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Another ignorant blog about user experience in real life and digital adland

All You Need Is i

Is there such a thing as UX of a newspaper? There wasn’t as such till now.

Few days ago a new newspaper has been launched. It is called ‘i’. Quite uncreative, I know. But it has the big idea behind it and apparently an amazing strategy, we’ll see its that better soon. At the moment all those trimmings and perhaps even a cherry on top of it makes it surprisingly exciting, see for yourself:

i is specifically targeted at readers and lapsed readers of quality newspapers, and those of all ages who want a comprehensive digest of the news. i will combine intelligence with brevity, and depth with speed of reading, providing an essential daily briefing.

Being a target audience for this new ‘invention’ I went to buy it and see if it actually does what it claims to. I hardy buy newspapers these days although I do read loads. Anyway. It stroke me while I was reading it that they want to attract people that are dealing with interactive interfaces on daily basis. Then the modern paper should combine not only witty writing but also some of the UX best practices. I do not mean clicking on things etc. because this is not the case. I mean flow and functional quality of information, page designs(iconography, visual language etc.). Web is already full of inspiration and I hoped creators have done their homework.
I was wrong. Very wrong. My excitement wilted with page 2 when two things happened. First was discovering that my fingers are black. I was naïve to think that nobody does it any more. It is XXI century for God’s sake. Even the free pulp invested some money in proper technology. Second was a bit more complex because full page of very short stories made me feel like I want to click and read more… Yes, click on a printed text. Why? Because those snippets were badly written for the purpose. On the web, it is mandatory to make one to click on a headline. In a newspaper that claims to be a serious player this writing was way too good because there was no ‘read more’ option. This was the end of good stuff, the rest was a sad disaster. Days old news, scratching the surface, cheap jokes and it all looks simply like just another newspaper. Actually like the LondonPaper judging by the font. I even had this thought that some old pricks that still have no idea what’s the difference between blog and email is, have decided to create a new product based on their old false and arrogant strategy. They’ve hired their mates, spent all the Russian cash they had  and now they’re thinking where to run to. I couldn’t find any info on the editors, only that it is the Independent that is shitting on their own brand with this piece of mediocre writing.

We are creating a newspaper for the 21st century, designed for people with a thirst for information and entertainment in the limited time that they have available’
ANDREW MULLINS,
MANAGING DIRECTOR,,
INDEPENDENT PRINT
LTD (PUBLISHERS OF i)

First prize for the best waste of space goes to the weather column which does not have any information apart from an image and number of a page where you may find this information! Bit like good old web: “to contact us please scroll down and click on this rotating 3D crap in a bottom of our page”. That’s not all! Once you get there, to page 40 you’ll see the most amazing piece of design ever. Full  page weather forecast. Yes. Full page. Huge map and plenty of large numbers around the map, not on it. That’s the first impression. My first thought was – this is a forecast for the whole week, quite large numbers indicate importance of this piece of information. Actually someone fucked up hierarchy of information and after a long while I have realized that it is not what I think it is simply because 13 does not follow 15. It turned up to be… temperature in cities that were mentioned in such a small type that I found it hard to believe someone actually approved this page. It was pretty hard to figure out London’s forecast. Access to information reminded me of those elevators for wheelchairs that are too narrow to fit a wheelchair into it. One more thing confirmed myself in the belief that some old blind idiots were behind this dirty prank. It was a weather forecast for… the day before. I am not making it up. In a bottom of page 40 there’s an information telling us what was the weather like day before! WTF!
The rest of the paper wasn’t that funny, just traditional newspaper elements: crossword, comic strip etc. Where was the newspaper UX design? Only in my mind. Growing pretty fast. Idea of utilizing web interface for print was in my head for very long time but this paper was a perfect opportunity to establish a new standard for contemporary news writing and reading. Because the old model is based purely on writing and it does care about the reader in third or fourth place when it comes to kerning, pagination etc. By reading I mean taking in consideration not only the ‘user’ but also user’s behavior and requirements. That old school design needs to grow up and expand. There are many new kids on the block.

Widgets – where is their place in the newspaper? I am sure there is place for them. They just need to be translated into a format that would make sense.

Colour-coding? It does exist on a level that is more than disappointing, some colours on top of every page but not on page umbers or corners. Quick access is what the i is claiming too. If I am interested only in world news I want to be able to jump quickly there without going through the whole paper. On the web I click, how do I do it in print? I skip pages because design allows me to. What about safe tearing off content I won’t read at all but someone else would be interested in it?

Clear call to action? Actually CTAs in general do not exist in paper world as functional elements that relate to navigation through the newspaper. All right, ‘read more’ and ‘go to the page…’ have always been there, but when we’re talking about short pieces of info those ones are irrelevant. And telling people to visit the website for ‘more’ is like telling someone to go fuck himself.

On the other hand: how to write a headline that the reader wouldn’t want to click on to read more and  will be full looking forward to eat another snippet? How to use margins in informative way not only to ease the ‘navigation’ but also to deliver content(vide weather joke described above). Actually how to make a newspaper functional again? How to make useful ‘text scanning’? This is actually a bit too much for the writers today but there’s certainly a light at the end of tunnel.

Many of those questions can be answered after a quick consultation with UX designer that does have enough experience in digital as well as some print background.  Yes, like myself. But that’s hardly the point. The real point is that it took me less than 40 mins to review this paper while on the train. It would took another hour to scribble and communicate all basic changes that could be beneficial and perhaps to save the paper because it is going nowhere. Unless they want to steal some of the The Sun readers who have recently learned new words such as blog, twitter and email. But that’s hardly worth 20p for them. And the lack of famous page 3 does make it even less attractive. I do not mind paying someone to do the job for me, job of filtering, condensing and serving in functional way all the content I can find on the web for free. But now I’d rather read the Standard which unfortunately has recently lowered the bar and left my league. It is not the content that is important at the moment and I cannot judge the quality of it in the i, but I have all the  rights to raze it to the ground if it is claiming to actually work on my territory. Especially if it is not working and the i was born with horrible defects that now will hurt until it dies or someone heals it.

Tabula Rasa

White is a game. White is an art. White is an art of killing in any sense. Brainless and beautiful at the same time. You do not need any skills, you do not need to force yourself to think. This sounds like an ordinary shoot-to-kill game, doesn’t it? Not really the case this time, I am afraid.

Created, apparently, by first-year students at ENJIM, the Graduate School of Games and Interactive Medias in Angoulême, France is as innovative as Little Big Planet. Brings, actually fake, element of creativity. This is what the authors say:

WHITE is the first FPS based on both the player’s violence and creativity. The score only depends on one thing: your talent!

Talent! What talent? One, old prick perhaps, would ask. There’s not talent involved. Since a while there’s completely new category of creativity and we cannot deny it. Having spent almost many eyears working hard to get two MA degrees in arts, (actually creativity) I have been told that there’s such a thing as talent and this is the only way of achieving success in art world. I wasn’t that sure about the fact that one has to born with it. Then I saw Joshua Davies and he really pissed me off. I was educated with quite old school tools and terminology. I was very impressed with Jackson Pollock tho, so Davies’ random shit shouldn’t be a problem. Or I should rather say this new aesthetic category of random digital creation didn’t fit any of my boxes .I was also into actionscript and under huge influence of net.art which was a bit of anarchistic punk culture that grew pretty well on moist and well nutritioned soil of the web. The popularity of random art was a bit too much, or was it the ‘pop’ factor? It seems so now. Net.art is long gone, Joshua Davies drives free BMW and Marian Bantjes took their place. Every whore gets old and useless at some point, I know that from experience and I hope those kids can re-invent ‘action-painting’ on digital canvas. Simply because this fits contemporary need for creative expression. Not impressionistic crap or post-modernistic bullshit. Completely new(or new again) form of self expression that does not require talent, skills, brains, education etc. Sorry but we all deserve it. If any of those ‘-ism’ wankers think otherwise they shouldn’t have raped people’s brains for so long, taking away the right to artistic expression from people. Not that I am suggesting pop-culture winning over high-culture but I think that postmodernism has eaten its own tail already and if there’s no other option we can expect next gen of Salon des Refusés or maybe something that Napolen III has initiated: public judgement. God save us all!

PLAYBUTTON

Is there still time for this? Is there still space for it? Do we need to remember how it was when things were fixed? What about those who will never remember, for them this would be fun, or curiosity? In what context?
So many questions from just one button. I personally love the idea of Playbutton something that is between those two historical functionalities. One is the iPod’s hidden complexity behind one simple button and the second is this old school singularity of objects. Who would want to carry a box of tapes and change them to listen to just a single track and then change back to listen to another one? Well yeah, some dickheads would to show off, but being honest I cannot imagine making life again complex like it was back in the days. I cannot refuse myself being able to be free, or a bit more free to be precise, in making choices. On the other hand there’s this temptation of having physical exemplification of those choices. Having them touchable, sortable, putable and losable. How does one lose an mp3 song? Doesn’t. One cannot lose mp3, one can delete it or forget where it is among millions of other mp3s and one can easily get a new copy at any time. It is then impossible to lose a piece of music in a way that somebody else would find it between the seat and side of the bus and then play it in their mp3 player. Tangibility of music remains only in buttons we press to play it. And, as cliché as it sounds, music has lost its physical appearance. CD or a tape were the music, they were not just the objects. We haven’t lost it. We just made our life easier by getting rid of the middle-man, yet still we long for yesterday. And it is not because of the objects(well, in consume driven world we are dickheads and we do think so), it is because we had a medium that helped us to appreciate, now when it’s gone we do not feel like we posses it. To remind ourselves, Walter Benjamin wrote that the aura is gone because of the multiplication. And I’d add again that it is not gone. It is moving. We need to start seeing it not above object but above content. I’ll never buy PlayButton.