redesigns, with predictable fallout

A couple of years ago, I was on a panel with some newspaper execs and one of them declared, rather self-importantly, “If we eliminated [journalistic touchstone X], our readers would be all over us.” What I was thinking, but didn’t say in the interest of comity, was it’s nothing compared to the reaction you’d get if you stopped running Beetle Bailey.
Newspaper readers are notoriously resistant to changes in their beloved morning ritual, and especially hate redesigns. And now, USA Today has gone and completely redone their website. They’re in for it now.
They’ve added a ton of welcome interactive features: news from other sites, comments on stories, forums, links to stories on other news sites and blogs, headline voting, user-contributed photos. But the comments on the announcement of the new design are uniformly negative. Unfortunately, there’s no archive of how the site used to look.
There are things I really like about the site. In addition to all the interactive features, which are great, they’ve avoided the classic newspaper website mistake of trying to put a link and a promo for every single site feature on the home page. They label headlines with the number of comments and recommendations. At the same time, the page seems loose and disorganized. The headlines have no summaries, white space (which I love) is arbitrarily determined by photo placement. Stories are arranged by time and not by importance, which correct for blogs and questionable for news sites. There is too much information above each headline (section, time, comments, recommendations).
So, the new USAToday is a mixed bag of great new features and a design that could use some tweaking. But, most of all, I agree with readers in comments that the publishers should be participating in the conversation and explaining the design goals and tradeoffs that went into their new look.
Originally published on my blog at JupiterResearch.