Website Usability and the Montreal Gazette

Think Usability for websites and news papers

Website Usability is thankfully getting the attention it deserves. Usability is defined as the efficiency with which a user can perform required tasks with a product, for example, a website. Of course it is easy for a visitor to a website to click somewhere else if they get frustrated. That’s a disaster if your company has a prospect reading a company web page and that prospect jumps to a competitor because they can’t find what they want. In consequence most web designers think of usability as they design web pages. They may even do user tests to ensure that they have achieved good user satisfaction.

So why link usability to the Montreal Gazette. Well the Montreal Gazette has just gone through yet another redesign. The Sunday edition always seems to get the worst of these, and this time round it’s happened again. It struck me that if only the designers applied that Usability methodology to the design of a newspaper we’d all be a lot better of. Of course I cannot so easily click to another newspaper if a particular newspaper page irritates me. However I believe if the designers had used the same mentality required for web pages, you’d find very significant improvements. That would require that they assume that when looking at a given page I can find what I want and can easily work out where I want to go next.

Let’s look at some of the failings in today’s edition that a good web designer would never allow to happen:

  1. Some articles require that you look at the whole two-page width of the paper to get the full impact. Just imagine that you can only see the left-hand part of a web page and must scroll across to see the right half.
  2. The most extreme example of the previous point occurs in the tabloid style sports section. They now have a classified section in the middle. So you can’t even read the central pages of the sports section. The header is across the two pages but unfortunately the right hand side page is covered by the classified section. You’ve got to take the paper apart before you can read the whole article.
  3. Many have complained that the first section is all of a piece so that the whole paper must be read by one reader at a time. Two reader families are out of luck. If you look carefully, you’ll find that although there are distinct sub-sections in this single main section, it’s impossible to split up the paper into these subsections. It’s almost as if they’ve put it together to prevent splitting it. Very user-friendly.
  4. Another problem is the navigation around the newspaper. They’re always a little bashful about numbering pages. The front section has no number on the first page but sports a big header proclaiming Sports. The numbers in the Sports section are so tiny that anyone with visual acuity problems will not be able to see them. With websites, we’re required to provide Accessibility for those who are visually challenged. Why not for newspapers?

Print designers can rely on the fact that their readers have already bought the product and it’s physical so it’s easier to see what’s what. However I believe they’d do a much better job if only they did the mental exercise of thinking of each page as if it was a web page. However sometimes it appears that designers are more concerned about impressing their fellow print designers than making sure they communicate well with all their readers.

Related: Bell Canada Website Usability

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