Analyzing Design — News Websites

As my first assignment I’m reviewing various online news outlet websites and critiquing which sites I find to be well designed or poorly designed, or possibly a bit of each. I’ll base my assessment on how well I can navagate and absorb their content, as well as the experience of each.

The Guardian|
Beautiful visual organization that helps the viewer navigate with frequent focus cues and luscious white space to reduce overwhelm.

A beautiful open grid. I appreciate the way they change the feature boxes from single column to multiple columns, and variable heights. It gives visual weight to the importance of the stories and helps me decide which stories are likely the ones to read first. They include shading around the features (also varied in color and shade), giving additional cues on where to focus first, and drawing distinctions between the stories and category types. The entire left column is almost entirely open, except for the category and weather at the top, giving much needed breathing room. At first glance at homepage, there are only a few top level stories visible and advertising is inserted in a top bar, making sure you notice without being overly obtrusive. Videos and photo features are clearly marked with easy to distinguish icons.

Great white space and use of grid use gives a clean, well thought out feel, even though many stories represented. Navigation is clear without being intrusive.
By varying the background hue and sizes, it creates focus areas, helping the reader distinguish between stories and decide where to look first.

The New York Times|
Reminiscent of printed papers with a user experience that is also similar to the original.

A throwback to printed newspapers, the layout mimics what you would see in the printed edition in the local coffeeshop. At first glance after looking at numerous photo feature blocks, it feels a bit more open as the white space between the text and characters shines through. And the change ups in the grid widths are helpful to add variety. But when it comes to sifting through the large amount of stories, its clear this will take much more skimming and scrolling if I were interested in finding particular stories of interest. It appears headlines in left column are larger, but I’m not exactly sure why. It isn’t immediately clear to me and instead of feeling helpful as a cue of where to dive in, it feels like I’m being forced arbitrarily. It appears to me the site is catering to those who would like to get a little bit of info on a wide range of stories, and would likely read through all of the snippets before diving in further — again reminiscent of how one would read a traditional newspaper. The most visually attractive item on the homepage is the ad that stretched across the top, which may be mistaken at first for a news story — if intentional, appears to be a great way to add value to advertisers.

Looks and feels like a standard print paper, giving reader lots of opportunities to skim and get overview of news without clicking into additional stories. Although text heavy, easy to read including enough white space.

USA Today | 
Mostly clean, vibrant design that adds excitement but feels a bit chaotic.

The site includes a variety of ways to navigate the content and news categories. From a side swiping option for next category, to drop down menus at top, and variety of popular/featured content on homepage, its likely no matter how you are accustomed to navigating a news site you’ll be able to get around easily. Menus and content color coded and labeled by the type of content it contains, making it feel very organized and fun. The brightness of their color palette adds excitement to the page. While logically laid out and in a clean, organized grid that is thankfully image-centric (vs text) — at first glance it feels overwhelming and I’m not sure what to look at first. They may consider reducing number of feature boxes or increasing whitespace inbetween the images, capping feature headlines to 2 lines (vs. 4 in some cases) or droping the opacity of the headline text so the photo primarily acts and the imputus to click, with the headline much less so. They might also play with changing the background color in different areas of the site (primarily white/light gray) which all blends together creating little distinction of focus areas. Wow, the subscription page and its rotating feature text and brightly colored call out words. It really brings down the sophistication of the page. For sales text it is also a very long text block that will very rarely be read. They might consider getting rid of the “Summer Sale” block altogether and instead create a feature that simply shows the products received by subscribing with a small icon for each item. Also met with a very large pop-up advertisement within the first 5 seconds of pulling up the website. While I never like completely obstructive pop-up ads, getting bombarded before I can even take in the site doesn’t leave a great impression.

Site offers various ways to navigate content and categories. Color coding is a nice touch.
Subscription page looks amateurish with rotating text animation and too garish of text effects (although it mimics their sites color coding).

The Denver Post|
An overly simplistic layout that doesn’t cater well to the viewer, while handing over its visual identity to a single advertiser.

At first glance you might think the primary color palette of the site is red due to the large adverts throughout the homepage for xcel energy. While white space is abundant, number of stories immediately visible on homepage is scarce. I settle in for the scrolling about to take place to find out what is going on in my city. Also scarce are visuals, with the latest stories only being shown in text format and stories are only broken up with horizontal lines and no changes to background shading. Overall found the design to be lazy and lacking to the needs of their users. Just scrolling through the page I felt tired, knowing how much reading would be necessary to take-in the day’s news.

Where are all the stories? The home page seems overun by adverts and lazy design.
Extremely text heavy approach tires viewer.

Google News|
A news site that feels designed-by-computer, lacking creativity or any discernable visual appeal.

I have no knowledge of how the Google News site is developed, but if I had to guess, I would say by computer. A monotonous news in center column only design doesn’t just give me a bad impression, it gives me no impression. The page itself reminds me somewhat of an old sharepoint site, where all items look the same. Same gray and white background throughout. And while Google obviously has the edge on trending items and data, they don’t seem to make much use of them for the user (or at least its tough for the user to realize it). This feels much more like a Google search than a new site. But to their credit, I think they are trying to figure out exactly who their customer is for this page and how they are using it (noticing the survey in the top corner). I hope they gain insight to make this site into something of value for someone.

Lack of design, creativity and variety lack the ability to draw the user into consuming content on the page.
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