Wednesday and Thursday, I decided to read a print newspaper on the way to work. This set off a Twitter discussion with Alex Remington.
Wednesday, I picked up a free WSJ before getting on the subway and spent my 40 minute commute paging through the domestic, international and business sections. Thursday, I bought a NYT late edition and spent my crowded morning commute fumbling through the stories with a folded newspaper under my arm. Even through the pain of navigating a newspaper on the train, I came away feeling informed and connected to the world around me.
I always knew that there was a huge difference in reading the news in print and online. This experience heightened my awareness. Print content is contextually laid out. Digital content is consumed in isolation.
The presentation of articles intertwined amongst one another is a powerful design structure. Online, articles on a feed or website are expected to be an isolated piece of content. Any ads, recirculation modules, or call-to-action pop-ups are annoying.
On a newspaper, the front-page’s brief exposure to a number of articles is immediately valuable. By scanning the page, I am immediately informed about a number of topics, and can make my own decision to continue reading.
The digital equivalent lacks an effective solution for the “scan-and-chose” experience. Editorially curated index pages are dead. People find content through their preferred link feeds; be it Facebook, RSS feeds, or some link aggregator. People expect to find a link they want to visit, then click it with the expectation of exploring that content.
The design principle of adding content in the middle of these article is synonymous with “taking away the users attention”. Placing links to other content in the middle of an article is a surefire way to reduce article completion rates and increase bounce rates.
Still, the experience of reading a print newspaper article and being able to transition to another article is a great experience. The closest equivalent online is an infinite scroll article that transitions you into another article before you know it. It feels sneaky and KPI driven. The newly loaded article is a new ad impression opportunity and page-view. The problem is that the metrics that drive the digital businesses’ feel like they lead the design principles.
So the question stands, with all our digital content, what do users want and how do we give it to them?