One of the traps far too many newspaper.com sites fall into when redesigning is viewing the site as a newspaper.com site and not a news/community.com site.
Not so, mainetoday.com.
Clean and not overloaded with links. Joe Michaud and his team have put together a site that resists the temptation to put EVERYTHING on the home page. Compare it, for example. with Chron.com.
It’s a tough call for most news sites, because there is just so much important information to point people towards. As wonderful as the new CNN.com is, it’s still a pretty long home page.
The first thing a newspaper.com can do is drop all the section boxes on the home page — those long lists of headlines by sections. You’ve got your section nav. That’s good enough. Next, just be really disciplined about what you allow on the home page. This is more of a internal political issue than anything. Everybody in the organization thinks he deserves some representation on the home page. That’s just not good design or usability. Site managers need to enforce some clear guidelines. Finally, dump some ad positions. Besides text ads, more than two ad positions is way too much. One is ideal. Your advertising will be more valuable on an uncluttered page. (Yes, MainToday.com has three ad positions. Oh, well.)
This is what we’re after at GateHouse Media with our first round of templates. We’ll fill out this look with some more content modules next month. We also have two new sets of templates we’ll unveil in five or six weeks. Again, we’re going after a cleaner look.
Of course, it was also the design style I championed in Bakersfield. That was nearly two years ago, and it’s still an uncommon approach, which is why I find MainToday.com’s redesign noteworthy.
Another thing Michaud is doing that I think is smart is they’re rolling out the redesign over a period of time. Today is the home page. Subsequent sections will follow. A complete site relaunch is a bear and bound to lead to headaches. A slow roll out makes it less stressful to uncover unforeseen issues. Unfortunately, with the site launches we have coming up in August, we have no choice but to do a complete makeover. I envy Joe his more leisurely pace.
UPDATE: So I dashed this off quickly this morning after a first-blush take on the new site, seeing instantly that this wasn’t your typical newspaper site. On closer look, the site is even more of a portal site. It’s very much a community site. There is plenty of good stuff going on here with UGC, blogs and calendar. Mouse over the horizontal navigation. I’m not usually a fan of roll-over navigation, but this is an very interesting take on the concept. It strikes me as a pretty original concept. Given its context-driven nature, I can actually see it working.