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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.

Category: adland, design, UX

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