The New York Times has announced it will be rolling out a new website over the coming year. On Tuesday, the Times provided a sneak peek, complete with animated examples of the new home page, sections and comments. The paper claims that the updated layout will give users easier access to areas of their interest and provide a more intuitive reading experience.
Access to the beta version of the new site is being provided to a limited number of randomly chosen individuals who request it from the demo page. But everyone can check out the preview, and it is worth doing. Some good lessons can be learned from examining what the new site is doing right.
Simplicity. In its current incarnation, the Times website suffers from the same clutter that afflicts many high-information sites. Upon first glance, it is difficult to determine what to do – very little stands out. The home page contains five columns, which forces both the headlines and copy on most items to be relatively small. Within those columns, there are 7 article summaries, 7 editorial headlines, and a thin column dedicated to listing what appears to be a link to every section of the paper. And this is just above the scroll. The busyness continues down the page.
The new site will provide a much less cluttered experience. There is an obvious feature, the text is bigger and the navigation is simplified and tucked away but still readily accessible. The lack of visual noise makes it much easier for readers to find the stories they are looking for and in turn more likely that they will stay on the site longer.
Big features. A lot of pixels have been dedicated to the idea that big is in. Big pictures. Big text. Big buttons. And the new Times layout is in step with this trend. Much of the credit for the simplification of the home page can be attributed to the use of one large, predominate feature alongside a single bold headline. The site also uses wider columns, taking advantage of the increased real estate on most users' screens. Larger elements make a site look cleaner and more modern, and they help prevent users from straining to read unnecessarily small text.
Use of the scroll. The Times also seems to have acknowledged the fact that it is no longer critical to cram as much information as possible in above the scroll. Of course, the most important items should still be featured toward the top of the page, but people are used to scrolling. Most pages scroll and many even employ the scroll as a design technique. Accepting the scroll helps give everything room to breathe and will make for a more enjoyable reading experience.
HTML 5 comments. While most law firms will never achieve a comment volume comparable to a publication like the Times, their new comment display is still instructive. Comments will no longer housed at the bottom of the page. They will instead be hidden by default, but visitors will be able to pull them up by clicking on an icon at the top of the page. Comments then slide in to fill the right hand column and can be closed at the user's discretion. This is a good example of how non-critical information can be tucked away to promote simplicity and ease of use while still providing those who wish to view the content a way to do so. Thankfully, you just do not have to stuff everything you have on to a page anymore.
Simplified navigation. The new design does away with the long column of section titles and replaces it with a nested menu, organized by category and always available in one click from the top of the page. Users will be able to identify the sections they visit most frequently and add them to a personalized shortcuts menu. One of the most important things any website must do to be successful is give users easy access to important items. You cannot make people do too much searching or too much clicking before they find what they need. Doing so is almost guaranteed to decrease conversion. The new menu seems to address this issue in a much cleaner way.
You can request access to the Times beta site here.