Redesign at nydailynews.com

Written by Adrian Holovaty on July 18, 2002

The New York Daily News redesigned its Web site Wednesday. New features: A monstrously large photo on each section front, DHTML-driven navigation and a 468x60 banner ad directly above all stories.

But before we delve into the redesign, let's look at the old site design for some perspective. Here are two versions of the old design's story pages. (They come to you courtesy of folks who happened to copy the Daily News' source code directly to their own Web sites.)

The old pages were pretty run-of-the-mill, standard online newspaper pages. A gray left rail; small, box-like icons for navigation; and a standing "quick search" form. The most exciting thing happening was the use of Impact as their headline font, which you don't see often.

Now, it's changed dramatically. Here are some first impressions:

  • Body copy has changed from the staid Times New Roman to a much more hip Georgia. Unfortunately, the type size is set in pixels, which means users of IE on PC won't be able to resize the text if they can't read it. (Speaking of font styles, the style sheet doesn't validate because of a few missing commas; this is nitpicky but important.)
  • Navigation is much, much easier. A new horizontal navbar allows users to change sections quickly. And it's augmented by drop-down menu functionality that lets users dig even deeper.
  • A bold section header appears at the top of most story pages, shouting out the user's current location and occupying about two-thirds of the page's width. It's almost as if this site cares more about its section's individual brands than its own brand -- "Daily News" is buried above each section heading, easily defeated. It's great to know exactly which section you're in at all times (well, except for a few sections that simply feature the Daily News logo in this area), but something about the position of the section headers, along with the thick, black lines, makes me think they're ads at first glance.
  • The gray left rails on many story pages feel rather naked. They're completely empty on most pages, except when a story includes related links of some sort. They might consider carrying over a feature from their previous design by including the search form there on each page.
  • They've provided a nice, detailed explanation of the redesign to help users who might feel overwhelmed or disoriented. This is great stuff. One interesting part was their policy on linking to old stories: "If you used links to stories from the NYDailyNews.com archives on your website, you will need to contact our Webmaster to get the new URLs. There is a $40 fee for this service, which may be waived for select media websites and some community/nonprofit organizations." Seems a bit steep to me, and a bit illogical; after one site links to nydailynews.com, won't that "secret" new URL be available to the public anyway?
  • Curiously, there is no 404 page. Instead, any erroneous or nonsensical URL will be automatically redirected to the home page. This can be confusing and frustrating for users who might have mistyped a URL or clicked on a broken internal link. Not to mention countless previous links and bookmarks to nydailynews.com are now bad, from what I can tell.
  • The Today's Headlines page is a convenient list of all stories on the site on a particular day. It's so simple but so helpful; I don't know why more sites don't do this. One thing this page could do better, though, is to keep headlines on one line. Strangely, many of the headlines currently on that page are split up into two lines, and there's no way of easily telling where one headline ends and the next begins. The headlines do turn a different color when rolled over, but this page would be a lot more usable if the headlines were in a list-item format.
  • The site's ALT attributes are few and far between. I've created a page listing all the images from the home page with corresponding ALTs; most images are missing them. (The useful "ALT attributes - show all" favelet from this page made this page for me in seconds.)
  • There's a link to discussion forums at the bottom of story pages: "? What do you think? Post your comments on our Forums." This link goes to the generic forum page. It'd be more useful if the link went directly to the specific forum for this type of story (e.g. if you were reading a story about the Yankees, it would take you to the Yankees forum.)
  • And, finally, a look under the home page's hood reveals it uses insanely huge HTML comments to delineate the page's structure for (I assume) page producers. I question the extravagant use of these: When I checked, the home page weighed 68,084 bytes. After I deleted some of the comments, it weighed 58,371 bytes. What's more important -- thoroughly commented code for the nydailynews.com producers, or a faster page load for thousands of users?

That's it for now. Feel free to add your own review (or review of my review) by posting a comment below.

Comments

Posted by Chris Heisel on July 18, 2002, at 11:48 a.m.:

Some good, some bad.

I really like the large art on the front page (it might actually be too large, but hey it's the Daily News...), too many sites offer too small photos, which usually don't link to larger versions, or else they have no art. Exhibit A, how about we make one of the largest peices of art one that never changes, (news isn't about change, it's about standing art!).

I have a love/hate relationship with DHTML menus - because they usually misbehave and don't stay down or don't focus right. These appeared OK in Mozilla 1, but I wonder how well they break (do they just take you to the section page?)

Posted by Sara on July 18, 2002, at 12:43 p.m.:

I like it. The big headlines and decent-sized pictures with practically every story are the biggest attraction. The ads are easy to ignore. It's a visually-oriented site, with simple navigation. Dare I say, a breath of fresh air, in the ho-hum design-copycat world of news Web design. The site's distinctive - it brands itself well with what I know of the print edition (not being a New Yorker, what I know is pretty much hearsay). The designers seem to have stayed true to the paper and set it apart. Very good.

Posted by Wohleber on July 18, 2002, at 4:18 p.m.:

It's a bit in-your-face, but so is the print version. The hedlines page is a nice feature but separating the heds with line breaks is poor form. I've never noticed this usage before: Sections of hedlines are enclosed in tags. (When did become a container tag?) Individual heds are separated by . Is that some sort of xml thing? If they won't do it in list format, they could have added padded the bottom margin of the subhead class.

Ironically, I think the huge section headers are easy to miss, positioned top center where I expect to see an ad or the nameplate. Wouldn't it make sense to highlight the section name on the navbar somehow?

The heds on stories and section fronts are in span tags with classes assigned.

Posted by Rob on July 19, 2002, at 1:36 a.m.:

Generally, I like it. Some additional comments:

Strangely, they seem to double-publish stories that appear on the front page. For instance, I went to the Yankees recap from the front page and expected to see that bold section header that you were talking about; instead, I got the standard front page header. I went to the sports page and clicked on the Yankees recap from there, which had the section header you were talking about. They're two different files, which is redundant and kind of stupid.

The excess HTML comments are lame, too -- the front page of a site should always be pared down to a minimum file size.

People seem to have been commenting on the large elements (headline, photo) on the front page. I think that it's okay if a newspaper has established a certain feel in print and wants to translate that to the Web (albeit in an enlightened sort of way which takes into account the difference in medium).

I definitely don't like the wasted space on the sidebars of the story pages. One of my biggest gripes about news sites (and Web sites in general) is that the site often breaks down past the front page and maybe the section fronts. Very little attention is paid to the actual presentation of the content inside the site. This is an extreme example of it: a lot of story pages have absolutely nothing to the right or to the left. Why even have the sidebars there if you're not going to use them throughout the site?

Posted by Adrian on July 19, 2002, at 11:07 a.m.:

I was kind of sketched out by the large photo the first time I saw the home page, but the more I think about it, the more I like it. Chris makes a great point -- way too often do news sites shrink their photos down to tiny, incomprehensible thumbnails, with no larger versions available. The huge Daily News photos are a breath of fresh air.

I also agree that news sites dedicate 90 percent of their time to home pages and just shrug off the design of inside pages. A recent Editor and Publisher article had a few tips from a usability expert who advised sites to "Ignore your home page for a week."

Posted by Adrian on July 26, 2002, at 10:17 p.m.:

I just found a page that explains where people expect ads to be located. The main place? Dead center, right up top -- exactly where the Daily News' section headers are. So THAT'S why they seemed so out of place...

Posted by George on January 31, 2006, at 12:25 p.m.:

where did the crossword puzzle go?

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