We’re only four months into 2015, but a certain trend has already set the stage for the digital year to come: Homepage redesigns.
From the eye-catching overhaul of Bloomberg.com to the sleek simplification of TheAtlantic.com, major-league media organizations are shedding classic layouts to show they’re taking their online presence seriously. And it’s not just the designers behind the scenes — news editors and reporters are also getting involved.
“We think that this moment is really probably as significant, if not more so, than when our digital team moved into what was then the print newsroom,” said Almar Latour, Wall Street Journal executive editor, after WSJ.com unveiled its new look last week. “Right now, this is a new milestone for us. The editors themselves, the editors for web and mobile will play a leading role in shaping and creating future product.”
With so much talk about the decline of the homepage over the past years — and data showing most users accessing content through “side doors,” or article pages — what does this spike in media site makeovers mean for the future of the homepage?
This question sparked discussion and debate at AMS, and even inspired a redesign theme for our weekly newsletter. Here’s a rundown of our thoughts —leave us a note or tweet @AMStrategy to let us know what you think.
“There is something to be said about a page that anchors and centers your experience. With organizations producing such an extraordinary volume of content, it is sometimes satisfying and even relieving to have a page that feels, well, like home — it organizes, curates, and creates some order in the chaos.” — Gabriel Muller, Editorial Associate
“This is going to sound a little weird, but I feel like homepages are sort of like blind dates. You don’t know them. They don’t know you. You go to someone’s homepage to check them out and see if they’re worth exploring more. After you start a real ‘relationship’ with a site, you dive right past the homepage and into the pages that you need/want/like. For a band, you go straight to their tour schedule. For a retailer, you go straight to their product catalog. For a media site, you go straight to a story page or maybe the landing page for a section.” — Joni Halabi, Lead Web Developer
“When one really thinks about it, shouldn’t every page of a website do just as much to guide someone to what they want or need as every other page does? A ‘homepage’ — in as much as what that term means traditionally — should, of course, be thoughtful, useful, and compelling. But as the rapid ascent of mobile and social traffic continues, more and more people will be accessing digital content from ‘side doors,’ accessing the stories, information, or data they need without going through the homepage first — or…ever. Eventually, we’ll just think of every page we access as a ‘homepage’ — and that’ll be a very good thing, for both providers and consumers alike.” — Aaron Morrissey, Senior Manager of Client and Content Development
“From a UX standpoint, the homepage of any website is important because it provides a point of consistency in a digital environment with very few rules we always know to be true. The digital environment does not contain invariant elements provided by physical environments (e.g., the ground is hard and supports walking; the sky is above you). Without those predictable truths to rely on it is easy to become disoriented and uncomfortable, so we manufacture them with things like website homepages. Another example of this concept is the “Start” button on Windows PCs. In this sense, the content of the homepage doesn’t really matter. Just that it is there and is predictable.” — Zach Kalman, Senior Digital Project Manager
“A homepage that looks more like an aggregated news feed (like Flipboard) will keep users interested — and keep them actively seeking out a site’s homepage in the future. Based on the growing content-consuming trends, sites should offer a spread of leading headlines and issues at first glance to give readers an idea of what’s available/newsworthy before diving in. A homepage for a media site should be less a welcome mat, more a bird’s eye view of new content. Either way, the homepage will remain an anchor for users, especially if they’re intrigued by the ‘side door’ they came in through.” — Alex Zielinski, Editorial Fellow
Editor’s Note: If you’re looking for more on the latest trends in media, technology, and website redesigns, sign up for Atlantic Media Strategies’ weekly newsletter, the Digital Trends Index.