As a designer, I hope that if newspapers can be saved, that design will play a prominent role. Currently, many newspaper sites are dense, cluttered and so hard to read that it’s a wonder anybody goes to them (not to mention the cesspool that is the comments section of any daily newspaper). If more papers can turn out sites like the new Los Angeles Times site, I’ll definitely be rooting for them. It’s a refreshing, clean, uncluttered site. They seem to have realized that they should do what newspapers do best, put the news out there and make it easy to read. People that read actual newspapers don’t necessarily buy it for the news, they buy it for the tangible object they can hold in their hand. So making a website that is the most like that tangible object is a good way to remind people of why they like newspapers in the first place.
The result is a site that eschews underlines and different colors to differentiate links from content. All type is set in Georgia and all text is black, save for a few red dates. Trimming almost all article teasers from each link, and even most date information, allows each element to have enough room to breathe. The result is a spacious, minimal design that still packs a lot of content. This allows everything to be scanned very easily, and encourages one to scroll down the page. It’s easy to navigate, easy to read, and is more like an actual newspaper than most sites.
This design is an extension of the standard that was set by the NY Times a few years ago, which was a push towards a more ‘print’ or ‘newspaper’ feel for their online version. It was, and still is for the most part, very successful in that manages to pack a lot of content into a small space in way that is still accessible. However, if you look at the NY Times site now on contrast to the new LA Times site, you can see that it is very overwhelming. The blue links and red dates create so much visual noise, and everything is packed so tightly, and some of the text is so small that, as a user, I find myself gravitating to a few small blocks of content and ignoring much of the site. The navigation on the left is essentially invisible. (I’m sure somebody with some real data may be able to refute me, but that’s just my gut reaction). So while at first glance, the LA Times site might seem too simple and minimal to be anything ‘new’, it really is a marked change from pretty much any other newspaper website I’ve come across, and even a bit subversive for an entity as large as it is. One way that newspapers may save themselves is by going back to basics, focusing on the news and not all of the noise that surrounds them on the internet.
Having said all that, a site as clean as this has to nail the details and there are a few things that stick out to me.
On the home page, the default state of the main navigation, which has a sort of hover/dropdown effect, is basically an empty gray box. This, coupled with the few text links underneath, make it seem somewhat broken, as if those text links are supposed to be inside that box but for some reason they’re pushed down, outside of it.
Hover State on Main Navigation
Spacing, and negative space is so important. I wish that the over of the main link had a little bit more room on top. As it is, it just looks too tight in there. Is this nit-picky? Yes.
This is terrible placement of a banner ad. It just sticks out so much (I guess that’s the point), with all the space around it it almost looks broken and gives me the real sense the designers designed this without much thought to ads. And to be fair, the site in general is pretty light on ads, this just really mars each and every subpage.
As much as I think the choice to forgo different styles for links is successful for this site, this is one place where the lack of differentiation makes it hard to figure out what’s going on. There needs to be just a little more difference in the sizes to make the links stand apart from the description. I think bumping the link size up by one pixel, or the description down by one would probably solve this issue.