may benefit from what print can not provide us, a level of engagement that is becoming expected. Initial reviews of the designs at http://www.nytimes.com/marketing/prototype/ appear disjointed and basic. Nothing particularly mind blowing here, have we missed something here?
I agree, doesn't do a ton for me. Looks like a pretty basic blog format and not up to the standards of the prestigious NYT...
Taking Tom's point above about less ads contributing to improved layout (there is still an MPU but it's conveniently a nice Times' fashion ad) and the comment that "less interuption but with neccesary elements (commenting, ads, sharing etc) appearing as required rather than jumping at you"
-- is part of the redesign to have less ads or (and this sounds counter-intuitive) ads appearing "as required"?
Very dull and overdone.
The insides of paperback books are dull, basic, bland etc. but they function really well so you can understand the content and end up being engaged.
Trying to judge this without interacting with it and understanding how it functions seems a bit premature to me – It might be absolutely lovely to use.
The new design doesn't necessarily need to be reinventing the wheel, it at the most minimal needed to provide a better reading experience and I think it does this. It does now encourage uninterrupted reading (even with advertising) and this was what was missing and what is key.. the columns were in a dated format and now no longer are, sometimes that's enough to succeed in a project, which I think it does.
The New York Times site has been looking slightly dated and very cramped for a few years now, so not surprised a re-design is on the horizon. More legible text, spacious layout and an easier navigation should help, its a nice step forward.
For me isn't necessary to have a huge impact of visitor, but however new look is also a big points for visitors, additionally when your changes is easily for them to navigate.
I think the new design works really well, understandably it might be a bit of a shock to those used to the 'clutter' of the previous design but i genuinely think it works incredibly well. Simple, clean and fresh often works the best.
I kind of like the website, it looks smooth on the iPad.
Like a lot of redesigns my first impression was low, (I don't like change! :)) but I like it now, in fact, love it is a better phrase, if not overused.
I'm a web designer and developer and I also think this redesign is very drab. It will unfortunately out-date itself very quickly too. You need a specialist user interface developer to come up with a great design.
The overall design is right up with the current trends and useful for reading on an iPad, mobile or other tablet device. However, they may have missed a trick or two with no Sticky Navigation/Menu Bar or Content Blocks, instead relying on the 'old style' drop-down menus. As others have commented above it will age and look old very quickly, specially with the changes and trends in most web design agency pipelines.
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