Notebook: 18 October 2015 | DIGITAL
Part two: The Daily Mail | The Daily Express | The Daily Mirror | The Sun
Here’s the second of my two-part review into the design of newspaper websites. Yesterday I looked at the The Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian and The Independent. Today I’m taking a look at the online offerings from the ‘tabloid’ press. Once again I’ve pushed my political views and prejudices to one side. My judging criteria was simple – the site had to look attractive and it had to be an enjoyable user experience – quick to load and redraw, easy to navigate and good on the eye with well crafted typography and bold, lively imagery. And I set myself a simple test: how easy was it to find a match report on the Pakistan v England Test match. For a bit of fun I’ve awarded marks out of 10. Here’s the results…
(These reviews were done on Sunday 18 October between 7 and 9am using an iPad 2. I have yet to look and see how these websites appear on a smart phone)
The Daily Mail’s Mail Online
According to Wikipedia, Mail Online is the most visited English Language newspaper website in the world. They have a simple tried and tested formula which obviously works very well for them – a three column grid with news in the left two columns and a sidebar of celebrity and gossip stories in the right column. Navigation is straightforward (two quick clicks and I found my cricket story) and adverts are unobtrusive. The site is packed – jam-packed – with stories and every last little bit of space is filled with words and pictures. After a while I found it all a bit relentless and the styling is very old fashioned.
Verdict: Works well but old school design is a turn-off. 4/10
The Daily and Sunday Express’s Express
As the Express site comes up on my iPad it looks promising and has an attractive busyness that reminds me of The Telegraph, but then the site coughs and splutters and eventually redraws itself with one of those wraparound adverts that runs across the top and down both sides. And as you scroll down the page the advert comes creeping down the sides and catches you up – aargh! Go away! So as a user, I found myself trying to ignore the ad’ with invisible blinkers and forced myself to zone in on the editorial content in the middle. If you try to view the page in portrait format on the iPad, the combination of the 6-column grid and the wraparound advert gobbles up the space on the width and makes stories too small to view properly. Pages are slow to appear and are a bit stop and start but once they’ve drawn themselves (and adverts are blinkered out) then the site is a pleasure to view with its lively grid and simple but well crafted typography. The cricket report was easy to find.
Verdict: Not a great user experience as it struggles to load pages with its wraparound advert but if you can put up with that, it’s a lively, well crafted site 6/10
Wraparound adverts are obviously the way to go for the Express and The Mirror. All newspaper publishers need to claw back their costs and try and make a profit from their websites, so it’s understandable that they’re offering these types of ad’ space however distracting they might be for the user. If you can look beyond the wraparound ad then the Mirror’s site isn’t bad. They keep it simple with a 3-column grid of mixed widths (built on an underlying 8-column grid?) and a very directory style of front page. The Pakistan/England Test match report was easy to find and I welcomed the score card and stats. There was an ugly ‘View gallery’ message and camera icon slapped across one of the pictures which was all a bit clumsy although it did lead through to a set of great sports pics on a tasteful charcoal-grey background.
Verdict: If you can live with with the wraparound adverts, it’s a clean and not unattractive site. 6/10
Weird! There’s no menu bar. Is this deliberate or a mistake? In an attempt to find it I clicked on the person icon top right: you are invited to sign in or join up, and until very recently you had to pay/subscribe to access most of The Sun website. Now the majority of the content appears to be free apart from this odd business with the menu bar – and the only way I could find the cricket was to scroll right to the bottom of the front page and go in via the ‘Sitemap’ button… Once on the cricket story, there appeared to be two headlines – one superimposed on the top of the other but slightly out of register which made the headline look blurred and very odd. This was only a problem on the iPad and not on my desktop computer and it’s one I’ve come across before on other websites. But back to the design: the front page is surprisingly clean and stylish with stories mapped out in white panels on a tasteful warm grey background. On the iPad you get three columns in landscape mode which switch effortlessly to two columns in portrait mode. The Sun designers have been brave as there’s a lot of empty white space (probably too much on the cricket page) and I can just hear the management asking for it to be filled out with more words or pictures. I particularly like the well crafted ‘Opinion’ panels with their striking black and white pictures and delicate typography (see picture very top). The story count feels low but this may be in part due to the lack of a menu bar – it gives you the impression that there is no ‘depth’ and substance to the site.
Verdict: Well designed and easy to use. Just give me a menu bar and make the site completely free! 7/10