(Another) Reflection point: Patterns, IA, and Flows
Back in the 90s — before Lance Armstrong ruined everything — I was really into bike racing. For some reason, this Asian-American kid from the suburbs was obsessively fascinated by a distinctly European sport and was even able to pronounce the names of famous (and not so famous) professional cyclists and the races in which they competed in: Joop Zoetemelk, Gent–Wevelgem, etc.
This was well before cycling had any cool factor and before NBC sports covered any races on TV…even before I knew what a website was. I had to dig really hard to find any news about professional cycling in Europe. My most reliable source was a magazine called Velonews. I remember scouring the pages for any bits of information I could find to impress my cycling friends.
For some reason — many years and many pounds later — I still follow professional cycling. I have long since given up bike racing, but I still enjoy following the current generation of professional cyclists…and Velonews is still my main source of information, although now there are many other places to get the latest news. Fortunately, velonews has a website now and I still check it every morning.
Until recently, I have relied on the desktop site, but in recent years, I prefer to access Velonews via the mobile site on my phone. I believe the mobile site is actually much superior to the full site for a few reasons, which I will discuss later.
The desktop site is fairly conventional in terms of its information architecture. Across the top of the page from left to right are the logo (a link back to the homepage); the main information categories (News, Races, Gear, Training, & Watch/Listen/Read); a link to sign up for the magazine subscription; search; and social media links. With the exception of search and social media, the links are all text which makes them very clear, but they are small and unobtrusive allowing the news feed to dominate my attention. This is what I came here for.
The news feed occupies a double wide column in the center of the page, and is flanked by a column on the left which filters the news content by various categories (i.e. latest, most read, gear, & race reports), and a column on the right which for some reason has another thumbnail story preview and a banner ad. I do not really understand the purpose of the filtering column on the right as it usually just mirrors the content in the news feed but without any images. The filtering does not seem to be terribly useful as the latest story is usually the same as the most read.
As I mentioned, I prefer the mobile version now…mostly for sheer convenience, but I also like the simplified layout which works for the way I consume the news. I just want the latest information about a particular race which is usually right at the top of the feed, or a short scroll down. If not, filtering and navigation buttons (again, supported by text for clarity) allow me to get to the stories I want quickly.
At the top of the mobile screen there is a Subscribe call-to action-button. The hard copy version of Velonews has many more features not found on the website. In this case, subscribing to the magazine acts in much the same way as creating an account online: it’s a way of gathering information (and money) from subscribers by offering exclusivity.
At the bottom of the mobile screen, there is another search bar — this time an actual bar as opposed to just a magnifying glass icon at the top — along with another call-to-action Subscribe button and a newsletter sign-up to collect email addresses. The search bar at the bottom is not a design pattern I think I have seen very often, but I suppose it makes logical sense for someone who has scrolled down the whole feed without finding a story that they are looking for.
As one scrolls down the news feed, past the first five or six latest stories, the posts are categorized in a few different ways based on the type of content: Commentaries, Galleries, Videos, and Shows. Because space is limited on the screen, only the most recent four or five posts will appear under each content category. Fortunately, I have the option to View All, a button that will take me to a new page with all instances of a particular content category.
Finding my way back is made possible with the breadcrumb trail just below the banner ad. The headline All Gallery: Page 1 confirms what I am looking at and suggests that there might be multiple pages of content to follow.
If there are multiple screens, there will be a list of page numbers at the bottom of each screen allowing the user to skip ahead or return back to a page.
The Velonews.com mobile site works well for me because it is simple in layout and easy to learn how to navigate. It gives me what I want — the latest stories — right at the top, just like any news feed should, but lets me browse by content category or through text search. This simplicity, in my opinion, makes the mobile site a better experience than the desktop site.
I think my bike racing days are well behind me, but for some reason I will keep coming back to Velonews to live vicariously through the latest cycling news. I look forward to the day when the Go Pro footage in the video section becomes an immersive VR experience! Then I will be able to be in the race without spilling my beer.