The redesigned Bloomberg Business has been controversial ever since its launch. To many designers, Bloomberg’s maximalist layout is tacky and garish. I think critics are missing the larger picture. The home page’s dominance is waning. Bloomberg’s brash, over the top design is an effort to make it relevant again.
User flow on “content first” sites (e.g. blogs, media, Tumblr) has shifted in recent years. Social media, share services, and content aggregators have fragmented web site’s visitor flow. Articles and other permalinks have replaced the home page as a site’s main entry point.
Many companies, most notably Buzzfeed, have thrived off this shift towards social discovery. So most of their attention, optimization and A/B testing focuses on article pages. Meanwhile, other pages that link to these articles (home, section, feed) feel ignored. Most still rely on a busy, reverse chronological listing that feels like a relic of web design from years ago.
Bloomberg, at first glance, follows this “article first” design methodology well. Their articles have the same share friendly article template – big social media buttons, full bleed imagery, provocative headlines – as the competition. Yet Bloomberg dramatically shakes up the design of their home and section pages, which have:
Highly opinionated, brand driven aesthetics. A bold use of color, bordering on (or pushing past?) garishness. Text overlapping imagery. Web 1.0 era gradients. Blocky headlines with large white padding.
Varied story density. Content is in a responsive-friendly grid format. Yet every Bloomberg section mixes up how much is presented, and where.
No linear or chronological order. The layout rarely follows a clear pattern other than a “top story” or two placed at the top. Some pages have low density sections followed by high density sections. Others reverse this layout.
Bloomberg designers realize the battle for engagement has blown beyond the initial article. Now it’s the page after – usually a home page, section page, or feed – that requires creative focus. A unique, memorable second page experience can build a web brand and improve the odds of return traffic.
Bloomberg isn’t alone in heavily revamping and stylizing their home and section pages. The Vox Media properties and Medium have taken similar actions; they’ve carved out an aesthetic niche (Vox leans towards maximalism while Medium thrives on its simplicity) and a fresh articles listing format.
Overall, it’s a welcome trend. With web sites increasingly reliant on sharing and social media for visits, article design is starting to feel a bit stale. Now it’s the pages that bind the articles together that are getting a shakeup, with Bloomberg, Vox and others leading the charge.
David Bax, host of the consistently excellent Battleship Pretension podcast, writes on the dangers of the Netflix “all at once” TV model. For some shows, making an entire thirteen episode season available at once works. But some shows like Bloodline suffer from the format and treatment.
Patrick Lee over at The A.V. Club runs thorough analysis of Mass Effect’s well known Paragon vs. Renegade morality system. As Lee argues, 99% of the time, picking the “good” Paragon option results in success and no negative consequences. But what if there was more of an edge? Lee:
Would Paragon purists still be willing to free the captive rachni queen if she returned the rachni to their historical warmongering? Would they let that batarian walk free in order to rescue a dozen people if there was a real chance he would use his freedom to kill hundreds? It would obviously be overkill for every Paragon option to blow up in Shepard’s face, but by allowing Paragons to stroll infallibly through the galaxy, Mass Effect defangs a world it spends a lot of time insisting will bite.
I don’t buy the story that you’ve either got a natural knack for design, or you’re totally hopeless. And yet I hear designers describe the programmers they work with as “design blind” with a slimy sense of pity; the insidious implication being that designers are not made, they are born — that some special children are ordained by the stars at birth into the sacred order of designers, and all others are doomed to brutish, unenlightened lives of “design blindness”.
Vox’s Todd VanDerWerff on Mad Men and TV’s transition away from antiheroes:
The story of Mad Men isn’t about a man who slowly closes himself off from others. It’s the story of a man who builds a workplace family around himself, even if he’s not consciously aware of it. For as lousy of a husband and father as Don is, he’s often a magnificent coworker. He recognizes in his protege, Peggy Olson, something that nobody else likely would have, and he urges Joan Harris not to do something unthinkable simply to land an account.
As designer Mike Borsare writes over at the Thoughtbot blog, selecting a color palette for your web site or app doesn’t have to be a painful process. Limit your options to three, use the color wheel, and get inspiration from what’s around you.
Steven Levy on how technology will eventually save us from notification overkill:
So what’s the solution? We need a great artificial intelligence effort to comb through our information, assess the urgency and relevance, and use a deep knowledge of who we are and what we think is important to deliver the right notifications at the right time. As time goes on, we will trust such a system to effectively filter all our information and dole it out just as needed.