Usability measures how satisfactory the user will find the experience of using a product or service. It’s as appropriate for newspapers as it is for coffee makers.
Part of that satisfactory user experience is created by the visual design of the product. The Montreal Gazette is obviously pleased that it has almost tripled the number of awards it gained in the annual Society For News Design (SND) international competition. The competition covers newspaper design, graphics and photography and the Gazette took 22 awards of excellence and one silver medal. Among Canadian newspapers, The Gazette placed third in the number of awards. La Presse won 43, including two silver medals, while the National Post won 38, including one silver. The Toronto Star won 21, and the Globe and Mail won 20. Congratulations are certainly in order.
It’s unfortunate that the SND does not include awards for user experience. The total user experience involves not only enjoying single well-designed pages but also moving around within the newspaper to find what you want. Unless a print newspaper does user studies, it many never know exactly how users rate their experience. Only if a reader is particularly irritated by the experience will they give feedback. Once someone has bought the newspaper, they’re on the hook. Having invested in the newspaper, they will soldier on and do the best they can.
The Montreal Gazette does have some fine individual pages. Often the front page is very attractive and may well encourage potential readers to buy the newspaper. Once having bought the newspaper, they may well find they are struggling with the navigation, particularly for the Saturday and Sunday editions.
Even though print newspapers may overlook usability (creating good user experiences), they cannot do so as they move to online versions. For online newspapers, the reader is not ‘locked in’ in the same way. If the user experience is not satisfactory, then competitive news sources are only a click away. Perhaps if the Society For News Design wishes to be relevant in future for online newspapers, then it may make eminent sense for it to add usability to its criteria for defining excellence.