For the first time since 2006, The New York Times has completely overhauled its online article pages and reskinned the homepage—a major site-wide redesign that the paper of record hopes to never undertake again on the same scale. That's not to say that the Times will never again update its digital look. Rather, the Grey Lady has engineered evolution into its latest redesign. "We have completely replatformed the whole back-end technology system so that we can get out of the business of doing redesigns," Denise Warren executive vice president, digital products and services group at The New York Times told Fast Company.
With the old content management system and technology platform, it took a lot of effort to deploy any new or different designs, like Snow Fall and its successors. The new system, however, is more dynamic. "We can continually iterate on the site and take advantages of the trends as we see them happening, rather than having to do a big unveil," Warren explained. As a result, she says, readers will see more incremental changes over time, rather than a big unveil a few years down the line. (Translation: Get ready for even more Snow Falls, people.)
However, with eight years of catching up to do, Wednesday's launch presents a considerably distinct look from the site's dated design. The overall goal, Warren says, was "making sure that our customers, who are now paying a lot of money to read our journalism, have the best possible experience."
That improved "experience" is particularly notable on the article pages. The homepage has some small tweaks, borrowing typefaces from the front page of the paper edition, but otherwise retains most of its DNA. (The Times will give that section a more formal redesign later this year.)
Clicking through to the articles, however, readers will encounter a more refined experience, starting with a much less cluttered page. Instead of sidebars and headers, clean, white margins flank the prose, unless a related photo or widget complements the piece. The Times also nixed pagination, allowing readers to scan an entire article without clicking through multiple pages. And, of course, these benefits aren't limited to web readers; the site is also optimized for smartphones and tablets, devices that didn't really exist in 2006. (Some of the design elements are even borrowed from the mobile world. The upper left hand corner, for example, sports a "hamburger"—the three lined widget that originated on small screens. When clicked it expands to reveal the section menu.)
Despite removing aspects of the site that served to guide readers to more articles—like the most-emailed box, "recommended for you," and what's trending—the new look does more with less, pushing readers deeper with smarter navigation. At the very top of the page, for example, sits what is called the ribbon, a band of stories that site visitors can scroll through. But instead of displaying a random smattering of articles, it shows stories based on how the reader clicked into the story. If you came in through the homepage, for example, the ribbon will recommend more front page reads.
And that's just one of the many ways to discover stories of interest after reading an article. For those looking for deeper reading on the current topic, a non-intrusive related content widget sits to the right of the story. Or, if you just want to browse, clicking a simple arrow to the right of the page gives another option of how to move from story to story. All of this is meant to keep the reader on the site longer, which appeals both to readers trying to make the most of their Times subscriptions and also advertisers.
Indeed, the entire look is ripe for advertising. "Cleaning things up quite a bit, creating more space, it really sets advertising off quite a bit," Ian Adelman, director of digital design at the Times told Fast Company. "Advertising units have much more prominence now than they have in the past." With the new look, the Times will also delve into native advertising. A spokesperson would not confirm if the first campaign will appear on Wednesday, but said that the platform is ready for the controversial advertising technique.
Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. assured there would be "strict separation between the newsroom and the job of creating content for the new native ads" in a letter to the newsroom. And Times editor-in-chief Jill Abramson also said she will "be watching to make sure that The Times adheres to the standards."
[Image: Flickr user Scott D Arch]