The recently launched MSNBC redesign really grabbed our attention yesterday. While we don’t universally love everything about it, we found ourselves playing around with it a bit longer than we would have expected to. Here’s a sampling of some of the comments heard around the studio.
This is a pretty impressive effort toward designing an interaction framework for a massive media conglomerate with a dozen sub-brands, content licensing deals with who knows how many third-parties, and an absolute clustercuss of a styleguide. I’d say that the designers performed capably under this duress, delivering strong mechanisms for staying upright and pointed downhill amidst the avalanche. I like the nifty “upscroll” that reveals an info-rich header (but crikey this particular header has a heckuva lot going on). The “annotated scrollbar” holds the experience together, providing a modicum of navigational predictability across the various content sets. I have a variety of visual critiques, large and small, but overall I’ll high-five MSNBC for not being afraid to spook loyal readers with new ways of interacting with content.
Of course it feels strange at first, and I’m not sure if I would have noticed the option to scroll up to uncover content, had nobody mentioned it. My reaction is similar to how I felt when I first saw the new Cooper site [Editors’ note: stay tuned for this!]: I’m not sure if it’ll really work, but it’s something I haven’t seen before and it feels more than an attempt to be different just for the sake of it. Even if it doesn’t work out, trying something new and different when everyone is watching is something I can appreciate and admire.
Kudos to MSNBC for abandoning the cluttered, segmented, ad-saturated layouts typical of news websites for a truly content-forward experience. It’s a lot of change to encounter all at once, so the experience is a bit foreign, but I think that will pass with time as readers learn new idioms and the design adjusts to the strains of use. It is an odd hybrid of the information density of a sovereign desktop/iPad app and the long-page scrolling breadth of a web page. And it speaks volumes about how interconnected our content has become that the editors expect to provide every story with some combination of images, videos, interactives, and related articles.
I really appreciate the fact that the MSNBC team tried some daring stuff with their redesign. As with any such effort, some of these innovations will probably turn out to not-so-good, others will turn out to need some tweaking, and if we’re lucky a couple of these ideas will help us all move forward with how we deal with all kinds of information coming from every different direction. I’m really digging the use of the upscroll to access headlines (in a similar vein to where search lives on the iPhone), and I like how far the vertical scroll has been pushed even further as a primary navigation element, as well as the nifty little jump buttons along the scrollbar. The site is certainly not perfect, though. While I can tell there is an underlying grid, it could certainly be stronger—it looks like every vertical layer is on a different horizontal rhythm. And while I know it’s tough to do anything graceful with big display ads, these feel particularly clunky, especially the way they stick with you as you scroll, breaking the vertical orientation of the page a bit.