Traditional Media And Responsive Web Design

It can actually happen – a newspaper getting Web design right. Check out the new Bostonglobe.com site that is getting good reviews all around.

Technically, this is not a redesign but a completely different site from boston.com, the Globe’s popular Web site which functions more like a community portal (and the news is buried in classifieds and event listings). The new site is news oriented – a readable newspaper on the Web that doesn’t require an App for a portable device. It’s paywalled (free until September 30), but incorporates a number of innovations that are worth checking out.

Most remarkable is the Responsive Web Design approach by designer Ethan Marcotte where the content on the screen seems to redesign itself in response to its context. For Marcotte, designers have taken false comfort from the increasingly explicit requirements – I need a site for an iPad, it has to render on a Blackberry – that has allowed them to compartmentalize design problems. But with the proliferation of devices, there’s no way to keep up – a “zero sum game” as he puts it – and a better approach is to do one design (and codebase) that renders across all platforms by redesigning itself on the fly.

A good analysis by Joshua Benton of the Neiman Journalism Lab describes it best:

Open up BostonGlobe.com on your computer, then shrink and grow the browser window to various sizes. On any page — most dramatically on the front page and section fronts — you’ll find the content resizing, realigning, and resorting itself as its viewport changes. It’s not just that things grow bigger or smaller — it’s that they change position and form. Shrink the front page and the top navigation — a list of the paper’s sections — collapses into a dropdown menu labeled “Sections.” Listing “News,” “Metro,” “Arts,” and so on makes sense if you’ve got 960 pixels to pay with — not if you’ve got the iPhone’s 320.

The design is clean, though not entirely minimal. Benton does some link counting and in comparing Boston.com to the new site, there are fewer links on the front page (312 to 160) and on the articles page (99 to 41). There’s still marketing but the number of links and the ads decrease significantly on a smaller screen.

Benton is not all praise here and there are a number of questions: will a quality experience attract readers willing to pay or will they stick with Boston.com or go elsewhere? It’s hard to say, but at the moment, it’s refreshing to see a clean, well-designed page by an old media institution.

Boston Globe Front Page

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