It is a truth universally acknowledged, that an editor in possession of a new website (or a newspaper) must be in want of a redesign.
The Jane Austen phrasing was irresistible, but this is one of the true certainties of journalism: when a publication gets a new editor, he or she will want it to look different.
When I was a print journalist I live through three different redesigns. And in my time in online journalism, I think there were four. Of course, I may have repressed the memory of some, so there may have been more. And we’re not talking changing a masthead here, we’re talking making everything new from the ground up.
These occasional fits of rebranding entail a lot of work for production staff. And they usually make readers very cross, until everyone gets used to it all and life continues as normal.
The focus of a print redesign is always the front page: it is the thing that is supposed to make readers cough up some money, and it is a projection of the paper’s identity. That thinking carried over on to the web, and for the projects I was part of, there was always a huge focus on what the front page of the website would look like.
But the rise of Facebook, Twitter, Google, Instagram and Pinterest and all the other sharing sites means that many, many readers are finding websites via a link to an individual story rather than by typing in the site’s URL and looking at the front page.
Of course, the first thing an editor should be doing is figuring out what policies, strategies and tactics underpin a redesign. Assuming that has been done, my theory of redesign starts with the article view. [Disclaimer: I am not a web designer, or a usability expert. This is my view informed by an understanding of how a news website may work for a reader.]
What is an article view anyway?
This Daily Mail front page rather than this Daily Mail article. [I choose the Daily Mail not because I support its politics. I don’t. But it is reportedly one of the most successful news websites in the world, so looking at its article view is a good idea.]
What needs to be contained in an article view?
All of the things you wish to highlight need to be here – and you need as many points of entry (that is, places where a reader can interact with your content) as possible to encourage people to stay on your site, and click further than this one article.
What else is important?
The article view needs to be designed first and foremost with mobile in mind – and then scaled to desktop view.
So, for example, if a site has decided to focus efforts on video, the article view needs to be revamped so that readers can see that the site is doing video: perhaps a player that rotates videos as they get uploaded. Or, editorially, a decision that every story that can have video MUST have one embedded, high in the text, so that mobile users can get at it easily.
The rest of the site
Design your left and right-hand navigation (navigation refers to the links that guide you round the sections of a site) and advert placement in the mobile article view, and then those form the bones of where they would go on a page view (or the front page of a sub-section, like this), or a front page.
Point of entry suggestions (not necessarily a complete list)
Social media sharing buttons – both for the article itself and for the site
Email addresses to interact with journalists
Tags to related topics on your site
Navigation that makes it easy to see what else is on the site
Comments? Maybe, maybe not
Personalised suggestions based on previous reader behaviour (this can be cookie based, or relate to a subscription)
Maps, graphics, lots of pictures