USA Today has been getting a lot of design attention lately due to their updated logo by Wolff Olins, with some calling a Microsoft-like cop-out, and others praising its Metro-inspired simplicity. (As an aside, can I just say that I love the fact that “Microsoft” and “design” are being used in the same sentence so much lately?)
But whether you love or hate that blue dot, I’d say we should take a step back from the logo and take a look at what they’ve accomplished on the new, beta-means-it’s-coming-whether-you’re-ready-or-not, tablet-inspired version of their site.
Because it’s brilliant.
There’s so much to like here that I’m having a hard time getting started in listing off what they’ve done right. It’s not a perfect design … it still has that “everything-is-equal” hierarchy problem that’s the plague of news sites everywhere. But let’s assume that’s a given, and nod briefly at the strong typography, negative space, and photo-based work that should be the hallmarks of any good site design these days.
Here are the real highlights:
- The left/right navigation panels.
These bad boys are ridiculous. One touch to move from section to section or article to article, depending on the context. Bringing a tablet approach to the web has moved from “make the buttons bigger” to “rethink basic navigation methods.” This is some bold UX design, and deserves massive congratulations.
- The article as a popup.
This blew me away. One of the biggest hallmarks of any news site is the catacomb of article pages that lurks just beneath the shiny homepage. But what they’ve done here is … well, frankly, it’s inspired. Click on any article, and although you’re actually being directed to a new page, they’ve created the illusion that the article has simply popped up overtop of of the homepage or section lander you’re browsing at the moment. You know what that means? Fear-free browsing. This design says, “Click on any story you want! You won’t have any trouble getting back to the place you were … you’re never leaving it!” A large (x) button in the top right corner makes returning to the listing page as easy as closing a window. Unbelievably smart work.
- The flawless search button.
This may not be as glamorous as the first two, but that search function at the top is executed impeccably. No clunky search bar taking up a horizontal strip on the page — click on the prominently placed loupe, and down drops a bar with plenty of room to type. Note how the text tool blinks, ready and waiting for a query, in the box, while the cursor is already positioned over the “search” button. And all of this with a prominent (x) beside it, because heaven forfend that the user should ever, for a moment, feel out of control or like something was intruding on their UX moment without their say-so.
- Alternate viewing options.
Quietly sitting in useful places are a button for “cover view” and a gallery/list option for the news river. Cover view simply shows the story photo as the only page content, with a headline, byline, and category bug. You click on the right side of the photo for a Flipboard-like “next story” moment. Click on the headline and up pops the story as a layer. The gallery/list option is more traditional, showing the stories as a straight list if that’s your cup of tea rather than a series of beautiful photos and type boxes.
I could go on, but I’m going to rein myself in and simply say that this design, while not perfect (hierarchy for news sites = something of a holy grail), is about as brave and smart a UX venture as I’ve seen on a desktop site, and the USA Today team deserves major, major kudos for their guts and victory.