Hartford Courant Reverses Redesign Based on Reader Feedback

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Taking cues from readers in a recent poll, The Hartford Courant has opted to return to a traditional, horizontal nameplate on their front page. The oldest continuously published paper in the U.S., The Courant is reversing its move to a vertical nameplate in a redesign launched last September.

Led by the paper’s new Senior Vice President and Director of Content Jeff Levine and designed largely by Assistant Art Director Chris Moore, The Courant posted three designs earlier this month and polled for reader preferences.

Levine said the poll was launched in response to feedback, “We received a lot of negative feedback on the placement of the nameplate when we launched our redesign last year. And that criticism never subsided.”

In the poll, readers favored a more classic position for the nameplate.

“It was a basic online poll,” he said. “Not scientific, but almost 95 percent of the participants wanted Hartford Courant back on top.”

Levine said calls about this week’s change “have been almost universally positive.”

“We are very focused on learning what our readers like and don’t like about the paper and the Web site,” said Levine. “We will regularly be engaging in formal and informal research.”

“The horizontal nameplate really gives us more flexibility for story play and more variety from day to day,” said Melanie Shaffer, design director at the Courant. “(The vertical nameplate) just started to seem a little limited — not a lot of options for how to play the page.”

The poll also gave editors an idea of how much color readers want.

“(One) prototype … had a horizontal nameplate, but the page was very blue,” said Shaffer. “People said ‘too blue, too blue!’ So we stepped back a hair from that while still trying to make elements pop on the page.”

Another feature at the bottom of the front page for readers who like to scan is called “Quick Take.” It resembles an earlier news digest format, but it’s written with more substance and detail in 10 or so short blurbs on additional stories inside the paper. “This is intended to give more information so that you can really get what the story is about,” said Shaffer.

Shaffer’s advice to other papers that might be considering some radical change to a traditional format: “I don’t think we can be afraid to take the chances. We just have to be nimble. Take the chance.”

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