USA Today unveiled new designs for its newspaper, website and mobile apps over the weekend to coincide with its 30th birthday.

According to a statement by Larry Kramer, the company’s president and publisher, the idea is to reinvigorate “the value of print media while introducing new digital products.”

The digital platforms have been designed to include bigger images and more graphic-driven stories, as well as live video coverage and instant analysis and commentary.

Both the old version and the revamped version of the website are available online at the moment, so I took a look at the new iteration to see whether this truly is the future of online journalism…

Navigation

The new website design mimics an iPad app in that when you navigate between different topics and stories the pages slide left and right in the same way that you would swipe a mobile app. Also, individual stories are displayed in large icons rather than as text links.

Here’s the old homepage for comparison: 

Furthermore, when you select a story it expands into the front of the screen so the homepage stays visible, giving the feeling that the site is one immersive experience.

Users can then click the arrows on the left and right of the screen to slide to the next story rather than having to navigate back to the previous screen. Also, for habitual users of the browser’s back button, this still navigates to the previous page. 

Having the homepage in the background also means that when you click the cross in the top right you are still browsing the USA Today site rather than exiting it altogether, which should help increase time on site.

There’s also a neat ‘cover view’ option which allows you to browse through articles with more emphasis on images, something which works well on tablets. 

This may be teething problems with the new design, but many if the links within articles weren’t working properly, meaning this error message was quite common: 

Video section

One of the stated aims of the revamp is to place a greater emphasis on video and images, but at the moment this section could do with a bit more work.

It appears that USA today has tried to cram as much content as possible onto the screen, but the result is that the icons are look quite small and dull.

Also, the text it uses to label the video clips blurs into the background so you have to make an effort to stop and read each one – nothing jumps out at you.

It could be that this section is just intended to be a backup for video content so the clips continue to be visible after the stories associated with them have fallen off the homepage.

But even so, based on the eye-catching design of the news pages they could have done something to make this section more enjoyable to use.

Ads

Unlike most news sites, you don’t see too many ads as you browse through USA Today, but there are some very intrusive ad formats, which take over the whole screen and obscure much of the navigation. 

News sites need to strike a balance between finding the ad income they need to survive, and not annoying users with intrusive ad formats. In this case, I’d rather see more banner ads than this kind of format. 

Conclusion

Following the massive surge in popularity for mobile and iPad apps in recent years it makes sense for newspapers to use a similar design for their websites, however USA Today is the first one to take the plunge and deserves credit for taking such a bold step. 

Though the BBC used a sliding navigation tool on its homepage when it redesigned its site last year it didn’t apply the same look to the rest of the site.

But despite the revolutionary design, the navigation on USA Today’s site actually feels quite natural as I am used to navigating mobile apps in the same way.

I also think it will encourage users to spend more time browsing USA Today’s content thanks to the way stories open without navigating away from the homepage.

Whether the sleek new look will be enough to rescue flagging online advertising revenues is doubtful though. It will surely take more than a revamped website to get marketers to suddenly start investing heavily in USA Today’s banner ads.

The real problem that news sites face is that the way people consume news is changing faster than they can come up with ways to monetise the content, and mobile appears to be the future rather than desktop.

Still, it makes sense for USA Today to introduce a more consistent look and feel across all its digital products, and it’s definitely better to try something new and innovative than to stick to what you know and slowly watch your company go out of business.