Redesigns Part 1: Salon misses an opportunity

Two big sites unveiled new designs today. Salon (as pointed to by BoingBoing) and CNET’s both rolled out new user interfaces. I’m a little mixed on the design effectiveness of both, but there are a few interesting corners in the mix too. I’ll write a quick post on CNET but want to focus on Salon’s moves now, because frankly they annoy me more.

First the graphic identity. It’s cleaner, but some of the elements, particularly on the front page, appear unanchored and somehow floating—as though the former black boxes of the design were containing the content and it’s now just kind of drifting around the page. There’s not a good sense of an underlying grid. Take a look at the community sidebar for an example—it seems to bear little relation to what’s going on around it. I’m also getting lost in the headlines on the left—too much bold text, not enough visual separation or something. It’s hard to scan. Finally, the new design and branding doesn’t carry through to all the content, particularly Audiofile. Visual design: A for intentions, B- for execution.

I also don’t appreciate the “ghetto-ization” of Salon’s blogs, which are now (especially Audiofile and War Room) the major daily draw for me. While they’ve moved into the main column and feature updated headlines, they’re only small text links in a mass of illustrated spots and thus easy to overlook. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Salon’s other articles. I still click through on the RSS feed for some other articles, such as today’s Fall of the Rovean Empire by Sidney Blumenthal and last week’s article on the implications of the Vatican’s crackdown on homosexuality in seminaries. But for me Salon’s steady, unglamorous RSS feed (OK, it’s actually RDF) is much better at making their content findable than the redesign. And the link to the RSS feed is now gone from the front page! It’s not even in the meta tags, so you can’t use autodiscovery. This is brain dead. Discoverability: intentions A, execution D.

Finally, functionality. I like the addition of the font size controls and the print and email links. But they aren’t on pages that don’t have the new design. Intention B+ (page tools are ok but not revolutionary, really. How about telling us about your most emailed articles with those stats you’re collecting through Hotbox?) and execution A-.

Overall score: intentions A, execution C-. Not a good way to start your next ten years, folks.