Longtime readers of The New York Times online report may know the site’s homepage as a somewhat dated, yet endearing homage to the printed past. But changes have been in the works, with a redesigned homepage that rolled out to select users in June.
User habits and expectations have shifted when it comes to consuming news on smartphones, with 77 percent of Americans owning smartphones and the devices occupying an increasing share of our attention throughout the day. The Times is redesigning its homepages to keep up with those shifts, making changes to the desktop homepage that will remind users of the mobile homepage and apps.
“Users are happier to scroll on desktop than they used to be,” said Paul Werdel, product director of news products at the Times in an interview with MediaFile. “Optimizing for that first at-a-glance sense of satisfaction and content density is something that feels different on the desktop than on mobile.”
The old homepage, which wasted a third of the page width on blank white borders to morph the wide computer screen into the shape of a broadsheet paper, made the homepage appear like a digitized version of the print paper. The redesigned page does away with those vestiges of print, using all of the pixel real estate at its disposal to communicate the news.
“One of the things that we heard really clearly from users in our research was that the desktop page, particularly for readers who are new users, can feel a bit overwhelming,” said Werdel.
The new desktop page features a larger font size, making it easier for readers to quickly scan the headlines rather than sift through large blocks of small font. The redesign also prominently features video and photos, allowing for a more visually varied experience while slightly deemphasizing text. By the end of 2017, online video will account for 74 percent of all online traffic.
“We ask users and readers to look at the screen and consume a lot of content all at once,” said Werdel. “Of course a huge amount of what we produce is text but a huge amount of what we produce is other forms of more highly visual content.”
The redesigned page emphasizes the Times’ most successful products, some of which have long been prominently placed in the mobile app. Those products include the morning and evening briefings, podcasts like The Daily and newer sections like Smarter Living which began earlier this year. The rigid and sterile separation by section that is so familiar to readers is softened in the redesign, with feature pieces given higher placement and the opinion section downgraded to a lower placement in the scroll.
“We know that users and readers are very familiar with that taxonomy and with that hierarchy and that will continue to be really valuable,” said Werdel while noting the pull to experiment with “content types that don’t map specifically to the traditional sections of The New York Times.”
Aesthetic changes are apparent as well, with bylines, timestamps and links to comments rarely appearing next to headlines in favor of simple bullet point summaries and social media-inspired time-lapse signatures.
The homepage redesign for both the mobile and desktop browsers are part of a larger effort to streamline the Times’ publishing system by incorporating all of its platforms into one stack of code.
While the changes represent a massive leap for the Times desktop experience, the site is still quite traditional when compared to the most innovative news homepages like OZY or The Outline. But Times readers will certainly notice an improvement in the reading experience, and a more serendipitous one at that – as nytimes.com finally brings the paper’s online offerings out of the print era and into the mobile and digital-first era.