The Times Gets a Revamp

by Kieran Healy on April 3, 2006

The “New York Times'”: website just got a new design, and at first glance passes the test of being better-designed than “my homepage”: (It had been failing this test for the past five years or so.) As I write this, the new look is set off by a “photograph of Bill Frist”: apparently demonstrating the best technique for strangling cats you have “rescued”, but I presume this will not be a permanent feature. My first reaction is that the page is pretty large — it looks like it’s a full 1024 pixels wide, and there’s a lot of stuff squished onto it, too. Too much, really. They could have cut out that right-hand quarter (with all the market/investor garbage) and just stopped the front page at the big six thematic blocks (Arts/World/etc). I’m sure the likes of “John Gruber”: or “Cameron Moll”: will have more informed things to say.

Lurking in one corner is an ad for “that awful contest”: to Win a Trip with Nick Kristof. I haven’t seen too much comment about this since it launched a few weeks ago, but I know I can’t be the only one to have winced. At present, my favorite candidate to accompany Kristof is Tom Friedman, with Anna Nicole Smith a close second and Christopher Hitchens (belligerently drunk version) trailing in third.

_Update_: On the design, “this scaled-down screenshot”: (scroll down) of the whole front page confirms that the people who will love this the most are designers with 30-inch monitors (rotated 90 degrees). It’s too wide for my laptop (a current-model iBook). “Gruber likes it”: a lot. He thinks it’s “much less crowded than before,” though he also thinks “there’s just way too much there” — so remember, if you are talking to a designer, that word “crowded” doesn’t mean what you think it means.



John Quiggin 04.03.06 at 12:21 am

My big problem is that the type size is tiny. That’s in Firefox, and with the page taking up most of a largish monitor.


Nick Caldwell 04.03.06 at 12:44 am

Interestingly, the new head of the NYT web team recently lead the redesign of The Onion. He talks about it here: He’s a master of complex web grid layouts.


Nick Caldwell 04.03.06 at 12:46 am

On the other hand, he claims he wasn’t involved. Sigh. Should really read further.


Kenny Easwaran 04.03.06 at 1:25 am

That must have just changed over two and a half hours ago, or whenever it became the new day in NYC – I thought I was reading there this morning and it was still the old style. Anyway, I liked it when they added the “automotive” section to the set of categories (mainly because it would occasionally run articles on hybrids or emissions standards – not because I actually care about cars), and I”m glad that “education” gets a section too. So I for one am happy that they don’t just have the six categories. Though perhaps they should have made this a feature for personalized users, the way google news does, rather than for everyone. I imagine this could get very cluttered for lots of people.

I worry though that the different relative lengths of headlines in different sections will keep making the columns tough to read on certain days. But since they’ve now got three columns instead of two, they won’t be as long, so the difference won’t grow as much, I guess.


Sven 04.03.06 at 3:45 am

Hideous. It was like reading the Yellow Pages before; now it’s like the company bulletin board.

Hell, even the Estonians have ’em beat. Vaata ja hinda!


chris y 04.03.06 at 4:27 am

I would make derogatory remarks about the use of serif fonts on the web, but I wouldn’t make them here.


Anna in Cairo 04.03.06 at 5:19 am

But Friedman can’t go; he would fall off of the Earth’s edge.


Barry 04.03.06 at 6:28 am

Friedman should get the ‘parachuted into Baghdad wearing an American flag suit’ tour. This could be a repeat event; there are a number of warbloggers who deserve such a vacation.


Mrs. Coulter 04.03.06 at 7:47 am

Waaaaay too wide. Just because their readership probably has 1024 pixel monitors doesn’t mean that they use them at that setting (my parents don’t, and neither do my inlaws). Also, many laptops max at 1024 (mine does), and I don’t like to have individual browser windows occupy my entire screen. Yuck.


Mrs. Coulter 04.03.06 at 7:48 am

Oh and the type is PAINFULLY too small. Really. I know designers can’t resist small type, but someone else should have exercised a better judgment.


abb1 04.03.06 at 7:49 am

No one among the suggested companions strikes me as a possible masochist.

Well, on the second though: maybe Tom – with his 70s-porn-star-style mustache and all…


Ginger Yellow 04.03.06 at 7:53 am

Ugly, ugly, ugly. It’s just way too cluttered. You don’t need separate sections for Books, Theatre, Arts and Movies on the front page of a website, let alone “Dining & Wine”.


Anita Hendersen 04.03.06 at 8:44 am

It looks broken in Netscape Navigator 7.1


dunno 04.03.06 at 8:47 am

You don’t need separate sections for Books, Theatre, Arts and Movies on the front page of a website, let alone “Dining & Wine”

Come, now. All those linked sections were on the old site. The problem wasn’t that they added links, it’s that they made the links bigger and added white space. The real inconvenience is that it is actually harder to navigate to the Fifth Avenue Matron/Hampton Snob sections than it was before they spread them all across the page with no concern for logic.


will u. 04.03.06 at 9:18 am

Ugh.. What I liked about the old style was that you could immediately grab the headlines. Now, font reduced, they sit uncomfortably amidst the clutter


Barry 04.03.06 at 9:35 am

“Oh and the type is PAINFULLY too small. Really. I know designers can’t resist small type, but someone else should have exercised a better judgment.”

Posted by Mrs. Coulter

I thought that federal law required headache-inducing small fonts on all websites.


Ginger Yellow 04.03.06 at 9:57 am

“Come, now. All those linked sections were on the old site. ”

I’m not saying the old site was any better. Surely the point of a redesign, though, is to improve things. And they still don’t seem to have grasped the point of a newspaper website, which is to expand your audience and keep a paper’s journalism relevant and read in an age of 24 hour news channels, blogs, and Google News. At least 95% of the website’s visitors are going to be from somewhere other than New York and won’t be anything like as rich as the print readership, so keep the parochial and elitist stuff off the front page.


miss representation 04.03.06 at 10:47 am

I wonder about the user base here. Web stats consistently show that 1024 is into a majority and moving much faster towards dominance than the 680 to 800 jump. Perhaps skewing towards institutional and older laptops? Newer laptops, even 12″, are designed to be much tighter than previous incarnations (someone apparently figured that having a 1400px screen made a laptop a desktop replacement, even if you can’t read it), so 1024 on a laptop (manuactured in the past two years) in no big deal.

I have a 19″ LCD set at 1280×1024, and the redesign looks lovely. My only complaint is that I thought the global nav was handsome before, in a very restrained way. Looks like they drank the standards juice and went full text for all links.

I resized my monitor to see if the page size was dymnamically generated (I was impressed how carefully the layout worked to push a full sized ad into the lower right corner of my monitor, so I could see the new AT&T logo is all its offensive glory), but based on that, and the comments here, it appears to be a one size fits some.

Though I might also argue that it doesn’t do the best possible job of converting the front page into a website, it also looks like this wasn’t a major requirement. That is understandable, since the future of news publishing on the web is not making your home page a faithful reproduction of the front page, for better or worse.


miss representation 04.03.06 at 10:52 am

Oh, if it we are going to nitpick and wave our monitor size, perhaps the good folks at CT should be advised that when set to 1280, the center div (which floats) on the CT site pushes the limit of what are good typesetting standards (90-100 characters at my default Firefox settings). You should consider setting a max width for the page overall so that they center div would max out… 1024 would be nice.


joel turnipseed 04.03.06 at 12:40 pm

My first instinct was: Nice. The font size & layout don’t bother me, as I run at 1280 on 19″ LCD (is this pretty much the standard now?)–except: Georgia? My pal Dack links to an interesting usability study that suggests why NYT chose this particular font–though it’s somewhat less readable, it’s considered by readers to be much more appealing.

Also, and I don’t remember this being on previous site: the link to “Today’s Paper” at the top–it’s nice to see what the dead-tree version is running on a given day (as the online version puts me into calendar vertigo whenever someone says they saw something in “today’s NYT” & I immediately check the Web version, which is a mix of yesterday’s, today’s, and tomorrow’s news).


lemuel pitkin 04.03.06 at 1:34 pm

I’m with Miss R.: rather than critiquing the NYT website, which you cannot fix, why no critique your own, which you can.

To begin with, what’s with the silly contributors setup in the upper left? Now and then I want to look up an old post by a particular writer. I never want to see a contributor’s bio, but I often do anyway.


Kieran Healy 04.03.06 at 1:47 pm

rather than critiquing the NYT website, which you cannot fix, why no critique your own, which you can

Send money or kidnap “Khoi Vinh”: for us, then.


Tim 04.03.06 at 4:35 pm

What has occurred to me (and I delude myself into thinking the world cares) is that the web format is far less flexible than the newspaper format. Lots of piddling little news stories? Lots of little articles on the front pages. One big one? One big article.

Now, the hierarchy is much more rigid. (I think that’s bad, but feel free to try to convince me otherwise).

Observation number 2: No ads on the front page of the paper newspaper–why not be really bold and return to that paradigm for the web site? (Yes, I know the answer to that question)


nick s 04.03.06 at 4:43 pm

Built by designers with big, wide monitors for designers with big, wide monitors.

1024 on a laptop (manuactured in the past two years) in no big deal.

12in iBook, 1024×768, but the top menubar and dock (if you use it) take away that, so that you’ll get 1024×600 or, with the dock at the side, about 900×700. The same applies to the menubar and taskbar and desktop icons in Windows. If you browse at fullscreen, you have a too-wide page that looks very pretty until you try to read it.


fyreflye 04.03.06 at 5:43 pm

With a 15″monitor (so sue me) set happily at 800 X 600 with 16 font size type I had to switch to 1024 X 768 and 20 to get it to fit my Firefox browser. Those complaining about the small type may need to search their browsers’ settings to increase font size. All’s well except I can barely make out the labels on my toolbar. But since I disable my javascript and smother Flash anyway the resulting “enhancement” is pointless for me.


cbu 04.03.06 at 10:59 pm

When at home I often still use my blueberry iBook with its 12-inch monitor. Built in 1995 and running Mac OS 9.2, it is still the one computer I’ve ever owned that has never made a visit to Apple’s repair center.

But it seems that every week another of my favorite sites undergoes a makeover that makes it at best an unpleasant chore to view when it doesn’t crash my browser completely. I’m so sorry to be adding the to that list (along with my local papers and; on the bright side perhaps the reduction of web-surfing options will ultimately increase my productivity.

Since MacClassic users probably only represent 5% of the Mac users who themselves represent 5% of the total PC market, I have no illusions that any web designer would consider back compatibility for my configuration. But I am surprised that anyone would look at the new design and consider it to be a marked improvement; even with my newer 14-inch iBook their site looks like a newspaper just threw up onto my screen.

(And in case anyone is wondering, although the content of CT posts is compressed to a 2 1/2 inch column surrounded by oceans of white space, it still renders well on my trusty blueberry.)


miss representation 04.03.06 at 11:50 pm

12in iBook, 1024×768, but the top menubar and dock (if you use it)

Subtracting from available space due to docks, widgets or whatever else is your business. The screen is 1024. Personally, I’ve never seen the need for all that gimmickry. Having spent my most data processing intensive years in DOS, I’d rather not touch my mouse.

In any event the 1024 issue is a red herring. The major story content stops at 620px, as does all interior content. Even the below the fold story intros trim at 620 px. Being forced to measure this before I wrote it made me look closer at the layout. The care with which the elements are placed is a very elegant solution considering that in 15 months, half of you won’t be needing the workaround.

If you have Firefox, increasing type size is as simple as Ctrl + ‘+’ (Ctrl and the plus key). Minus to make it smaller.


John Quiggin 04.04.06 at 12:20 am

The typesize seems to have increased of its own accord – it’s now readable.

On serif fonts, everything I’ve seen says they are more readable than sans serif for blocks of text: is this wrong, or are screens different from paper?


c'mon 04.04.06 at 12:33 am

Umm, guys … I hate to break this to you, but the resolution talk is bullshit. It’s all about increased ad space.


almostinfamous 04.04.06 at 1:25 am

john q, i believe that for web/computer screen purposes, Sans works out best and for type it’s Serif all the way.


nick s 04.04.06 at 9:57 am

Subtracting from available space due to docks, widgets or whatever else is your business. The screen is 1024.

Oh, bullshit. In any iteration of MacOS, the top menu bar is a constant. You can’t remove it. In any iteration of Windows, the bottom taskbar is there by default, and hiding it is stupid UI. Demanding the browser window to be at fullscreen is also bullshit. Work in DOS if you like, but I’ve been using windowed GUIs for well over a decade, thank you very much.

i believe that for web/computer screen purposes, Sans works out best and for type it’s Serif all the way.

That used to be the case, but with subpixel rendering on LCDs, the jaggedness of serif fonts — at least, those designed for screen use — is pretty much a thing of the past.


miss representation 04.04.06 at 11:40 am

Top menu bar? What does that have to do with screen width? I made a simple claim: new laptops default to 1024 or wider (Dells default to 1400 or therabouts). Any reduction of width is user intervention, not device limitation. As far as I know, there are no default menu, screen, or other UI elements that reduce screen width in OSX or XP. Am I wrong on that front?

And, again, major story content on the new site effectively ends at 620px. Which is inside the 640 margin that was the standard a decade ago.


b. phillips 04.06.06 at 4:35 am

It is all about increasing ad space.

The Times site used to be pretty distinctive – black font, more Times font – but now it’s pretty much the Washington Post. There is still some Times font, but it has the blue (oooh, it’s so easy on my fragile eyes) Arial headlines and giant “TV screen” picture, because us dumb consumers need to think we’re watching TV.

Also, resolution matters. I am on a laptop, and I never – never – make browser windows take up my entire screen. There are other things going on. So perhaps the Times’ TV screen works for people with huge monitors and browser windows who like to scroll a lot… but not me.

One good thing: The fonts were way too small, especially on the sea of headlines at the bottom of the page. They listened to feedback, though, and upped the size a few points.

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