October 30, 2014 Last Updated 11:40 am

First look: The Guardian’s new website design puts pressure on the editor’s headline skills

The new website for The Guardian continues a trend in website design devotes an enormous percentage of its space to a top ad when seen on the desktop and tablet, but reverts to a much more traditional and reader friendly look on a mobile device.

TNM, it must be admitted, has been a frequent critic of many of the new website designs being introduced by newspaper organizations. The reason for this is that emphasis seems to have moved from the news and the proper displaying of stories, to web design that seems to place news as a secondary consideration.

Guardian-new-websiteThe new Guardian site, for instance, does away with most news summaries, leaving the site with a collection of headlines. This puts tremendous pressure on editors to write headlines that not only are attract readers already interested in a story, but also those who have no clue who Abdel Hakim Belhaj is, for instance.

Take that story mentioned above. The headline reads: Abdel Hakim Belhaj wins right to sue UK government over his kidnap. That’s it. But clicking (tapping) on the story reveals a subhead which explains much more: Court rules case of Libyan exile, who was flown to Tripoli and tortured, can go ahead despite government attempts to stop it. This subhead might have appeared in the old design, but is eliminated in the new one.

(One thing about website headlines that is rarely discussed involves writing to the space. In print headlines, the editor takes (or used to take) great pains to make sure the headline fit its space. On the web, headlines rather fit properly. When a website design places so much importance on the headline, when the subheads are eliminated, it only shines a light on the way web headlines are written.)

It has been a tough year or so for newspaper redesigning their websites. Hearst, for instance, recently launched a redesigned website for SFGate.com that at first blush appeared to be a massive improvement on the old design – one that had been used for many years. But as readers began to have troubles with the site, TNM readers criticized the notion that the new site was an improvement. Over the past week or so, as I have visited the site I now realize that the site is completely unreadable using Safari on my desktop. No doubt the designers are working hard to fix the site before traffic completely tanks.

But I also recognize that my own views concerning news site might be outdated. I really do like the look and feel of the NYT’s website, even preferring the older site to the recently updated one. For me, the best part of most website redesigns resides in the new, bolder, larger look of the individual stories, not the home pages. But I’m an old publisher, right? – and not the reader most news sites are trying to attract.

  • Jack Heape 3 years ago

    I agree with the author, the new website seems to be catering more to the aesthetics of the designer than functionality for the reader. I HATE the new site, and I told them so in their feedback survey. When I did the survey, over 70% of the respondents did not like the new site. As I said in my comments there, it looks like they hired a Windows 8 designer who had been fired.

  • Stacia 3 years ago

    To have the Guardian, of all papers, jettison those who actually READ the news in favor of a site that offers headlines to be skimmed so it can sell product is pretty depressing. The end of an informed citizenry worldwide. Who knew that the future of the press is going to be mimeographed paper circulated by hand, as the internet bosses co-opt even so-called progressive organizations by dangling phone-readability as though it was a shiny object in front of a crow.

  • Stacia 3 years ago

    As for the SFGate design, another travesty. Little discussed is the fact that it eliminated the once-robust reader comment sections that didn’t have to be moderated through logging in to Facebook or another tech company. Now anyone with a slightly older computer (say, 4 years) that doesn’t run the very latest softward (since the tech companies deliberately create obsolescence long before the hardware has any problems) – essentially, the middle class and the poor – are prevented from commenting on any of the articles they can find a way to read. Has this cut down on criticism of Silicon Valley and anti-tech comments from readers? You bet!