NYT design honcho on redesign: ‘We’re not going to do things that don’t work’

The New York Times lifted the veil on its redesign efforts Tuesday, showing off prototypes of article pages as they might appear on the Web and on tablets. Reached by phone, Times director of digital design Ian Adelman said the prototypes were “an opportunity to try out some ideas.”

“What we see there is where we think we’re going,” Adelman said. “It’s not a beta. It’s not a prerelease version of the real thing.” The Times chose to share an article page first not necessarily because it envisions more people entering the site through side doors — the Times’ homepage still accounts for a “pretty high percentage of internal referrals,” he said — but because article pages are where readers spend the most time, so his team is hoping to make such pages a “really nice environment.”

A detail from a prototype news article, with links above and a large photo.

Adelman declined to say how many people were working on the Times redesign, which he said the company plans to implement later this year. The team receives input from the advertising and business departments, Adelman said, but the core group working on it includes designers, newsroom staffers, developers and product designers.

When the company last redesigned its website in 2006, the computer monitor was still the primary way most readers interacted with the paper’s digital offerings. (Apple introduced the iPhone just over a year later.) “The easy comparison to make is with native iOS apps,” Adelman said. “If you download an iPad app you have some expectation that that’s not the only version of the application you’re going to get.” The goal for the Times’ website, he said, is to get it on “more of a continuous improvement, continuous development sort of process.”

The Times’ press release for the prototype listed “Higher-impact presentation of advertising” as one thing readers will notice. “My view of this is when you remove competing material the things that are left have much greater impact, and that means out content and that means our ads,” Adelman said. “We believe there is an opportunity to create more benefit for both sides of the equation.” To that end also, the new design might use information the Times sits gathers from users — on what device they’re reading, what sections they read more — to present them with content they may enjoy.

The school of thought that says “let’s have a lot of links all over the place” yields a “diminishing returns thing that we’re trying to avoid,” Adelman said. Navigation on story pages, for example, is “not really well used” in the current design; the new design emphasizes “content over exposed navigation,” with a section internally referred to as “shortcuts” that will reflect the way a registered user tends to read the Times’ offerings: “We’re using that info to say, hey, let’s make sure crosswords are added to your navigation,” Adelman said. This process, he said, is “additive — we’re not trying to algorithmically present the Times”; the site’s nav will ideally let readers get anywhere they want to go.

The prototype design is open and allows for photos of different aspect ratios — many Web design templates, he said, “can influence picture selection” to a story’s detriment. The new design places comments to the side of stories and allows multimedia to run inline with a story or off to the side. If that reminds you of the Times’ celebrated “Snow Fall” presentation, that’s not an accident, Adelman said: “I think what you’re seeing is the result of a couple of things coming out of the same place.” (He mentioned the Times’ 10th anniversary of 9/11 package as another place to view the germs of these ideas.)

“A big part of this opening up the layout is having space to do that,” he said of incorporating multiple elements to a story.

The response to placing comments in the margins “is interesting,” Adelman said, “because some people see it as an elevation of comments and some people see it as a demotion.”

Typography nerds take note: “We’re trying to create a little more variety in the expression of our journalism,” Adelman said of the prototype’s headline treatments. News heds “are picking up a heavy italic Cheltenham typeface,” he said, a choice he believes reflects urgency. Feature stories will have a roman Cheltenham, and magazine stories will continue to use Stymie.

Body text, Adelman said, will probably remain Georgia. “My view on body type is don’t mess with something that works,” he said. “We would have to have some thing that would do a much better job” to replace Georgia, he said. “We’re not interested in branding our body text for the sake of identity.”

The Times isn’t taking a “canonical” approach to responsive design, Adelman said. “We’re going to make choices that are not about pursuing a certain type of dogma.” The redesign will hit Web and tablet users first, with the goal of coming together with mobile, i.e., phone, design “at some point.” But it’s all up for discussion, Adelman said, repeatedly stressing that what we’ve seen so far is a prototype: “We’re not going to do things that don’t work,” he said.

The new design will hit tablets and Web first, Adelman said.

Related: A Tale of Two Newspaper Interfaces (MIT Technology Review) | Inside the New York Times’ web redesign (The Verge)

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