Bloomberg and the fight for home page relevance

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.