In this past week’s issue of The Economist (May 17-23), the newspaper brilliantly provides an explanation of its homepage redesign. Not only is it fascinating to read the rationalizations behind the changes, but communication is a critical step often missed in major redesigns, and this also serves as a great example of how to effectively communicate with the users.
They simply and clearly state their goals for the redesign:
We wanted to do three main things: make the page simpler, deeper and more enjoyable for the reader.
Having a high-level strategy such as this allows the organization to stay on course and not get caught up in minutia. In fact, this can and should serve as a litmus test for the smaller details. At each turn, this allows the user experience designers to ask: “Does this make our homepage simpler, deeper, and more enjoyable for the reader?”
They go on to explain in greater detail how they accomplished these three broad user experience goals:
First, simplicity: ‘We have cut clutter (always something The Economist likes to do). There are fewer advertisements. The page is cleaner, with images that stand out more clearly to flag featured content.’
The navigation that runs down the left-hand side of the page, and throughout the site, is now completely visible right away, with no need to scroll ‘below the fold.’
A second aim was to make more content readily accessible-strange as it may sound, to combine greater simplicity with greater depth.
A new feature brings to the fore the articles that have proved most popular with readers. You can choose between three different measures of this: the articles that have attracted the most comments, the ones that readers have recommended the most (by clicking on the ‘recommend’ button next to the text) and those that have been most read. So you get to influence what appears on the home-page.
That is part of our third aim: to make the page a more enjoyable experience. It shows not just what we select, but what readers are finding most interesting. The page will be ‘alive’ in other ways, too, changing throughout the day, so it will be worth returning to more often.
Though all of the above insight is interesting, two things in particular jump out at me. The first thing is how they set out to accomplish a seemingly paradoxical goal of combining “greater simplicity with greater depth.” They do this by employing interactive elements such as a rotating feature and a ‘hottest’ module to “Bring to the fore the articles that have proved most popular with readers.”
In addition, to make the homepage more enjoyable for users while compelling them to visit regularly, The Economist constantly features new content, mostly through reader participation.
Perhaps the most refreshing part of the article was The Economist‘s humility. It is very clear that the web team at The Economist spent a great amount of time and energy to get the redesign right, but despite this they realize that no design is perfect, and they welcome ideas to make it better.
Indeed, we hope you find the new home-page as a whole a big improvement. But change is not always welcome-as some of the comments made on our site have already made clear-and we won’t have got everything right in one go. So we’d welcome your views, negative as well as positive.
Kudos to The Economist for a great redesign and for sharing with its readers and everyone else their goals and how they got there, as well as for inviting us to help make the user experience even better.