1. El País
I remember from my design class I took last year at KSU that my teacher said Swiss design was the pinnacle of design. It's simple, easy to use and functional. She specifically used the phrase, "form follows function," to describe it. Many times, Americans discount ideas, including designs, from foreign countries because they present a different way of thinking apart from the American mindset of how we usually think about design. Looking outside of one's country for design ideas can yield a great reward for those looking to think outside the box.
1. El País
El País is a Spanish global newspaper as you can see with the different options at the top for news in Spain, America, Brazil and Catalonia. When I studied abroad in Spain, El País was my go to news source. However, I had to be careful with how to take its reporting because it is known as the liberal newspaper in Spain. The design of the site is visually pleasing. There are two feature stories, one of them being a video. The text is easy to read and the contents bar isn't overcrowded. I do not like the ad at the top of the page, but I guess it's inevitable because that's what pays for the site. I also like how they integrated the thin panel at the right and fit three things in it—an opinion piece, the weather and "temas del día" or subjects of the day, that each have a place there. It also has a nice logo that transfers, like most sites, from page to page.
For international news, I also like to go to the British Broadcasting Company. Their layout usually consists of thumbnail videos and when clicked, a linked article appears. The layout of this BBC page I believe isn't all that appealing because a few paragraphs of the story appear on the home page. I can scan through it easily, but I'm not a big fan. I do like the two content bars at the top because they break up all the content the BBC offers. It has a recognizable logo and the homepage has many options for access to different articles or pathway pages.
Al Jazeera.net is one of the newspaper's popular in the Arab world with a very successful English affiliate. Most of the site is rag-right because you read arabic right to left. Overall, I feel this site looks a bit unprofessional for a major news site; however, it is not in my language so I do have some bias when critiquing it. I like that blue headline bar across the page with the photos because it stands out. I also like the social media icons on the right because it shows all the places online Al-Jazeera can be accessed; however, I do think they could be integrated into the site better. I don't like the advertisements on the right, but American sites had them on the left, so reading the site this way could be normal for an Arabic-speaking audience.
Still on the topic of homepage design, I would like to share some examples of pages of local news sites that I think have a great homepage design. Local news sites in bigger cities tend to have the money to support better web designs and a better CMS because they reach a larger population, and therefore, probably get more money because they have more sources of ad revenue and more subscribers.
First, let's start in Ohio. I know before I said most of the local sites aren't sexy, but I think the Columbus Dispatch, the daily newspaper of Ohio's capital does it right.
The Dispatch, where I worked as an intern over the summer, has a very clean layout. It has lots of white space and there's plenty of information "above the fold" for visitors to scan. Interestingly enough, the Dispatch's "latest headlines" bar is on the left side instead of on the right how most newspapers do it. Their content is relevant with a story about the State of the Union as the featured story. One aspect that I find visually pleasing on the site is that it's not afraid to use color. I like the colorful tabs at the top as well as the colorful carrots to indicate difference stories in the latest updates tab. I also like that the "hot links" are at the top to give the visitor more of a chance to visit different pages on the site.
The New York Times is known for its texty pages, but I believe its home page is anything but that. I swear every website I looked at to wrote this post had the same picture of Obama. Again, the white space on this site is nice. I can easily navigate it. I especially like the NYT's content bar at the top of the page. It's easy to read for a paper its size and includes many quick options for the reader to click on and scan over easily.
The Washington Post used a different way to report on the State of the Union address by putting a video on its homepage, which I like. I also like that the "In the News" bar is prominent and includes phrases of no more than three words. However, I do not like the content bar at the way top of the page. I feel like it gets lost. If I want to go to the Entertainment section, I would have to think about where to go for it instead of see and it automatically quickly click on it. I believe in this case, the Post owned their cover story since they are the principle voice in news in Washington D.C.
Are national news sites the peak of design in web news design? Not quite.
Although national news sites have more money and can therefore afford a better CMS and better layout software, the designs of their home pages aren't the best. However, they have more aspects that I like, which i will review.
I started with the one I like the best. CNN usually has great photos to back up its (mostly) solid reporting, which makes the site even more reader friendly. I like the size of the feature story and that the viewer can change what the feature story is by sliding though the thumbnails below the feature image. I like that stories are simply labeled and that despite lots of information being on the homepage, there is still white space and a simplicity to it. I also like the "Latest" sidebar next to the feature image. The headlines are short and to the point, and there is enough stories showing to digest their headlines all at once and decide which ones you, as the reader, want to click on. I hate when so many story headlines show up in a news sites' latest updates bar on its home page because usually the headlines are too long and there are too many. I also like that at the top, there are many options to leave the homepage and take you to a specific area of the site. Most news sites have pages that are clearly marked with these types of headings.
With USAToday.com, I again like the large feature story. I also like that visitors can use the arrows on the sites of the site to scroll to different pages. The visuals, again, are what sells this site. I like that USA Today also has the blue sidebar on the left with quick links to take visitors to certain parts of the site that are popular. I think it's smart that they have a what's trending, called"Right Now," sidebar on the right that gives readers a sense of what people are talking about. I don't like the site's color scheme. I knew USA today is known for its logo that reflects it's color scheme, but black and blue remind me of a bruise.
3. NBCNews. com
This is quite aesthetically pleasing. There are three feature images and and six large headline that balance out the page. There is white space as well. I think one thing I specifically like about NBC News' site is that they have an "ONGOING" bar in with the site's name is to show that the site is still following trending stories. I also like that stories with videos have a certain flag next to the headline and that each story is categorized in an organizational fashion.
I've noticed that national news sites tend to use more photos, have stronger and catchier headlines or story teases, have image heavy feature stories and a have pages that are easy to navigate to get to specific parts of the site. While the local examples I looked at in my previous post had social media buttons on the top of the site, national sites did not, which seemed peculiar to me. Each national news site had a section for videos, which helps support the claim that visuals sell news websites (just like print!).
Another thing I did notice was that broadcast news sites like CNN and NBC had more pleasing layouts than print news sites. Do web designers for a print publication need to be more broadcast centered? Do they need to look to broadcast news sites to design a site that readers will want to search though. I don't believe that is the case, as some further examples I have in mind will show.
Why I think looks matter
On the web, looks matter.
The way a post looks or even a thumbnail image used to represent the post can grow or shrink your audience. The layout websites use can be a deterring or welcoming factor. If a page is cluttered and unorganized, chances are viewers won't spend much time on the site as a whole. If a page has absolutely no photos, the site's appeal wanes. This goes for all websites, especially those in charge of making news stories appealing.
Let's take screenshots of the home pages of three local newspaper's online affiliates: The Plain Dealer, Akron Beacon Journal and The Ravenna Record Courier.
The viewer sees fives photos, minimal text and lots of white space when first stumbling onto this website. To me, it's not a bad layout. However, it doesn't have a strong hierarchy to distinguish which stories are featured. The picture of the chicken wings is only slightly bigger than the larger thumbnail images. However, I do like that they have relevant stories at the top with photos that people will recognize. I also know that white space is a good tool, but I think there is too much of it here. I would have maybe liked to see a Twitter feed or some type of social media link when seeing the homepage so that I know what type of following the site has
Holy text! The Akron Beacon Journal's site suffers from the opposite problems as The Plain Dealer's: text overload. When I approach a site, I do not want to read the whole story. I think the most effective layouts are image heavy with teaser text. That's literally all Buzzfeed is. From an editorial standpoint, I think the headline is way too long. I feel as though the home page is also for sneak peaks. This gives you the full story. Also, it is Martin Luther King, Jr. day, and no where does it mention that. I'm glad both the PD and Beacon change the layout of their sites daily because this wouldn't work for your daily news cycle.
This site is very advertisement heavy, which I don't like. It screams to me that they need all the ad money they can get to stay afloat. This might be the case, but why would they advertise that? Although the Record-Courier's site is mostly hyperlocal, I don't mind it. Where there aren't ads, there is a nice amount of white space. The feature image could be bigger, but at least these a sense of hierarchy. The small thumbnail images could also be bigger, but at least they are there. The editor's picks isn't too cluttered.
I know my critique may have been harsh on these sites, but it is only because I am used to coming to their individual story pages for information and usually the homepage of bigger, national news outlets when I want to get a feel for what's happening nationally and internationally. Are you the same way? Let me know. In the next post, I'll look at national news sites home pages and compare them to Northeast Ohio's online news sources.