Design assessment: Newsweek's new look

For those of you who are into pirates and zombies, give this post a miss. Here I’m going to assess American media outlet Newsweek‘s online design for my RMIT journalism class.

In May this year Newsweek had a massive revamp and to be frank I hate it. The print version looks, as some one at Topix pointed out, like a woman’s magazine. And the online version? Man. This site is torture for your eyeballs.

This is why:

  • The headlines are organised in a hierarchy that is ill defined. I can’t immediately figure out what is most important and follow it.
  • There are way too many fonts in use, I can count five at a glance on the homepage. It’s jarring and I really don’t like the mix of caps and lower case headlines.
  • The layout is a bit confusing and I can’t immediately match the excerpt with the headline. When the revamp first happened I was aggregating news for Crikey and I really struggled to find stories I was interested in, or were not exactly the same as on offer at The Economist, New Yorker or Time. Previously the Newsweek site had been chock-a-bloc with headline listings.
  • I like the picture carousel, but find it difficult to figure out what stories belong to the image when I first land. It’s like your eyes have to adjust, which to me means the layout is counter intuitive.
  • Generally the homepage looks light on content. It’s like there just isn’t enough there.
  • The pictures are all different sizes below the fold and not laid out in lines.
  • But more than anything I hate the fact that I’m subjected to a ten second advertisement with sound every time I accidently click on a story that turns out to be a video. It’s ugly. It’s annoying. It makes me leave the page in a matter of seconds.

Introducing the revamp Newsweek’s Kathleen Deveny said:

We’ll be offering a mix of our own content, aggregated content and content generated by our users. If we were to do a magazine piece on nukes in Iran, for example, we would post it along with links to the best stories we can find at other Web sites—including our direct competitors’—while encouraging our readers to ask questions and comment via Twitter.

Which kind of sounded a lot like what Crikey were aiming for and there are similarities between the new Crikey site, launched about the same time. But, importantly, Crikey has fit about twice the amount of stories in above the fold.

For me this is the key issue with Newsweek — the absence of news. There are four stories above the fold on the home page linked to the carousel — something that’s not immediately obvious. There is always a couple of multimedia offerings on the same subject, but they are not clearly linked to the main story.

Then there is one story just peeping above the fold a little, right next to some advertisements. If you want anymore you have to go through the categories or scroll down.

Below the fold there are a bunch of different boxes following a three column grid, but none of them fit together and some are ads. This is where the different picture sizes is really annoying. It looks really empty — way too much white space — and kind of empty.

I fail to see how this revamp is generating hits for Newsweek. Please enlighten me.

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