Reuters is the latest big media company to re-imagine how stories should be presented online, debuting Tuesday a preview of its upcoming re-design.
Like the New York Times‘ preview, Reuters is big on white space, with a wide column for news. Reuters, however, goes even further than most – getting rid of the new trend toward a river of stories on the right rail. It’s just story all the way down the stream.
There’s a lead big image – though not as large as the Times‘s. There’s a clever X in the corner, which returns you to the section front page that the story is from (e.g. if you come into a story from a link or from the Reuters homepage, you aren’t returned there – you are taken to the section the story is in.)
There’s no sidebars in the story; there’s wide margins – compare this to the Washington Post, where the middle portion of a story is squeezed between a long left sidebar in the story body and an imposing right rail – so that the middle of the story resembles a Victorian woman in an overly tight corset. (It’s uncomfortable for the subject and the viewer.)
The stories load wickedly fast and there seems to be some pre-loading going on, as the lead story on the homepage loads faster than one further down the page. The main portion of the article – the image and the text — load very fast, while the other elements (such as the subdued share buttons) load asynchronously. You’ll also notice that after a few seconds, there’s more that loads underneath the story.
But perhaps most intriguingly, you’ll see that the horizontal slider on your browser moves down after a couple of seconds as more things load ABOVE the story you are looking at. What’s up there is the same thing you’ll see if you close the story – the section homepage. It’s not clear if readers will actually learn or want to scroll upwards, but it’s a very clever experiment with the notion of the stream. The story is clean and uncluttered, but there’s more to explore if you want.
I have a few reservations. I think there’s too much excerpting going on on homepages – I’ve seen a recent study showing that excerpts decrease reader click-through rates to stories.
The body font is a light gray I don’t love and the typesizes should all be bigger – especially the caption text which is nearly unreadable. I’m not in love with the selection of stories that show up after the post, but they aren’t awful. For those links, I think the images ought to go on the left side, before the headline, rather than on the right after them.
But, it is after all, a preview. And given that it’s built on an API outputting JSON, it should be pretty simple to experiment.
And, as an experiment goes, it’s a great one.
It respects readers. There’s no annoying fly-out of a “recommended” story. The design says that the reader’s attention on the story is primary and that relationship is not to be meddled with. There’s no unnecessary, page-viewing pumping pagination. There’s not many sites on the net that are as respectful of the writer’s story and the reader’s attention.
I hope readers respond well to it and other such layouts. If your site’s stories are good – respect that and give readers the chance to be immersed.