SND35: Judges name Nautilus, WNYC, Al Jazeera and NYT World’s Best-Designed
Judges met in Indianapolis March 21-23 and reviewed sites from around the globe.
The World’s Best judges (Chiqui Esteban, Ted Irvine and Kaitlin Yarnall) reviewed the entries, winnowed the list in multiple voting rounds and worked over the course of the weekend to choose the World’s Best-Designed™ news sites and apps. Winners required a unanimous vote.
World’s Best judges’ statement
Digital news design is an awkward phase. Particularly on the Web, which feels transitory. While there is incredible momentum around responsive design and bright spots of bold storytelling, the foundations of most sites feel fragmented and chaotic. While many sites seem on the cusp of something big and revolutionary, most have not fully transitioned to feel “of the Web” in 2014. Many publications, particularly international sites, felt stale and stagnant. The innovation seen in South American and European sites in past years has almost vanished.
Trends we noticed:
- Responsive design must not be a crutch — many sites that are fully responsive seem to have sacrificed bold design for parity across platforms. We hope this is a temporary aberration as technical considerations sprint ahead of usability, innovation and distinctive identity-driven design.
- A presence in the app store alone does not count — Native apps, iOS, Android and others that rose to the level of excellence for us were purposefully appropriate in their medium.
- Digital news typography has come of age — Blissfully, type foundries have embraced the web.
- Focused experiences and niche publications take risks and benefits — Non-traditional news publishers with specific audiences or platforms take chances and are providing the most satisfying experiences.
- Flexibility is critical — Templates need to allow for a range of tone and visual impact.
- Structure and systems need refinement — Storytelling has made some leaps, but overall infrastructure lags behind ideas, and that hurts user experience.
- New maturity in digital graphics — Graphics and interactive-driven projects are advancing faster than overall site design.
Nautilus is a big, ambitious, beautiful site. The experience is considered and deliberate with delightful editorial hierarchy and pacing. The site is immensely readable, highly visual and treats illustrations, interactives and photography with respect. Each “issue” has an intuitive and stunning cover feature that sets the tone for the rest of its package. Attention to detail throughout is superb and illustrates a deep understanding and recognition of its audience. This includes thoughtful approaches to sources, links to scientific journals, well-considered subject vertical name, and corrections. Long-form content is delivered with a weekly rhythm, but a feed of real-time science news alongside a staff blog makes it useful as a daily destination. Although the site is not fully responsive, the mobile-specific version is treated with equal care. It is touch-friendly and delightful on every device we tried. Nautilus should be held up as an example, particularly to other niche-journalism publications.
WYNC’s app for the iPhone is a gift to its users. In a time when native news apps seem to have lost momentum and relevancy, this one is purpose-driven and functional in a way the mobile web site couldn’t be. It is a product that knows its audience, knows the device where it is used and knows intuitive patterns. Proof of this knowledge is the delightful and expertly crafted Discover feature. It allows users to download a playlist based on topics of interest and the time a user wants to spend listening. The “discovered” is available when internet is not, allowing for listening during commutes or interrupted service. This kind of user-centered thinking is present in the entire design, executed with simplicity, clarity and elegance. It’s a much-needed breath of fresh air.
Gestures! Al Jazeera America is all about gestures without being gimmicky. The app takes full advantage of knowing that its home is a phone, which makes it delightful to use. Anything you want to do in the app can be done with a single swipe of your thumb. Swipe up and down to wander through stories, tap to read that story, swipe left to get contextual information, pull down to close. Its that simple. The controls are always present and simplicity rules there as well. Tap to listen to an audio version of a story, to share on social media or to get additional context. Behind the Story provides an overview of a reported topic and is always a gesture away. The visual language of the app is well considered: strong typography, excellent photography and tasteful use of color. The clear focus of Al Jazeera America allows it to embrace simplicity and create an outstanding user experience.
The Times is, undeniably, a force — its footprint is huge and a reference for the world on many levels. It’s also impeccably designed. It handles a massive amount of content well. The content is treated with respect and the design holds up regardless of whether the reader is on the homepage or several levels deep. The commenting shows innovative thinking and put comments parallel with the articles. The site has templates that work across devices and deliver content quickly. However, the site does not feel templatized — immersive features shine, stellar graphics and multimedia packages have a place, and sections are designed with content and audience in mind. Overall, the Times shows innovation and should serve as a model for even much smaller and more nimble organizations. The Times is about having a standard of excellence for every facet of presentation.