Based on the redesigns of Tribune Co. Web sites, it’s a good thing they’re going private because I’d have to rate the company as a big sell, sell, sell.
I don’t know any way to say it more clearly: These designs are bad.
What shocks me is not only that they’re so bad, but also that they’re being rolled out so quickly to all of the Tribune Co. properties: OrlandoSentinel.com and Courant.com in June, then BaltimoreSun.com, MCall.com and ChicagoTribune.com in July. These are major sites that should be redesigned cautiously. More time for reflection between launches would have provided lessons learned that save a lot of user angst.
So, what makes these designs so bad? First, let me say it’s not the content. It’s strictly some oddball decisions that disregard studies and trends in the industry.
Glaring problem No. 1: The left rail
Poynter’s eyetracking studies (and not even the most recent batch, the old ones) showed that horizontal navigation fared better than left-rail navigation. In my view, Poynter’s was the last word on this discussion. Bad left-rail navigation includes dozens of links to nearly everything on the site. It’s like driving down the highway and instead of seeing only the signs for upcoming exits, you see all the signs for the next 300 miles of options. Simplify, and it’s easier for me to quickly arrive where I want.
Not-so-glaring problem No. 2: The tabbed main box
Judging from conversations I’ve had with sites that started using tabbed boxes years ago when first trendy, they work only under specific conditions.
Tabbed boxes might be effective if they’re used to shorten the page. In the case of Tribune, the home pages are still long. Even stranger: The content in the tabs is often repeated down page.
Tabbed boxes might be effective if the sub-tabs are for content that wouldn’t normally be featured high on the page. In other words, don’t put your most important sections within a sub-tab. They’ll decline in traffic. People just don’t use those nifty tabs nearly as much as we’d dreamed.
Perplexing decision No. 3: One size fits all?
Not too long ago the company pioneering the land of one-size-fits-all Web design went belly-up. That company’s name was Knight-Ridder. I don’t know the specifics of what made it so difficult to innovate amid a rigid system, but I don’t need to. They went belly-up. Remember? And the company that took over its sites, the one successful enough to do that, McClatchy, doesn’t believe in one-size-fits-all sites.
To some extent, the failure of Backfence was its one-size-fits-all approach to local coverage. To be micro local, your design can’t ignore the coverage strengths of individual papers. After all, the Orlando Sentinel doesn’t have the same strengths as the Chicago Tribune. So why would they have the same design?
Well, that’s the wrong question. We know why: Money.