As I mentioned earlier today, the Lawrence (Kan.) Journal-World's Web site has made a few design changes. Now, it's cleaner and prettier. This site's one to watch, because it recently acquired a few high-ranking staff members from the award-winning CJOnline.
Before I go further, here are examples of the old design, for comparison:
- Dec. 6, 2001, story (HTML)
- May 19, 2002, story (PDF; Acrobat required)
- June 22, 2002, story (HTML)
- Old CSS file
As always, here are a few comments and suggestions on the changes:
- Probably the most dramatic change is the addition of a left rail. If memory serves me well (and if the old design examples are accurate), there wasn't one before; navigation was relegated to a somewhat unattractive image map. Clearly the left rail is a tremendous improvement.
- I find it interesting that the left rail's section choices are listed in alphabetical order. This is something you don't see often on news sites. As a result, it's a bit easier to find a section you're specifically looking for, but it's more difficult to browse freely, because there's no built-in editorial judgment that places one section above the other. (For example, nytimes.com places "International" first, followed by "National", "Politics" and sections of either lesser importance or lesser popularity.) It can be argued that the alphabetical method helps users find what they want quickly, but at the same time, it can be frustrating. Indeed, a Wichita State University usability study of sitemaps concluded: "it was more difficult to find information in the Alphabetized sitemap because they had to guess how this information was worded in the menu." An ljworld.com example: Try finding "World". Give up? It's next to "Nation".
- I keep thinking that dark blue horizontal bar under the site's logo is breadcrumb navigation. It's the slashes that do it; vertical bars would erase confusion.
- So simple, but so effective: I love how many pages have a large, red section title in the content area. (See this page for an example.) These red blurbs existed on the previous site design, but now they're more pronounced. Bigger, but not too big.
- This feature was on the old design, too, but it's still worth mentioning: Stories' first six words are bolded. That's a nice visual pointer to the start of the story, but I'm afraid it's another case of automation technology and journalism butting heads. Like HarkTheHerald.com's photo automation (discussed on my site a few weeks ago), automatically bolding the first six words of each story is like driving with your eyes closed; you never know what might happen. In a quick glance over the site with this in mind, I found one example right away: the Births section, where the first two parents are bolded and the rest aren't. On this Births page, what makes Erin Myers and Brian Franklin more special than the other proud parents in the paper today? Readers notice these things.
- Very few links are clearly designated as such. Sitewide, only a handful of links are underlined (not counting mouseovers), and many links are "set off" in a color only a shade or two different from their surrounding text. I found myself hovering my cursor violently around pages, waiting with bated breath for the arrow to turn into a hand. In some cases, such as headlines on the home page, it's excusable; in others, such as reporters' bylines and the columnist archives, the color difference is so slight you end up feeling like you won a game each time you stumble upon a link. And if I, blessed with decent eyesight, have problems, imagine how color-blind users must feel. (Vischeck is a good tool to use in testing what your pages look like to color-blind users, and dive into accessibility has much to say on the topic.)