Fri 29 Sep
As of yesterday morning, there’s a new NYPost.com, and I like it a lot. It’s miles away from what we do at NYTimes.com, and it’s not exactly my taste in terms of graphic design, but its unabashed appropriateness and surprising sense of wit is kind of irresistible.
Then again, this is just me talking. A few people with whom I’ve expressed my enthusiasm about this site aren’t quite as enamored of it as I am. Like my good friend Liz Danzico, Director of User Experience Strategy at AIGA and editor of the information architecture magazine Boxes & Arrows, for one. Her reaction to my endorsement of the site was, “REALLY?” — all caps and everything.
We started arguing about it a bit over instant messenger during the workday, trading increasingly heated appraisals and criticisms. And then it struck me that the exchange might actually make for an interesting debate in blog form, sort of like a roundtable discussion except, er, without the table and with just two people. So we decided to move the conversation to email, where we could fully articulate our responses, and we volleyed messages back and forth during the afternoon and early evening in pretty much exactly the form I’m publishing here. I think you’ll get a kick out of it, too; and let me know which of us you think is right on and which is totally off-base.
One of my designers showed me the new NYPost.com first thing this morning, and my immediate reaction was, “This is great!” It’s different from what we’re doing at NYTimes.com, but I like it anyway, because I think so much online news design blurs together. This one definitely stands out; it’s memorable and friendly and a bit salacious, which is perfect for what I think I expect when I pick up a copy of The New York Post.
Really? I completely disagree! My first reaction was to close the browser — it seemed busy, buggy, and just plain disorganized. I agree that the Post should be a balance between approachable and devious, but not in this way. The homepage still hasn’t loaded properly five minutes later.
What makes it stand out for you? To me, it doesn’t seem that they’re doing anything different from, say, ESPN.com.
Wait, earlier when we talked, I thought that you said it should look more like ESPN.com…? In either case, while I imagine sports is a big part of the Post’s business, I don’t think the high tech, dashboard-style visual design of a site like ESPN.com is exactly the right way to describe this design, or the right prescription for fixing it.
What I like about it is the bold, unapologetic use of the newspaper metaphor — as in, the Web page evokes the look of an actual issue of the newspaper — which is much cleverer than most online uses of newspaper metaphors. The most prominent example is how they manage to pull off that big, torn-edge navigation bar very successfully; it’s highly evocative of their brand while being usable at the same time. It has a feeling of a provocative tabloid without feeling as if the content is trapped within the conceits of print design practices.
The graphics and typography, while not my exactly taste, are big and bold. It’s just a very emphatic statement that doesn’t go completely overboard. And it’s done with wit, which is something you don’t see often in Web design, especially for news sites.
No, no, no. I said they seem to be trying to be like ESPN.com, but are just not pulling it off. It’s the standard feature-subfeature- subfeature-with-supporting articles-below-and-ads-on-the-right template. The Post’s approach, to me, doesn’t stand out as being different at all. Radar Magazine, in fact, is a better New York Post than NYPost.com even though they’re using that same format.
And torn edges don’t seem to suggest brand attributes, rather they just suggest a format. And this, being online and all, is a different format. So, although the torn edges work perhaps as a decoration, I’m not sure they’re important to the brand.
As for the type, big and bold is nice sometimes, even welcome, but why so many different styles? The section modules on the homepage have five type treatments — five — and there are only ten lines of text. I’m all for using typography for emphasis, but only when it has a clear purpose. And not only do these not have a purpose, it’s impossible to distinguish which ones are links and which are just text.
(The homepage finally loaded, by the way.)
I’m not saying that the torn-paper edge is a brand attribute, but rather that it’s evocative of the brand. Looking at NYPost.com isn’t like looking at the front of the newspaper itself, but it does look like a sensible translation of the newspaper into another medium.
There’s probably an overabundance of typefaces, that’s true. Let’s be frank, though; the Post is never going to be a paragon of typographic restraint. But who cares? It would be completely inappropriate of them to typeset this site as if they were going for a Type Director’s Club honor. What they’ve done here instead is something that makes a lot of sense for who they are and who their readers are and how they consume the news.
As for what you describe as a kind of unimaginative way of presenting features, sub-features and ads, I’m not sure it’s fair to ask the Post to develop a completely innovative presentation of the news. Their approach is similar to what we do at NYTimes.com, and I’m not embarrassed by it at all.
This arrangement of stories and ads is a product of the fairly restrictive set of editorial and business constraints governing every news site’s front page. Maybe my experience with NYTimes.com makes me more sympathetic to NYPost.com’s approach to the problems than I should be, but I think they’ve done a very respectable job of not making the page a jumble.
I’ll probably get dinged at work for saying this, but in some ways, this page is easier to comprehend than what we’ve got. I’ll take issue with their journalistic content of course (much of it I really dislike), and I still think we’ve got the better news operation and Web site (by far!), but this does the job. It’s very different from what we do, which I think is completely okay because it’s done very well.
I agree that there are some technical glitches on this, their first day out, but I don’t think they’re deal-breakers. They’ll get fixed. I hope.
I’m certainly not asking them to win awards for typography. But what I do require is simply a clear sense of how to get around. Headlines are clickable in one area, not clickable in others. Sometimes I click “More” for detail; other times for more of the same. Traverse down a level or two and a whole new visual language is revealed. I’m not asking for much, just a little help knowing how to get around.
And, OK. Perhaps the torn-edges and drop shadows evoke a sense of the paper’s legacy. I’ll give you that. But that’s not what the Post is known for. Every New Yorker knows about the staunch competition between the Post’s and the Daily News’ headlines where they try to out-sensationalize the other with provocative headlines. That’s the brand attribute that I want to see; that and Page Six make the paper what it is. I’m not sure why, but even with the large point size of the header, it doesn’t seem as central to the design as I would have imagined it to be.
To the homepage’s credit, there is an elegant hierarchy in the modules at the bottom of the page. They communicate a clear direction, I know what to click on, I know how to interpret the information. With little exception, what falls between the navigation at the top and the bottom of the page seems without order or reason.
And, yes, with all due respect, this page makes it easier to choose content from the homepage than the NYTimes.com. The sheer amount of choice on NYTime.com’s homepage makes it so. But, I would argue, that extent of choice is evocative of that brand. So I’m okay with it.
Regarding the sensationalism, I think it’s there. It feels big to me. I can see how you’d like to see the headlines even louder, more exuberant, and in that I think the designers can maybe ratchet up the shock value a bit to better match what’s done in the paper. The page turning animation in the main news/feature hole seems to set the stage for that, though; it has an absurdist quality to it that seems over-the-top, yet it’s fleeting enough to also feel entirely appropriate — plus it’s fun. It’s not something I ever would have thought could work, but here it’s a winner.
There are some confused usability issues, you’re right. It can use a bit of a brush up in terms of visual logic. I agree I’d definitely like to see a much more predictable schema for understanding what’s a link and what’s not. But I wouldn’t re-engineer very much at all. It’s not perfect, but as a whole I think it comes off very well, and if they continue to tweak it, I think it’s a solid foundation for a lot more of those insane headlines that I totally disapprove of.
You know, I wonder if that was intentional — meaning that the shock value that, in the newspaper, manifests itself in editorial strategy (e.g., headlines) is here manifesting itself in interaction design (e.g., absurd, but compelling, page-turning animations). If that was the intention, then I can really only just respect them for that. It’s a real challenge, I would imagine, to think of new ways to sensationalize news, and I believe they have done it to some extent. As you say: despite its clear — yet surmountable — usability issues, it seems likely to be a winner.
That’s pretty much exactly what I mean!