Slate has introduced a new website design and I stumbled across it a few days ago. There was an article explaining the new design and why various ideas were implemented. I always find such discussions interesting because I like to know what the designers were thinking. Not that I’m always going to accept their rationales and agree with their decisions. I may not have majored in graphic design, but I worked in publishing long enough to learn a lot about what works, what doesn’t, and why. (Or maybe I’m just an opinionated old editor too set in her ways …)
The Slate designers decided to minimize their header/nameplate and give more space to the headlines. I can understand that. I decided some time ago that the overly large headers on many WordPress themes, for example, are often a waste of space. Not that I think my posts necessarily need or deserve more space. I just don’t see making readers scroll down any farther than necessary to see what else is on the page. And I don’t need the space to promote a particular subject or design.
However, reducing the header/nameplate to just a block in the upper right corner of the page as Slate has done is, I think, a bit extreme. Maybe I’m too old school, but I like headers that span the top of the page. They hold the page together. They don’t have to be very deep, but they need to be more obvious and functional than Slate’s, which tends to get lost in the clutter.
The designers, or perhaps it was the editor, think what they call the “burger” is clever. It’s the little stack of three bars in the header that readers click to get a dropdown list of department heads, etc. (Chrome uses one, too.) I’m not sure how many readers would know to click on the burger to see the department heads. Navigation on a website should be easy, obvious, intuitive. Slate’s is not.
That brings me to a really glaring shortcoming in the new design. There’s no search box on the home page. Or anywhere else. I discovered that when I noticed an interesting story I wanted to read, and then lost the headline before I could click on it. (I realized later I must have seen it in the dropdown menu, but lost it when I moused over a different department head.) I remembered a few key words so thought I’d just find it again with a quick search. Only there’s no search box. Nor could I find the item listed in the storm-tossed sea of titles (often, inexplicably, repeated several times) filling three long columns on the home page. I gave up, clicked on another article about the same person, and luckily that article included a reference and link to the “lost” article.
I think a search box is imperative on a home page. Ideally it will appear on every page. And ideally it will be in or near an upper corner, where readers can easily find it. Having to use Google to search for something on the website you’re already on is not acceptable.
Finally, having found and read the article, I decided to comment. I opened the comments, started writing, and realized I wasn’t sure of some names that had been mentioned. But could I scroll back up and check the article? Nope. The article was nowhere to be seen. And the back arrow didn’t take me back to it. So, after one false start, I opened a new tab, then went back to the home page, back to the article I wasn’t interested in, and clicked on its link to get to the article I was commenting on. Confirmed the names, went back to the tab with the comment section, and finished my comment. Ridiculous. And lots of luck to anyone reading the comments who wants to check someone’s remarks against the article’s content.
Summing up, Slate’s new design is the most user-unfriendly design I’ve come across in a long time.
(P.S. You might be interested in reading the article that explained Slate’s design changes … if you can find it.)
(P.P.S. Okay, in the interest of being user friendly, here’s the article about the redesign. Followed by more than 3,000 comments that, at a glance, appear to be universally unfavorable. Oh, and I discovered that if I click on the page in the background, the comment overlay disappears and the article reappears. Isn’t that clever? Too bad I didn’t discover that last night.)
- Slate Hates Us (southwerk.wordpress.com)
- ‘Slate’ Rolls Out Its Most Significant Redesign Since 2006 (mashable.com)
- Slate’s New Look (slate.com)
- I hate the new Slate. But it wasn’t designed for me. (washingtonpost.com)