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Redesign at Nola.com met with mixed reactions

Marked by muted tones of orange, brown and tan, Advance Publications recently revealed a redesign to the homepage of the Times Picayune’s website, Nola.com. This change comes on top of the announcement this past May that the publishing group would be moving the daily online and cutting its print frequency down to three days a week.

Since the decision was announced, Advance had been met with outcry from a very loyal print readership and criticism that the website was subpar: garishly colored, jumbled and hard to navigate. Enter redesign.

But Advance didn’t just give Nola.com a new look. OregonLive.com, NJ.com, MassLive.com, Cleveland.com, and other sites have also been revamped. In various reports, Advance has suggested that changes to their newspaper model will be widespread, so it’s possible all sites are being prepped to eventually go digital-first as well.

Although the Nola.com site is aesthetically more pleasing than its predecessor, the redesign has been met with mixed results. Many readers commenting on the new design commended the group for redesigning a better site and making it easier to navigate. Criticisms ranged from scrolling issues to inefficient use of space and the print being too small. The majority of readers commenting agreed it was an improvement, but still had a ways to go before it would be deemed an acceptable replacement to the daily paper. In response, Times-Picayune staffers said that other features would be implemented by the end of the year, making it clear the redesign is an ongoing process.

Weighing in, Robert Bohle, a journalism professor in the communications department at the University of North Florida and the founder of the now-defunct News Design School website, said despite the redesign, the sites are still a bit jumbled. While the division of the content and colors work well, the typography is another matter. “They need to use fewer typefaces,” he said in an email interview. “The rollover stories that appear under ‘News,’ ‘Business,’ etc., don’t work for me. I’d rather see one- or two-word links to various Sports (Saints, NBA, NHL, etc.), for instance, than blocking off most of the page the way they do. I would steal from CNN’s layout. Finally, I looked at the sites on my laptop and on my larger desktop monitor. On the latter, it wasn’t too bad. On the former, a lot of the site was hidden from view because the laptop available real estate is so horizontal and small. For this reason, I think maintaining the name of the site and temperature/search/links header when one scrolls down is unnecessary. Not enough space on the page.”

Bohle also noted the site would benefit from adding a section on videos, as well as a section on citizen-produced content like blogs. Meanwhile, normal print newspaper sections like “Metro” and “Opinion” were not readily clear for readers to find, and having these “typical” newspaper divisions make for familiar guideposts to readers, he said.

Good newspaper design is imperative to both print and online, noted Bohle. “The first goal should be easy readability of the content, then easy navigation. You have to make it easy for people or they will go to where it is easy,” he said. “I think this is another reason the site might want to keep similar content divisions to the paper so that on the non-print days, print customers can meet their news needs on the Web quickly and easily. Readers aren’t that loyal any more: there are too many free choices, especially for national popular culture news. Readers who want local news will simply get it from television.”

–Katrina M. Mendolera

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