Monday, September 23, 2013

Slate redesign redux

Thinking a little bit more about why the new front page is such a mess, the biggest problem is that there's no discernible hierarchy of importance.  This is particularly frustrating as you travel further down the page.  Years of reading newspapers have taught us that the most important stuff A. gets the biggest headlines, and B. is placed at the top of the page, meaning that it's possible to read a publication at a desired level of detail.  If you've only got a few minutes, or just don't care that much about the publication in question, you can peruse the top-level stuff; the longer you've got or more interested you are, the further down the page you can travel.

But the Slate redesign turns all this on its head by placing big features, with pictures and everything, at seemingly random intervals on the page.  As my earlier post tried to demonstrate, there's no real obvious throughline that lets you skim the page and get the most important stuff.  There are some hierarchical elements, in the form of lists (most recent, most shared, most viewed, etc.), but these are also scattered seemingly at random around the page; their relation to each other isn't clear.  Making matters worse, advertising panes are intermixed with content panes quite freely; the only way to know what not to click is to actually read the ads and recognize that's what they are.  This is consistently irritating and feels like a waste of time, though I'm sure advertisers themselves prefer it.

All in all, it takes a process that used to be quick and frictionless--check Slate.com for three seconds, see if there's anything of interest, move on--and makes it quite a bit more labor-intensive.  I'm sure the web designers hope this will encourage people to spend more time browsing the page, but if anything, the increased time cost of visiting the site will probably result in me checking it less habitually.  Just anecdotally, there's a bad precedent here: a year ago, The New Republic went through a startlingly similar redesign, changing from a newspaper-esque format to a Web 2.0, super-tablet-friendly format much like Slate's; the consequence is that TNR changed, overnight, from a site I visited daily to a site I visit maybe once a month.  That's what happens when you value form, and faddish web design, over function.

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