Guardian redesign – expectation, habit and design

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The Guardian has had a bit of re-design. Emily Bell gives us an overview

If you use our site regularly you will already be familiar with the improved layouts and bigger pictures, as well as the helpful ‘keyword’ navigation against articles, which tie into the look and feel we gave our homepage back in May 2007. The size of the task, which involves moving half a million pages into a new format, means that while the majority of the work will be completed over the weekend you might notice some irregularities over the coming week. Our sports, arts, life and style and education sites will also be moving over in the next few months.

I like it, although I would love for them to roll out whatever they are going to do in a quicker way. The mix of old and new is starting to show (like a fancy hairstyle that’s showing its roots) But the post is an opportunity to see the development of the site go on in the open. An exercise in transparencey or cheap weekend beta testing?

I think the later. And above that the dialouge raises some good points about expectation and audience.

Here’s the first comment on the post-one that I think illustrates that point

Well, the first thing I noticed is that there doesn’t seem to be any way to get straight to the Football home page from the main front page. I’m sure there must be others like me who frequently zip into the site to go straight to an overview of today’s football stories? It’s like buying the paper – yes, I go straight to the Sport section, but I expect to see the football news at or near the front of it – I’m not really interested in any other sport.

Interesting. Someone who wants to use a newspaper website like a newspaper. The crazy fool!

This sentiment is repeated over and over again and before you right this off as sport people being too lazy to click a few times it’s worth pointing out that it wasnt all sport.

With the shiny new makeover of guardian.co.uk appearing this morning, one issue seems more persistent than ever. Why are games kept in the “Technology” section? This makes no sense at all. Keeping games reviews in the Technology section makes as much sense as it would to put DVD film reviews there, simply because the film is delivered by electronic means.

It seems obvious to me that reports on games-related hardware are clearly the domain of the technology section, but software reviews belong in the Culture section.

Later on Bell responds (great interaction here)

Football link is clearly the number one ‘please change’ item – though I’m distressed that mouse over drop downs get such short shrift.

The other recurring theme – why do it at all…essentially, those of you who are loyal users probably haven’t noticed how bust our existing navigation was….each site having a local nav meant that there was no sensible way of navigating from section to section. Over the years the front page nav had become so full that things regularly got squeezed or dropped off. As we added more to the site the grouping of sites under generic headings is a better long term solution though it introduces some short term niggles.

That’s design over expectation and habit. The mouse over drop downs get short shrift because people learn how to use a site by using it.  They don’t learn how to use navigation elements and then apply that knowledge to each site they visit.

The incremental tweaks, done in an open way will mean that most users will learn the new way round – I don’t  think they will lose anyone through the design. But its worth pondering on the expectation of your audience whenver you consider doing anything public facing.

They have a pretty strong idea of what they like and dont like. But only tell you when they think you have it wrong.

If that means that it’s football rather than sport for a link or that your culture section finds the odd review for grand theft auto next to a review for Doris Lessing then, well, the public gets what the public wants. No matter how crazy it may be.

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