Category Archives: Websites

The Best-Ever Publishing Festival Line Up

PPA-festival-line-upI’m producer of the two big content streams at this year’s PPA festival, where along with CEO Barry McIlheney and his team we’ve put together the most fantastic line-up. Four stages, 60 speakers, CEO’s, MD’s Facebook, Google and…Mushpit!

The festival is Thursday May 12th, there’s still a few tickets left, buy them here.

Type size is your friend

streetsofsalem.comMost people never read more than 25% of even their favourite magazine. However, many editors are totally blind to this fact, insisting on getting every single word of their deathless prose wedged into the page. Invoking higher authority, this often produces nothing more than a sophisticated internal memo that no one will ever read.

As designers, we’re culpable in this, as it’s we who set the size of the type in the first place. Not only that, many designers seem to think that readers have 20/20 vision, and are perfectly willing to read large tracts of text across super wide columns in sizes that would strain the eyesight of fighter pilots.

Among many other reasons, this is a reason why I love The New Yorker so much.  Their text is beautifully set, 10/12, I believe, across the correct measure and with perfect kerning.

I’ve written about the print version of The New Yorker previously on this blog, and also had the pleasure of interviewing their creative director, Wyatt Mitchell, the podcast of which you can hear here.

But it’s how they treat their digital platform that’s interesting me now.

eleven postsI have very mixed feelings about this brand online. One of the great pleasures of The New Yorker is that they tell me what’s important, and what I should read. I trust the editors to edit, so when I get messages like the one above I GET REALLY STRESSED OUT!

But on the other hand, if there’s a story I want to read on the go, I’ll happily consume 10,000 words on the phone, such is their quality.

New yorker mobile typeWhich is why I’m so appreciative of the way they’ve set the type. The screen on the left (above) sets up the story with a hed and a picture. But click ‘read more’, and not only do you get the picture caption, (right) but the body copy goes up in point size.

Young-Napoleon-Hugo-D-Aviles-hugo-avilesIt’s a tiny move but it really does prove Napoleon’s point: “Execution is everything.”

This post was first published as part of my guest editorship of the American Society of Publication Designers blog.

My interview with Wyatt Mitchell, the Creative Director of The New Yorker

wyatt-mitchell-talkWyatt is going to be speaking at Magfest 2014, the Scottish PPA’s eagerly awaited conference on September 5th. He’s The New Yorker‘s first ever Creative Director, as well as having a storied CV behind him, with roles at Wired, Vibe, Esquire, Oprah Magazine and TV Guide.

Here’s an exclusive podcast interview I did with him last week for the Scottish PPA. Wyatt talks about redesigns, digital innovation, native advertising and what it’s like to work inside one of the world’s greatest media brands, all fascinating and at times totally unexpected revelations.

In other news, I’m also on the bill for Magfest, where aside from buying Wyatt a drink, I’ll be talking about how to build trust in media. More on that later …

Five must-see, must-read links

Five-must-readsThe New Yorker re-launches it’s website, claiming to bring all their sensibilites to the web, but at warp speed. Great post, thanks to @magcuture for the tip.

David Carr: ‘I’m not so much a digital native as a digital casualty’ Great writing by @carr2n in The New York Times. If you’re really keen, here’s another, even better piece by him on what it is to be a journalist today.

This chap has designed over 600 world class book jackets. Here’s how he does it.

Jeff Jarvis on how Forbes native advertising strategy has devalued his view of the brand.

Superb analysis of the new Airbnb logo.

How do you compete with a billion dollar logo?

buzzfeed-voxThis post was first published on The Media Briefing earlier this week.

Buzzfeed is now considered one of the world’s most innovative news organisation. It’s value is currently over $1b, getting close to the likes of The New York Times ($1.28b), and dwarfing other digital news sites. So it’s no surprise that more start-ups are wanting a slice of the pie.

American news site Vox is early out of the blocks, launched just three months after founder Ezra Klein left the Washington Post. He claims that Vox will ‘Explain the world’ but the site is already creating a stir, as evidenced by last weeks rant from a senior Facebook executive complaining that ‘Someone should fix this shit’

He was referring to Vox’s story about how you should ‘Wash your jeans instead of freezing them’, with the complaint was that they were not delivering  ‘A new home for serious journalism in a format that felt Internet-native’.

When it comes to content, you have to make your intentions very clear. Which is why design is central to a users understanding of what to expect. Can Vox persuade readers that it’s a real heavyweight political commentator? Can Buzzfeed change horses midstream and let us believe that they too should be taken seriously?

In short, what does the design of these two sites say about trust?

The logo fonts are fundamentally different. Buzzfeed’s is a functional sans, with an almost child-like feel created by the big lowercase ‘ee’. By contrast, Vox’s serif ‘V’ on their twitter icon is huge, and when spelt out has a sophisticated flourish. It feels high end, a bit like The Atlantic, redesigned by Pentagram not so long ago.

Newspaper-logosLikewise the colour means very different things. Not for nothing are serious newspaper logos black, and tabloids white out of red blocks. This visual language is impossible to deny: red means urgency, black is just inert. It has no opinion. (Although Stern have managed to have their cake and eat). But what does yellow mean in this equation?

Buzzfeed has built both traffic and reputation on spectacular viral techniques, listicles, cat videos, engaging headlines and their killer franchise, the online quiz, proving that content most people are interested in are stories about themselves.

But now they now want to do serious journalism. Reuters reports that they have boots on the ground in Ukraine, are publishing in-depth articles on Chinese dissenters and have had some big, breakout stories. But can Buzzfeed ever be regarded as a serious news site, when their key visual signature looks like this…

Buzzfeed-Logo-lolOr more precisely, LOL, in black type within a yellow circle.

The use of yellow has vexed media designers ever since CMYK was invented. It’s the brightest colour, but has the lowest tonal value, which means it has the highest level of visual cut-through.

US-small-coversNowhere is this more apparent than on a magazine newsstand, where yellow is the number one technique for getting a headline to stand out. For some brands, relying on yellow can cause real problems, as illustrated by the case of People, the world’s biggest and most profitable magazine brand. It costs a dollar more than most rivals, but because the whole category rely on yellow headlines, People looks cheap by association.

Moreover, in the world at large, yellow is often used to deliver marketing messages and price tags, which has taught us that when we see yellow, we’re being sold to.

Buzzfeed-desktop-homeIt all comes down to how it’s used. Like a celebrity news magazine, Buzzfeed, use bright yellow to draw our attention to comments, or small pieces of content that we may otherwise overlook.

It’s effective, but combined with a red logo, lemon tint panels and bright blue headlines, the combination of these colours creates a tabloid environment more akin to a Screwfix catalogue, than a premium destination for serious journalism.

Buzzfeed-mobile-articleAlthough to be fair, at the far more important mobile article level, the presentation is cooler, with the colour focused on social sharing buttons.

Grazia-magazineVox have taken a different tack. By making yellow the only colour, they’ve managed to retain it’s effectiveness, but without tarnishing it’s delivery. This is exactly what Grazia did in the magazine market. By using no colour other than yellow, the pallette looked like a fashion statement, and made the rest of the weekly market’s use of red obsolete overnight.

Vox--desktop-articleVox then go further by teaming yellow with grey, delivering a sense of sober authority. And in an unexpected twist, instead of black headlines, Vox use a very dark grey. When I first saw this in the ‘V’ of their twitter icon, I though it was an error, but this approach is consistently deployed in many places all through the site, particularly on mobile. The content can look pale and washed out, but it does prevent the words looking like sales messages.

Vox-mobile-HOMELinks are understated too, with a cool grey-blue, as opposed to Buzzfeed’s more eye-popping style.

Typographically, Vox has a cultured approach to their content. As any fule kno, there are only two fonts in the world, plain and fancy. Vox use both, with italic serif call-outs, traditional gothic headlines and modern sans text fonts. The feeling is sophisticated, although the small sizes create a somewhat pale reading experience.

Buzzfeed’s headlines and text are primarily in the highly legible and good-looking Proxima Nova. But with bits of Helvetica and other random fonts creeping in, there is a slight low-fi feeling and a lack of brand consistency.

Like Buzzfeed, Vox’s appeal is driven by virality of the headlines. Here’s a super-snarky story from Forbes, attempting to dismantle the thinking behind headlines such as ‘The Simpsons predicted the Ukraine crisis back in 1998’

VOX-desktop-homepageBut Vox are also using content curation as a way of building a content mix, as this homepage shows. Here, they pair a super-dull Russia and China story (good for credibility) alongside an orgasm story (good for clicks). Overall, I sense the desire to have a slice of Vice’s now very substantial content marketing pie.

Buzzfeed-mobile-HOMEBy comparison, even on mobile Buzzfeed go flat out for volume. Everything’s turned up to eleven, all of it looks fun, but there’s not a serious item in sight. And in the American style, deploy the hyped up tone of capping up every word in a headline: ‘A Naked Woman Has Made The Alphabet Out Of Human Hair’

Vox use a more measured upper and lower-case European approach: ‘How conspiracy theories explain political parties’. This typographic technique has less urgency, but a lot more conversational intimacy. And would certainly be preferred by Buzzfeed’s UK editors.

Overall, the Vox design direction is somewhat dull. But it’s undeniably modern, with yellow keeping the site just inside the pop culture canon. From a business point of view, they have set out to claim the journalistic high ground, and go viral from there. Buzzfeed are attempting world domination the other way round, by taking the lowland masses first, and then attempting to scale the higher peaks.

vox-native-advertising

Like Buzzfeed, Vox’s business model is based on ‘native advertising’ or any other term used to describe ads that look like a bit like editorial. However, unlike Buzzfeed, it’s really hard to see which posts are ‘sponsored’, and which are not.

Political authority and influence may be the motivation behind the site, but aside from the click-bait headlines it’s hard to detect any real sense of tone in the content.

Unlike established news sites, I don’t yet know what Vox believe in, other than an enthusiasm for Obama Care. We may be conditioned to it, but when it comes to politics, readers need to know what the brand believes in order to work out the true colour behind the journalism.

This is a problem Buzzfeed just don’t have. What you see really is what you get. It’s not pretending to be cool, there’s no attempt to seduce with the presentation. Which makes me trust them all the more.

Brand or content, what should be seen first?

people-logosThe UK newspaper People closed their website a little while ago. Launched with the idea that it would be ‘Buzzfeed for grown ups’, pretty much everything went wrong, according to this excellent reporting from of all places, Buzzfeed. Patrick Smith reports that there was a lack of identity, a lack of focus, and a complete failure to grasp how the native advertising business model works.

people-multiThis lack of brand benefit is perfectly expressed in the website logo. The way it worked (or rather, didn’t), was that the People logo was preceeded by a rotating series of words; ‘Sporty’, ‘Famous’, ‘Glam’, ‘Funny’ and so on. The story underneath didn’t change, but the context did.

What this did was remove any trace of brand from the content beneath. The stories became entirely generic, no tone, no point of view, no recall.

buzzfeedBy way of contrast, this is Buzzfeed’s home screen from the very same day. Which, when you compare the lead stories of ‘Bachelor’ and ‘Wanker’, pretty well sums up why Buzzfeed’s tone is so sharp.

Print has similar issues, but the context is very different. On a newsstand, when is right to put a coverline above the logo, and when should you never do it? Find out more after the jump.

See more

Mergers, aquisitions and permanent beta. My media predictions for 2014.

End of year reviews are fun, but I’m just a little bit late for that. Besides, I’m much more interested now in what happens next. Here’s five big ideas that media brands need to grapple with in 2014.

1. Realise the value of their audience
Trust and recognition can take decades to build. With every brand in the world now able to deliver a content proposition, media brands have a genuine head start when it comes to building meaningful audience relationships. Expect mergers and acquisitions.

2. Understand that a strong point of view is an obligation
Content is everywhere, so brands must be highly disciplined with their content strategy to maintain attention, credibility and point of difference. This means more focus on brand values, and then delivering stories that reflect them with a point of view that really means something.

3. Create better sponsored content
Instead of the rubbish that turns up in everyone’s feed, brands have to realise their sponsored content must be entertaining, useful and non-promotional. Every. Single. Time.

4. Get the website balance right
The hardest nut to crack, but if the content and the user experience is valuable, users will pay – particularly for specialist brands. If titles can get their story straight and support it across every platform, then metered content, paywalls and added value subscriptions will succeed. A different business model will also reduce the requirement to yell at the audience with a bunch of screaming MPUs.

5. Accept permanent beta and budget accordingly
Media brands need to wake up to the fact that visual design IS content. User expectation is now so demanding, that brands need to accept continual development when it comes to look, feel and function. Whatever the platform, if the experience doesn’t feel right within the first three seconds, people will wander off.

Same as it ever was.

Emotional headlines that make you cry are the new SEO

And that’s not a good thing, say critics of what’s been called “social content.”

They are talking about the way sites such as Upworthy and Buzzfeed are effectively gaming Facebook in order to get their content shared, writes Andy Pemberton from Furthr.

Their method is to tweak headlines until they drip emotion (often accompanied with pictures of crying women and children). If that makes no sense to you, visit the upworthy generator, an algorhythim that does the work for you. The downside:

Facebook are hip to what’s going on and aren’t too happy about this kind of content – content people do actually like, after all – appearing in news feeds. They’d rather people read the kind of upmarket stuff advertisers like to position against. Furthr pal Tim Tucker suggests you go to 38 minutes into this video for a really good discussion of the “Upworthy problem.”

Read more at Furthr

Gov.uk’s 10 design principles are simply a work of genius

The gov.uk website was voted ‘Design Of The Year’ in 2013, the first time a website has ever won this prestigious award. I wrote about it on coverthink back in April, but now, reports Andy Pemberton from Furthr, the people behind the site have detailed exactly how they get such great results.

  1. Start with needs*
  2. Do less
  3. Design with data
  4. Do the hard work to make it simple
  5. Iterate. Then iterate again.
  6. Build for inclusion
  7. Understand context
  8. Build digital services, not websites
  9. Be consistent, not uniform
  10. Make things open: it makes things better

Read more here at furthr.