The Daily Mirror have jumped onto the Buzzfeed bandwagon, with this new data journalism called ampp3d, here’s a story at gigaom that explains the approach:
‘The idea behind Ampp3d is to use social-sharing methods — snappy headlines, emotional content etc. — in the service of data journalism’
The speed of the development is impressive, just 8 weeks from decision to launch date. Also, the fact that Trinity Mirror are willing to experiment in this space, having already had a go with something called usvsth3m.com. Which whilst looks fun, hasn’t exactly set the world on fire.
The Ampp3d site is pretty good. There are lots of smart stories, all well told with compelling visuals. The idea of simple data visualisation isn’t new, people from Business Insider to Furthr, have been doing this for ages. The thing that will determine Ampp3d‘s success, is whether users will want to share.
The visual cues are big, with social buttons front and centre at the bottom of the posts. So it’s now all down to whether the headline is engaging enough. There’s been a lot of debate about the new style of headline writing exploited by upworthy and in particular, viralnova. In short, this technique relies on doubling down on the emotion in the story, but stripping out the content. Here’s how Business Insider describes the method:
‘The headline model for the site is laughably smart. First, take a news story, add the phrase “you won’t believe” or “this ____ made me cry, but” and then the kicker sentence: “what happens next will blow your mind” or “then this happened.” There’s your recipe for viral success.’
The Ampp3d headlines are good, but if they can develop a real point of view that maintains a high level of emotion, they could do really well.
But what looks wrong here is the name. Ampp3d is hard to remember, impossible to type, and with a content and context that seems to talk more to the business model than any kind of user experience. The ‘3’ is totally confusing. Is this about the phone company, page three, or perhaps it’s just some hangover from the 3am girls. It may well be that in the digital space names mean diddly-squit, if the stuff is being shared, who cares what the site is called?
But I doubt it.
Update: Since I wrote this post, Martin Bellam, who launched the site has written a fine piece explaining how and why the name was chosen, along with many other insights into the challenges of getting a new launch out the door so fast. Recommended.
The challenge with a book about news, is that as soon as it’s printed, it goes out of date. Which makes this book from Francesco Franchi, the award winning art director of Italy’s Il, all the more impressive.
The post on his own site has plenty of images and details about what he was trying to achieve. In particular, this line stood out:
‘Designing News explores how today’s media outlets can become credible, cross-platform news brands. Franchi advocates redefining reporting as telling a continuous narrative across a broad range of traditional and digital media. To this end, he proposes a new, integrated role for editorial designers in advancing the evolution of media for the future.’
The book quotes many people on this point, not least Khoi Vinh, who back in October 2011 argued the case for a new kind of ‘Editorial Experience Designer’; according to Franchi, a figure ‘who can build a great digital product out of great editorial content’.
On top of all this theory, the book is an excellent work of reference, with examples of The Guardian,Bloomberg, Il,The New York Times, Zeit online, New York, USA Today, Katachi and many more. The index is excellent, likewise the bibliography and all the references.
There are fine essays from Mark Porter and Richard Turley and a quite amazing story about the development of the Guardian font families from Paul Barnes and Christian Schwarz.
If I have a complaint, its that it all feels very dense. There are a LOT of words, and many of the pictures are similar sizes. But that doesn’t alter the fact that every designer, and every journalist should own this book.
Here is USA Today‘s new logo. Designed by Wolff Olins, it’s modern, clean, and I can completely see how they came to this solution. We’ll come back to the design in a minute, but for now, what does it actually mean? My first reaction was that the uncompromising minimalism says this is a brand that is still defined by what it is not.
Since it’s launch in 1982, USA Today has been lying around hotels and motels across America. It’s never caused much offence and I suspect never been read very often. But its mild mannered ubiquity has seen it become Americas second largest print newspaper along with a website boasting over 38 million visitors. So this redesign is a BIG deal.
Particularly, as instead of analysing the print, everyone is now interested in what all the web, tablet and mobile platforms are going to look like. I haven’t seen the paper yet, but I’ve zipped through the digital stuff and for the most part, it looks good.
The site is very much improved. This is the new home page, which aside from the cool look and feel, has binned off the MPU ads, and replaced them with some massive full width display ads deeper in the site. Adage has good reporting on the new ad strategy. Which may, or may not work out…
However, this is the tablet version, which is poor by comparison. Given how slick the browser experience is on a tablet, you really wonder why anyone will bother with the app.
I suspect the mobile version has the potential to be the best of three. I really like the way it has been organised, here are a couple of screens to give an idea.
The paper looks good, although the central graphic flatters to deceive somewhat, as it doesn’t actually mean anything. And of course, the headlines seem tiny to these European eyes. Other commentators on twitter have been less kind. @weareyourfek says: ‘The redesign looks like BuzzFeed printed out and turned into a car wash flyer’. Ouch!
And as you might expect, The Onion has been particularly cruel, with this fantastic infographic, above.
Elsewhere, there has been plenty of comment on the business plan. The New York Times says that Gannett, who own USA Today along with 82 other papers and 23 broadcast stations, is attempting to consolidate all its news operations into one big hub. And that this redesign is a way of leveraging that benefit. It might also explain why ‘Gannett’ is part of the new logo.
But they also quote Alan D. Mutter, a respected industry expert, who says: “The real problem is what is the real mission of USA Today. It used to tell me the weather. Now I have the app for that. The once revolutionary and original mission of the paper has been usurped.”
Which brings us to the nub of the problem. USA today was launched in 1982 with the mission of ‘providing news and information that was clear, concise and presented largely without opinion’ (my italics).
To not have a point of view today just doesn’t work, if it ever did. With content everywhere, we need brands to guide us through, to make sense of all the noise, and to give us their valued opinion. Without that, plain content means very little.
Adage has good reporting here on the paper’s plans to improve this. They have hired the excellent Michael Wolff as their new media comentator, (read his great story on Tina Brown here) and there are plans to get the journalists allow their own voice come through more strongly. But can they really do it?
This is the slick promo video that explains the new mission. It starts well, with a big pitch about using ideas and visual storytelling to create a sense of unity in the nation. But then comes the bit where it declares that their product is all about ‘understanding and utility’.
NO WAY is that going to cut it. To quote Lady Macbeth, they need to ‘screw their courage to the sticking place’. They’ve made a big fuss about their new logo having some balls, here is a chance to use them.
They should get some hierarchy to the stories. It’s currently so flat that I cannot tell what’s important. They don’t seem to know either, as online the splash wanders around between either the Chicago teachers union going on strike, a random boxing match or a spat over Civil ware re-enactment authenticity.
This lack of editorial direction is transmitted through the new logo design like a tuning fork. The old logo was literal, the map device tells us that here is a newspaper for folks who, er, travel around America a lot. Not brilliant, but at least specific.
By comparison, the new logo seems reluctant to say anything at all. The structure is fine, as is the colour. The neutral typography might be OK if it was paired with a symbol that had something about it. Equally, the blue circle might just work if there was some engagement with the type. There is nothing that distinguishes the type from the headlines, and the symbol has no intrigue other than its emptiness.
And yet, I like it.
Sam Ward, the designer behind the logo, has made a lengthy defence of the work, stating: ‘I believe our balls are symbols of who we are and where we’re headed. They are signposts, perhaps; reminders that offer inroads into America’s stream of consciousness’. If this is true, the logo will only really come to life if the editorial content does too.
1861 aside, America has never been more divided that it is today. For evidence on that, go no further than Romney’s recent 47% comment. Surely, here is a real opportunity for USA Today to grab the nettle, and lay down some clear markers as to their editorial direction. To tell us what they believe in, and to give us genuine reasons to listen to them.
A good model for this is Business Insider. It’s got great tone, a wide range of content and an excellent range of length. There are super fast tweets, excellent infographics and longer, indepth pieces. This fine analysis on Romney and the USA economy, gives a good idea of their expertise.
USA Today have given op-ed space to Romney, but that’s not the same as saying what they think. They don’t need to come out for either Romney or Obama, but they should tell us which parts of each candidates platform they agree with. Then, middle America might begin to take some thought leadership from the brand, rather than turning to other, totally polarised media outlets.
USA Today can maintain a balance, but they also need to accept Tibor Kalman’s best ever piece of advice: ‘If you make something no one hates, no one loves it’
Update:Under Consideration have published an excellent in-depth review of the redesign, showing how the logo circle acts as a content vehicle for all the separate sections of the paper.
The guy standing in the bottom right of this picture is Francesco Franchi, the Art Director of Italy’s much admired Il magazine. Fresh from his triumph at the SPD awards in New York City, Francesco was speaking last night at the EDO. Introduced by Mark Porter, this packed event took place inside the impossibly hip environs of Mother, in London’s Shoreditch.
Il is noted for extensive use of stunning infographics, as well as fine typography and powerful layout. Have a look at magculture‘s recent post on the work to get a feel for it. As you might expect, Francesco’s presentation was like one great big infographic. And really good it was too, with a highly refined visual narrative to explain the work he’s done and how he did it. There was insane attention to detail, underpinned by a very strong grasp of form and function.
But what about his chart that shows infographics peaking sometime last year? And the mysterious shaded box in the top right of the picture, with a caption that reads: “what next?”
I’ve already posted about the potential for infographics as a content marketing tool. But what I think is actually going to occupy the top part of Francesco’s diagram is THIS.
Well, not exactly this, the opening credits to Catch Me If You Can, but animated infographics. Tablet designs that move, with as much reference to Saul Bass‘s amazing title sequences, and Maurice Binder‘s work on James Bond as anything we have yet seen in print.
Here is a super-simple infographic that popped into my inbox last week from Furthr, a new content marketing agency set up by Andy Pemberton. Andy is a former Editor of Q Magazine and a regular contributor to top titles both here and in the US. With Richard Scott supplying the design, that makes for a pretty powerful team. I get all sorts of email, but I really liked this item. It was so fast, direct and memorable, it made me think well of the business that sent it to me. Which of course, is the whole point of content marketing.
It now seems that every brand in the land is wanting to tell us stories, serve us facts and generally entertain us with their fluency in generating and curating content. They have always done this of course, through customer publishing, but they are now taking matters into their own hands. P&G has invested heavily in Super Savvy Me, Coca Cola is moving from creative excellence to content excellence, and there will be more to follow. There’s a lot of debate about it too. Read this post at Publishing Executive for an idea of the current landscape.
However, there is so much content in the world, and so little time, that actually getting anything to be seen, read or looked at in any way at all is increasingly difficult.
Which is why infographics are so very powerful. For a masterclass in how to make them, you can do no better than read this superb post at Fast Company written by Josh Smith, a member of the Brooklyn based design group Hyperakt. There’s tons of detail there, and lots of great examples.
But as Any Fule Kno, this is still the original and greatest infographic of all time. Here is Charles Minard’s 1869 map showing the route and the nature of Napoleon’s 1812 invasion of Russia. A staggering amount of complex data displayed with the utmost simplicity.
Although my personal favourite has to be this 2005 infographic showing the number of suicides from The Golden Gate Bridge, and the precise point from which they jumped. Brilliant work.
For further reference, both Wired and Bloomberg Business Week do great infographics, and there are many good books on the subject. In particular, Information Is Beautiful, and the daddy of them all, Edward Tufte’s Visual Display Of Quantitative Information, which Amazon declared to be one of the ‘Best 100 Books of the 20th Century’.