Value-added content

Locking down their online content behind a paywall has released The Times and The Sunday Times from the constraints of news aggregation, and in the process freed them for an editorially led redesign. Tom Banks reports

As the first UK broadsheet to lock down online content behind a paywall, The Times will be judged expectantly by readers on its ability to deliver a quality product. Two new sites, www.thetimes.co.uk and www.thesundaytimes.co.uk, both designed in-house, will eventually replace www.timesonline.co.uk, which serves both papers.

The new Times site strongly references the design of the print edition – a departure from colourful, online newspaper sites which try to aggregate global news, according to editorial designer Jeremy Leslie, founder of the consultancy and blog Mag Culture.

’I think ever since The Guardian redesigned its website a few years ago other sites have been led by it,’ says Leslie. ’That approach is very listlike, so the look is driven by making it easy to get into rather then being engaging to read.’ In moving away from ’giant contents page sites’, Thetimes.co.uk has performed a ’strange historical trick’, Leslie says.

Early print editions of The Times had a similar layout to the outgoing website, he says. Now informed by an editorially led print design, the lead story is found in the top left of both print and online editions. ’This gives a Times view rather than a muddled world view,’ says Leslie.

The parity between print and online has been designed in, partly to anticipate iPad compatibility, Leslie says. ’A simple design always works best with editorial apps,’ he says.

’Looking at a website on a computer monitor is not tactile enough.’ In their haste to release editorial apps for the iPad, many magazines and newspapers have rushed the product and under- or over-designed it, in Leslie’s opinion.

’It should look clean and crisp with good use of white space – in the real sense,’ Leslie says. ’Some are just PDF page turners with bells and whistles on.’ Most iPad newspaper apps bear a closer relation to their print counterparts than online papers, as the device can command clear images and crisp text, Leslie says.

Locking down content is the ultimate driver for The Times online redesign, and if more newspapers follow suit designers may increasingly have to design newspaper websites to look more like their print counterparts. Speaking about the change, Mike Dempsey of Studio Dempsey – who originally designed The Independent – says that in a counterintuitive trend ’newspaper websites had been impacting on the design of print newspapers recently’, but he recognises that newspaper art direction is changing again.

’People still like the feel of a newspaper and The Times is hoping that this will seduce readers of the print newspaper on to the online format,’ Dempsey says. The Times design director Jon Hill led the design of the new Times site, having redesigned the print newspaper in 2008.

Using this design to inform the website design and unifying look and feel across all platforms has been key to the project, he believes. Hill says, ’It’s a philosophy which will stretch to any new formats – iPads or iPhones. The colour palette, the typography and the environment should be the same. It should be platform-agnostic.’

On 27 May, the day after The Times’ new website was unveiled, the paper announced that it will be releasing an iPad app. The onset of newspaper paywalls is not obtrusive to design, Hill points out.

He says, ’Visually, it has actually given us as many opportunities as it has taken away.’ The outgoing www.timesonline site uses headlines which attract Google searches through search-optimised keywords. ’We can use longer headlines now as the new site isn’t tied into Google searches,’ says Hill.

’It’s not a news aggregator. People who say it looks clean and clear should know that the look has mainly been informed by the business model.’ Without the need for as many click-throughs, text is revealed ’in one long galley’ in the body of copy, Hill says.

’We’ve been far less constrained with this design.’ Most commentators agree that the loss of some readers after installing a paywall is inevitable, but Hill believes that creating anything with a radically different appearance would be the wrong approach.

’Changing the look and feel or colour palette for each platform would be bonkers,’ he says. From June The Times and The Sunday Times will charge £2 for a weekly online subscription and £1 for a one-day version. News Corporation, which publishes The Times, says two of its other titles, The Sun and the News of the World, will begin charging for content by the end of the year.

The Financial Times and the News Corporation-owned Wall Street Journal already charge for some online content, and the WSJ has launched an iPad app.

Read all about it

  • The Times Online will be replaced by www. thetimes.co.uk and www. thesundaytimes.co.uk
  • Both websites have been locked down behind a paywall since 1 June, making them subscriber-only
  • Readers will pay £2 for a weekly subscription or £1 per day for access

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