New York Times’ new website design: an early appraisal

We asked a few editorial designers to assess how the NYT’s proposed website redesign is shaping up…

The New York Times is currently redesigning its website and trialling a new layout, offering a preview of the first phase of the project which focuses on the “look and feel of articles”. We asked a few editorial designers to assess how the NYT’s new look is shaping up…

But before we look at the new design, here’s a quick look at how a story looks on the current version of the site:

And here’s how an article viewed on the new site (you can see more online here) will look:

It’s clear to see that the new design approach minimises the previous clutter, with main stories clickable across the top of the page with a “sections” button top left offering the chance to navigate to different sections of the paper:

“I’m really impressed by the demo, it’s the latest in a number of projects pushing towards a calmer, more reflective online reading experience,” says regular CR contributor Jeremy Leslie of magculture.com. “Matter, Aeon (a client of mine) and others are looking to provide an elegant reading environment: less interuption but with neccesary elements (commenting, ads, sharing etc) appearing as required rather than jumping at you,” he continues. “Taking advantage of the retina resolution, they are typographically fine-tuned and are built and designed to take longform content and make it legible and accessible across multiple devices.”

Leslie hints that this approach is now the way forward for newspapers’ online offerings. “Not so long ago all the ‘broadsheet’ newspaper websites looked the same,” he says, “sporting system fonts, familair grids, common design tics. The Guardian, for instance, was very influential when it relaunched years back (it’s taxonomy etc) and other UK papers followed. It now looks very dated, as this latest NYT demo establishes.”

“The big decisionn seems to be to streamline the reading experience,” says Mark Porter, principal at Mark Porter Associates who worked on the editorial design of the Guardian newspaper and also its iPad app. “The article pages look as if they will have a lot more space, and a lot of the clutter will be hidden away until activated,” he observes. “In most editorial websites the content on the article pages is swamped by navigation, links, promos and marketing material, which makes it hard work getting to the story, and after all, that’s what you came for.

“The NYT appears to be taking a lead from the kind of design we’re seeing on touch-screen tablets and smartphones, making the content the hero, and trusting the reader be smart enough to invoke the naviagtion, comments and links when they want them,” adds Porter. “This also unlocks the possiblity of making the site much more responsive, and a better expereince on a wide range of devices.

“On this showing, it promises to be pretty revolutionary. In recent years, the New York Times has been one of the densest and most cluttered editorial sites on the web; but if they get this right they will become one of the cleanest and most usable.”


Above: a small speech bubble and counter top right of an article’s page can be clicked to open a side panel revealing comments actually alongside the article

Jon Hill, design editor at The Times is also positive about how the NYT’s online articles are looking in the proposed redesign. “For a while now we’ve seen websites care more about typography, grids and layout – for want of a better word,” he told CR. “The early indications are that the NYT site will adopt their elegant and recognisable palette of typefaces and page furniture from the print edition and bring them to their website,” he continues.

“This has to be a good thing for the reader and commercially as I think it stacks up to be a more valuable product, and not just another news site.”


This longer section of a news story shows how links to related content can be neatly flagged up alongside a story, and also how image captions too appear to the right of the main text and image column

Hill is also impressed with the thinking behind the redesign approach: “Editorial design aside, I think the most exciting developments here are ideas like the navigation changing depending on what you’re reading and if you’re logged in. For me, some of the most exciting aspects of digital editorial design is thinking about the conditions in which the reader is looking at your site / app. For example, can you give them related stories or updated stories because you know they’ve logged in previously and read these subjects. Or can you provide an abbreviated version of a story because you can tell they’re reading on a smartphone.

“The NYT site seems to be taking all of these ideas on board and, like any big site redesign, is thinking about creating responsive systems so the site works well across all devices and screen sizes.

“The most mind bending part of all of this for editorial designers is the idea that wysiwyg is dead,” Hill suggests. “The most sophisticated sites, particularly sites that contain lots of editorial components, like NYT.com, have to be built around the principles of responsive and fluid layouts. Hats off to the New York Times, they seem to be making some intelligent moves in this direction.”

Explore the NYT’s proposed redesign of its site at nytimes.com/marketing/prototype.

CR in print
The March issue of CR magazine celebrates 150 years of the London Underground. In it we introduce a new book by Mark Ovenden, which is the first study of all aspects of the tube’s design evolution; we ask Harry Beck authority, Ken Garland, what he makes of a new tube map concept by Mark Noad; we investigate the enduring appeal of Edward Johnston’s eponymous typeface; Michael Evamy reports on the design story of world-famous roundel; we look at the London Transport Museum’s new exhibition of 150 key posters from its archive; we explore the rich history of platform art, and also the Underground’s communications and advertising, past and present. Plus, we talk to London Transport Museum’s head of trading about TfL’s approach to brand licensing and merchandising. In Crit, Rick Poynor reviews Branding Terror, a book about terrorist logos, while Paul Belford looks at how a 1980 ad managed to do away with everything bar a product demo. Finally, Daniel Benneworth-Grey reflects on the merits on working home alone. Buy your copy here.

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Read in-depth features and analysis plus exclusive iPad-only content in the Creative Review iPad App. Longer, more in-depth features than we run on the blog, portfolios of great, full-screen images and hi-res video. If the blog is about news, comment and debate, the iPad is about inspiration, viewing and reading. As well as providing exclusive, iPad-only content, the app will also update with new content throughout each month.

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