Gawker Fail

A lot of fuss has been kicked up over the recent redesign of the Gawker websites. After readers protested, Gawker backpedalled a bit, but the changes they’ve now implemented are few and far between.

Who ever came up with this design needs to have the cluebat applied to them: design is about functionality first, looks second. It doesn’t take long to find Wikipedia’s quote on design:

(noun) a specification of an object, manifested by an agent, intended to accomplish goals, in a particular environment, using a set of primitive components, satisfying a set of requirements, subject to constraints; (verb, transitive) to create a design, in an environment (where the designer operates)

Gawker says their goals for this design was to satisfy the “(…) need to showcase our strongest stories and visuals”. Fair enough. The new design might satisfy this.

The usability of this new layout, however, sucks raw eggs through a very tiny straw. That’s a problem, because the goals for their target audience aren’t the same as their own. They’re to “make consuming and commenting on stuff they care about easy”. What use is it to showcase your strongest stories if your readers are turned off?

Their failure is not in the design missing it’s goals, it’s in them getting the goals wrong. You should always listen to your audience. They’re vocal enough about their likes and dislikes.

So let me pick on some details that stand out immediately:

  1. The blog view was fucked up in the previous design already; the varying size in which some stories were “showcased” made it hard to pick out the ones you really want to read. You keep getting distracted by the big bold stuff. That might be intended, but it doesn’t help the reader.
  2. The new design compounds that issue because it doesn’t even allow you to browse through headlines easily. They’re (almost) hidden somewhere on the side, and previously didn’t even scroll. That has improved, IMO, but is still worse than reading through an RSS feed (which, incidentally, I can thoroughly recommend to readers unhappy with the design change).
  3. The new design makes threaded commenting even less visually distinctive; it’s hard to figure out which other comment a reply responds to. It wasn’t great previously, but it worked better.
  4. You can’t see previous comments when you write a new one; if you wanted to refer to something, that’s lost. That is, you can, if you click a link that loads them again. What happened to the vastly more useful previous concept of the page not changing just because you want to add a comment to it?
  5. In-article ads are distracting. There’s a “Mars” ad for me in the article linked above, for example; I almost didn’t read the article because I thought it was somehow to do with the brand of chocolate bar, and didn’t
    find myself caring. You’re not getting more ad impressions by turning people away from the content the ads are in.
  6. Scrolling is fucked up with two separately scrollable segments. People are used to scrolling what their mouse pointer is close to (over, strictly speaking, but people’s perceptions aren’t necessarily that precise). If my mouse is to the right of/closer to the whatchamacallit right-hand bar with the headlines, and I use the scroll wheel, the article text scrolls. My expectations don’t match the results of what’s happening. That one they can fix easily by making the article scrollable in it’s own right and stopping the page from scrolling.
  7. There’s no preview functionality for commenting.
  8. There’s WAY too few visual cues in the structure of the articles; headlines are too light-weight, don’t stand out enough from navigation, etc. This is especially true if the articles are cluttered with visually strong ads.
  9. Just from a purely objective/technical point of view, they should’ve done A/B testing with a big change like this. They’re somewhat doing it by leaving the new design off sites like uk.gawker.com, but they’re comparing two different demographics here. It’s a poor man’s A/B testing, and doesn’t really tell the right things.

What saddens me is that I can point these things out, and I’m a programmer, one of those people rumored to have no eye for design at all. Do you want to know how I noticed them? I realized that the stuff I was used to doing on pretty much every website and in pretty much every program didn’t fucking work. Not a good start for a user interface.

I’m willing to bet that whoever came up with this design was a graphics artist, and not a user experience designer.

Gawker should hire one of the latter. I can recommend one or two.