Notebook: 17 October 2015 | DIGITAL
Part one: The Times | The Telegraph | The Guardian | The Independent
With newspaper print sales continuing to fall, the quality of their publishers’ online offerings are more important than ever. Here’s the first of my two-part review into which is the best designed newspaper website. My judging criteria was simple – it had to look attractive and it had to be an enjoyable user experience. I was looking for a site that was quick to load and redraw, easy to navigate and good on the eye with well crafted typography and bold, lively imagery. I made a note of the time it took to load up the front page for each site (The reviews were done on Saturday 17 October between 7 and 8am using an iPad 2. I live in the middle of the countryside so my connection isn’t great…). And I set myself a simple test: how easy was it to find a report on the on-going day’s play of the Pakistan v England test match. For a bit of fun I’ve awarded marks out of 10. Here’s the results…
The Telegraph Load time: 26 seconds
First up was The Telegraph. It’s not a site that I normally visit so I was very pleasantly surprised by its good looks and ease of use. The front page is busy – not to the point of distraction but in a positive way with lots of interesting stories to dip in and out of. There’s a good mix of lively pictures and plenty of them, and the Matt cartoon at the top all adds to the enjoyment. The typography is clean, simple and unobtrusive. There’s not one dominant lead story but I didn’t find this a problem – I suspect that when a big story drops, then they clear a large space for it. The site is built on an underlying flexible 6-column grid which has been used very carefully so that the home page retains its liveliness and never looks rigid. Adverts were unobtrusive and confined to the two right hand columns of the grid. As it’s a Saturday it was good to see the Premier League football fixtures displayed on the front page lower down. And the cricket? There it was, clearly flagged up in the middle of the page and near the top. The Telegraph give you ball-by-ball commentary of the Test match plus a fancy Hawk Eye live infographic which is a bit of fun but probably not of much practical use, and it did grind my iPad down to a halt.
Verdict: Well engineered site that is a pleasure to use. 8/10
The Times Load time: 16 seconds
Quick to load but feels dry and sober compared to The Telegraph. The top of the front page looks much more like a newspaper front page with a column of text to read. Like The Telegraph, it’s built on a 6-column grid but it feels regimented and does not have the same lively freedom. The Test match is highlighted clearly towards the bottom and a click takes you through to the story – a good report from Michael Atherton on the previous day’s play, but… you only get a little taster because of course, you come up against The Times‘ paywall – yes, you have to take out a subscription to read their news…
One odd thing I noticed was that the words on the navigation bar across the top are all blurred.
Verdict: Dry and a little dull (and impossible to read unless you pay for it). 5/10
The Independent Load time: 30 seconds
I so much wanted The Independent’s news site to be an enjoyable experience – I like both The Independent newspaper and its sister publication, the ‘i’ for their great looks – but the website, which I guess is trying to be an amalgam of both papers, is a disappointment, falling down on both its design and its user experience. Should the site look like The Independent or like ‘i’? They’ve understandably chosen the middle route and designed it to look like neither and so instead of the fine serif headline font of The Indie newspaper or the slab serif of the ‘i’, we are given a sans font, which looks modern and sharp enough, but has no continuity with either paper. The pictures look badly chosen and poorly cropped and there’s none of the energy and busyness of The Telegraph. It all feels a bit too blocky although it does improve as you scroll down the page. But the big problem is that something isn’t working properly – there are large white gaps between stories. Is something missing or is it just painfully slow to redraw? A quick check on my desktop computer reveals that the white gaps are spaces for ads which have failed to load up because they use the now unsupported Adobe Flash Player… I had trouble finding the Pakistan v England Test match which was buried away at the bottom of the sports page.
Verdict: Looks sharp but falls down on useability. 5/10
The Guardian Load time: 20 seconds
It’s easy to see why The Guardian website has received so much good press and won awards. It’s lively, attractive and easy to use with a good mix of pictures – photos and illustration, that have been carefully selected and edited, and it follows the Guardian brand to the book. It’s all built on a simple 4-column grid which the user isn’t really aware of because they fill it so well with a rich mixture of content. There’s some useful colour coding, so for instance, picture stories are flagged up with a charcoal grey background, orange headline and camera icon and they carry the colour through to the story so that the pictures zing against the dark grey background – simple but very effective. ‘Live’ stories are identified with a browny-red background and a flashing ‘blob’ which is a neat idea although it’s a bit distracting after a while. What the stories with the purple background are, I haven’t quite figured out yet… The cricket was flagged up nicely on the front page, and like The Telegraph, The Guardian has its own running live commentary and there was a good match report by Mike Selvey on the previous day’s play. I was a very satisfied customer.
Verdict: Great site and easy to understand why it has such a big readership. 9/10
Tomorrow: The Daily Mail, The Daily Express, The Daily Mirror and The Sun