Five years of chasing clicks has made browsing the news one of the worst user experiences on the Internet. Depending on the size of the homepage takeover, it can be hard to tell if you’re looking at a slot machine or a news website. Prestigious publications have pushdown video ads playing between the paragraphs of stories. In local markets, the same type of ad doesn’t have a stop or pause button. Relentless Google Survey questions separate us from articles. It is difficult for users to login, reset their password, or become paying subscribers.
If you think about design, it’s not hard to see why fake news sites exist. They look a lot like real news sites. The media industry has neglected to hire or empower the tech, design, and product people who can change that. Even worse, fake news sites are eating our lunch by serving up the same click-driven ad model without the overhead of doing any real reporting. None of this is said with disrespect to the talented sales staffs who hustle everyday to make the numbers work. We can’t afford to leave money on the table, and bad advertising is also only part of the problem. But ultimately, it is building exceptional editorial design sensibilities — and the character of our communities or content — into our products that will separate us from easy-to-install WordPress themes. News design, at its most useful, is an important media literacy tool.
Andy Rossback is a designer and developer at The New York Times.