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Earth To USAToday: Adding Social Features Does Not Fix The Ugly

It seems to me that in a meeting at USAToday‘s offices, someone told them that making the site look and feel better was somewhat mutually exclusive from offering social features, so they chose “social and really ugly” over “not social but more visually appealing”.

As a designer and someone who visits many news sites each day (New York Magazine, NY Times, Newsvine, Daylife, etc.) I can honestly say this is the most appalling visual redesign I’ve seen in awhile. There are huge gaps of whitespace randomly strewn through the interface, major news article headlines are in the smallest font possible, images are not integrated thoughtfully within each article’s masthead box, they do not explain what the random small colored blocks mean throughout the interface, the bottom half of each page looks like someone just gave up and never designed it, etc., etc.

Scott Karp had this to say about the redesign:

“What are we to conclude from stark contrast between the (sometimes breathless) praise of USA Today’s “social media” redesign among tech/media bloggers and commentators, and the near universal rejection of the redesign among USA Today readers who commented on it? Could it be that it’s really the social media revolutionaries who “don’t get it” when they assume that what the people want is to rise up against the media autocracy and take control, when in fact what most people want is to get high quality information from a reliable source?”

So are “the people” right or the bloggers on TechMeme? Notice that everyone who is praising the social features on this site is praising *the technology* first and not even mentioning the shotty, haphazard user experience, but isn’t that what Web 2.0 is all about? Fawning over Ajax technical implementations and programming libraries before noting that nothing is actually *designed*? Seems like all the technical or social media prowess on the planet can’t buy you happy users, and USAToday is learning that firsthand.

This is the true problem with the “social media revolution” and the problem is that no one actually cares to examine what people actually want, instead giving them what they just think they want or what looks good on paper. When someone goes to the USAToday website, do they want easy and visually appealing access to news articles, or do they want to put in more work for themselves and leave comments and click up arrows? Do USAToday readers really want to put more time into the actual usage of the site, or do they want to hit one of the major topic sections, scan some headlines, and then flip to another location?

Mark Potts nails it:

“Gannett deserves credit for trying to innovate on, much as it has taken the lead in thinking about new ways to gather and manage news at its other papers. But this new design doesn’t seem fully baked (and the number of technical errors I came across moving around the site was quite disturbing).”

Paul echoes my opinion:

“While you can applaud the fact that they are taking a step in the “right” direction with more interactive features, how does the design encourage interaction on the site at all? Its as though they are too scared to make anything prominent so they went the next best route and made absolutely nothing prominent.”

About Mike Rundle


  1. Rick Turoczy says:

    Wait a second. You want technology AND design? You’re so demanding, Rundle.

  2. Mike D. says:

    Agreed 1000% and thank you for posting this. I wanted to do a full write-up on it myself (and still might) but thought with all the negative things I’d say it might not be the professional thing to do. We talked to USAToday about a year ago and it was clear to us they wanted to be a lot more like Newsvine. I’m not saying that to puff up my company at all… I’m just saying it because they said it.

    So instead of spending the requisite time to do things right, in a way that is pleasant for the end user, what do they do? They retrofit some sort of system from Pluck (I’m told) in the ugliest manifestation possible and in the process create one of the….

    I really should stop this short right now. Everything I want to say should already be obvious to all of the readers here.


  3. Lila says:

    That’s pretty harsh. I mean USAToday’s design, not your review. There’s no feeling of continuity as the eye travels through the page, instead it is just a bunch of random block with gradients thrown in for good measure.

    What’s worse are reader comments scrolling through the masthead. It is the masthead for goodness sake! Have some dignity.

    No wait, there’s something worse than that: the section selection tools. Nothing says professional like some little colored boxes. I think I’m starting to get dizzy from all of the colored squares.

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