Have you been bored with the “sameness” of news sites’ homepage – with primary sections in “permanently visible, self-enclosed modules,” plus dozens of links? cleveland.com said it’s time for a change and launched a re-designed homepage on July 31. Their new homepage may shed some light on the discussion of usability design of news sites.
clevelend.com is the online home of The Plain Dealer and Sun News. The Plain Dealer is the largest newspaper in Ohio. As of 31 March 2011, for the preceding six-month period, the newspaper reported an average daily paid circulation of 254,372 and a Sunday paid circulation of 403,001. Sun News is a newspaper chain which covers more than 50 Northeast Ohio communities in its 11 newspapers.
The previous homepage is “cluttered” thanks to an outdated design assumption
Below is a screen shot of the previous homepage of cleveland.com, move your mouse on the screen shot and scroll down to view more. When you browse this “old” homepage, you will see it’s not necessarily “bad” in design – it’s just like many other news sites out there, with permanent, self-enclosed primary sections and dozens of links.
This familiar design is found with most other news sites – after all, a rule we learned in a web design class is that we should present major contents on the homepage, just like a store showcases its best products in the storefront window.
This rule is based on the assumption that site visitors would first come to the “front door” (the homepage), and then look for contents that interest them. This assumption is increasingly wrong: nowadays people access website contents not through the front door (the homepage), but by following specific links they found via Google or somewhere else on the web, and increasingly via social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr.
Currently, the “front-door” assumption still reigns for most news sites; the result is a cluttered homepage where it is difficult for visitors to find what they care about.
What’s new with the re-designed homepage
Below is the live homepage being embedded here; scroll down on the screenshot and explore the new features highlighted in an article by cleveland.com about the new design; or you can click to explore the actual site of cleveland.com.
- They eliminated dozens of links on the home page and replaced them with breaking news headlines, sorted by the most popular topics.
- A clickable drop-down menu on the home page provides an instant snapshot of real-time headlines by the most popular topics.
The real highlight is the blog-style look
The one feature I want to note, which is not highlighted in that article, is the blog-style look of the homepage – it now looks more like a blog than a “normal” commercial news site.
In a previous post, I discussed how nbcnews.com is implementing a blog-style design for news articles. It’s interesting to note that nbcnews.com has a blog-style design for news articles, but not for the homepage; whereas for cleveland.com, it implements a blog-style design for its homepage, but not for individual articles.
A blog style may not be the best or ultimate design in the exploration of news site usability, but it provides a starting point for discussion: how shall a news site design adapt to the changing patterns of online activities?