The state of web design in the news business has always been bad, but it seems to be getting progressively, demonstrably worse. It’s not just that the designs are bad. It’s that the people making the designs don’t appear to have any desire at all to make the experience pleasurable for the reader — how likely you are to click an advertisement (intentionally or not) is clearly the only measure of success in this type of design.
NOLA.com recently “redesigned” their site — I use dick quotes because the design of articles has not changed at all — they’ve just added a terrible webfont, a lot of yellow, and a bunch of extra links in the header. Once you get beyond all the yellow, the article still looks exactly like it did 10 or so years ago when the site first launched, Verdana body text and all. They did add a “responsive” stylesheet — one so responsive that it’s been broken ever since the day it launched (prompting this initial reaction from me):
That design is responsive. Its response is "fuck you."—
Matt Thomas (@iammattthomas) May 10, 2012
How bad does the business of publishing free news articles in exchange for banner clicks have to get before something fundamental changes? Hard to say — even NYTimes.com, which now requires a subscription to read regularly, still hasn’t even attempted to use the design talents of their staff or modern web technologies to roll out a site more focused on article readability than ad visibility. But looking at the example above, I’d like to hope that we’ve almost hit the bottom.
UPDATE 2: On May 24, the news broke that the New Orleans Times-Picayune will cease daily publication, scaling back to a thrice-weekly schedule. I’m sure I’m going to have more to say on this later, but for now, it’s just sad. I don’t know who at the Times-Picayune is being laid off as a result of this decision, but I have a feeling it’s a pretty safe bet to say it includes their entire design staff.