On speaking with the design team at ICD and from comments from the business team of the news daily, one gathers that the year-long and not-so-easy exercise of redesigning The Hindu’s website is also an attempt to redefine the paper’s ethos in terms of the new media―by continually asking the questions: ‘How can the new intuitive, interactive and responsive tools be used to bring out the legacy of editorially led journalism?’ And, ‘How can these possibilities be leveraged to assert the curatorial power of the editors who may have been bulldozed and run over in past years by Google Search and Google Ads?’
Except for an interim redesign of the home page a couple of years ago, The Hindu website last received a face-lift in 2009. To reach a growing audience with a contemporary design, the website needed to be user friendly and high on functionality while being ready for the possibilities of personalization. The Hindu’s business team that initially included Subhash Rai and Mandira Moddie gave its brief to the ICD team lead by Lisa Rath to modernize the site and ostensibly make it more appealing to a younger audience that rarely picks up a printed newspaper.
As new readers increasingly migrate from the desktop to tablets and smartphones, the new design needs to migrate as effortlessly as its potential audience. The non-print readership of the paper is already 60% on mobile formats and only 40% on desktop. Moddie explains, “The redesign of The Hindu website aims to reach a completely new audience, different from its print readership. We have the opportunity of using online platforms to appeal to a wider, younger, vibrant audience, while retaining the brand loyalty of traditional Hindu users and extending and complementing the offerings of the print publication with a tradition of 137 years.”
In India, newspaper websites rarely match the revenues enjoyed by their print editions. The major English language dailies such as The Hindu are growing their print circulations minimally while circulation revenues that are among the lowest in the world are now finally growing at 5% annually. Predominantly sustained by their print advertisement revenues, their web advertising revenues too are relatively low.
No to native advertising?
Since the monetization of the web continues to remain the holy grail for most mainstream newspaper and news content sites, the redesign of The Hindu website also needed to keep this in mind to be friendly to a variety of future subscription or monetization implementations as and when these become either feasible or desirable.
For the past few years, one of the prevailing ideas for monetization of news content on the web is that of ‘paid content’ or ‘native advertising.’ This form of promotion or advertising that appears in the style of the news website albeit tagged as an advertorial has of late been extensively discussed and discussed at the Wan-Ifra India digital conferences as well.
When the ‘native advertising’ concept was discussed at the outset of the website redesign brief, the stand of The Hindu’s business team (and one would guess its editorial team) was to completely eschew or forego this form of revenue generation. Subsequently, there has been some re-think of this concept and one presumes that the re-design will also have to be re-calibrated for this. Apparently, the business side has made a presentation to editorial and native advertising was agreed to with stipulations for clear disclaimers and limits placed on which spaces could be used and how much native advertising can appear.
Can newspapers take on Google?
The Hindu’s website was flush with display advertising that at times was felt to be a bit obtrusive—apparently a good deal of it driven by high traffic analytics and in many cases delivered in the form of pop-up displays that distracted readers. Moddie says, “As you are aware, industry-wide, display ads are not really a great or consistent source of revenue. In addition, the current industry standard display ad formats have also impacted user experience. Readers are increasingly using ad blockers.”
Lisa Rath, principal team lead and Kshitij Tembe, project lead at ICD
As a quality news brand, and often dubbed as a ‘newspaper of record,’ the The Hindu’s news site has experimented with temporary third-party paywall solutions for its digital content only to ultimately relent and make the site completely open again. The overall approach in the redesign was to leverage the curiosity and reliability of the news gathering, the quality of the writing and the objectivity of the editing — all of this to ensure more accessible and attractive search results. In the new and plastic environment of multimedia, with access to much more than just this morning’s paper, this requires the curation, packaging and repackaging of stories that have come before and updates that are yet to arrive.
Thus, the newspaper and design teams have created a new digital information, content and entertainment ecosystem that attempts to assert, to some extent, independence from Google Search. The idea, as Rath explains, is that Google Search often brings a reader to a particular article and after consumption, there is hardly anything alluring or enticing to keep the reader hooked to the page.
Underlying the redesign is an attempt to create a new website with a strong character that contains pointers and signposts that will encourage exploration and hence sticking around for those who visit either by chance or habit. Moddie emphasizes, “A challenge that we faced was that of the vastness of our website, with sometimes five layers of sections. We found that we had great content that was hidden inside layers and layers of the site. So, we decided to restructure the features section of the site to start with and broke away from the nomenclature of the print supplements. Each section page has been designed to be a destination in itself, and we now have new sections such as ‘Entertainment’ featuring music, dance, theater, art, reviews and movies; ‘Life & Style’ showcasing food, fashion, fitness, motoring and travel; and ‘Society’ that includes faith, history and culture. These sections showcase the best content from our print supplements ‘MetroPlus,’ ‘Friday Review,’ ‘Sunday Magazine’ and ‘PropertyPlus.’ ‘Specials’ showcases curated content on a wide variety of subjects that have been designed for the user to explore and read in depth — various articles in a single destination.”
The new landing pages intend to keep the reader within The Hindu site by looking less like traditional article landing pages and more like home pages in themselves with all the bells and whistles that home pages can contain. The website in its new avatar enables readers to reach a place or platform from which they can click on further temptations. The site’s navigation and information architecture is designed to help readers easily and intuitively access content, with pointers to reach popular and latest content. Also integrated are social media sharing options to help users share articles of interest with friends. It features larger displays for videos, photo galleries and podcasts on trending news, entertainment and lifestyle issues. The new design also envisions readers (perhaps subscribers when this privilege again becomes available) creating their own ‘My Hindu’ personalized websites.
Several interesting design ideas have been attempted with the ambition of using the digital connection in both directions. While the main masthead is designed to help a reader access any material on the site in a neat and predictable way, it also allows the editorial team to highlight a key trending topic, which has special coverage for a reader to be attracted and informed. This is again an attempt to give editors an opportunity to curate the news or to overcome the overweening arithmetic of search engines. As Rath says, “The ultimate logic of the search engine is to take us to the most popular story and because we are all reading it, it will continue to increase in popularity. In the end, there may only be one story or one website.”
In other words, the website has been designed to reflect a complete visual and textual environment that entices readers to make themselves comfortable and look around and stick around. The new categories, curated pointers and packages drive home the underlying motto, ‘Even if Google brought you here, make yourself at home and stay a while.’
The redesign of the The Hindu’s website implies a huge acceptance of the new medium, which itself throws up new tools each day. It implies that the editors of the newspaper and the site must carry on the tradition of being curators of a much larger and complicated world of suggesting what is important, relevant and interesting where bringing out the daily is only half the job.
Excerpts from The Itu Chaudhuri Design site on the web redesign of The Hindu
Energising the online presence of India’s most trusted daily newspaper
Our Approach The path to renewed relevance obviously passed through modernisation, but it was not an easy one. Long time loyalists’ preferences had to be negotiated alongside the expectations of a younger reader for whom the Hindu is a valued, but not exclusive read.
The Hindu offers an extremely rich bouquet of content, from archived material to developing stories; statistics, sports features, city-specific content (it has 16 editions) and the like, each of which has distinct uses for sets of readers. Our goal had to be to make this visible, drawing the eye to it without derailing the scanning process.
Second, a large number of content vehicles were designed to contain each kind of news, a backbreaking task, across several screen resolutions.
Our visual approach balances energy and stability, ensuring that this valuable and reliable content is bolstered by contemporary design, multimedia value additions, smart technology and easy readability via good typographic and graphic decisions and easy findability by devising smart widgets.
Content Key sections were identified for better personalisation possibilities in future and new ones were added accordingly.
The entire site was devised in horizontal sections to give a reader a distinct feel of zone and allows the reader to hide, follow or go to a more detailed landing page of the that section right away.
Handy navigation via sticky header, correct placement of subscription requests and proper placement of the social media sharing options will ensure that while the reader is on the page, any of these impulses are quickly catered to. Therefore making personalisation and social media referrals more active and probable.
Form follows content To help The Hindu establish itself in the minds of new readers and old patrons as a creator of superior, diverse content, we devised a section called Hindu Specials. it will house four types of special content that the old site failed to highlight and display. Packages, Series were old specials, to which we proposed, and added Case Files and a Microsite.
These specials will allow a reader to choose a long-form topic being investigated and subjects of cultural importance to follow and get all news related to it in one place. It cements the reader’s loyalty to the site for its content, and the value the site puts on its information display.
As The Hindu is a paper of record for elections and data, microsites would attract readers, researchers and advertisers looking for current and accurate news in one place.
The same template should be used for big happenings across all categories like sports, entertainment, environmental and social issues.
Typography Two fonts were chosen to balance the Hindu personality with the need to cue change. Fira Sans and Modern Sans serif typeface was chosen to highlight current and happening news. Larger font sizes, bolder and the occasional use of colour are signals its new relevance for new Hindu readers.
This was juxtaposed with Tundra, a serif font, designed lately for great reading experience for the web and mobile devices. Its larger x-height and yet the humanist touch of old school serif fonts made it the right choice for this site.
All font decisions across the site were taken after testing and keeping in mind great readability on desktop and mobile both.
Given the constraint of designing within a 1000 px width the right choice of typeface was crucial to allow great throw and a smooth reading experience.