Digital Redesign at the NYT: We Still Haven’t Figured It Out

With more expectations and digital platforms, long-time designers like Ian Adelman, director of digital design at The New York Times, are still struggling to find the perfect system presentation.

To illustrate the shift in the web and how important it is that we continuously push our redesigns, Adelman transports us back to the 90s and leads us through the evolution of the web and system design.

Things are wildly different now, and they’re wildly multi-platform and increasingly intermediated,” Said Adelman. “It wasn’t always this way.”

Adelman entered digital journalism in 1996 with Slate Magazine during a time in which you downloaded design software from a floppy disk and you used Microsoft Word as a Content Managing System. The design was extremely limited, yet, as Adelman pointed out, publications found success since everyone also had had limited expectations.

However, he only stayed with Slate for two years, leaving his online work to do consulting while the internet began to fight its way through its first wave of growing pains.

When Adelman returned to work in design with New York Magazine in 2006, he found a less restricted industry that had begun to set some standards. Even so, he described the publications as having dynamic content with disappointingly dull home pages.

And while the last nine years have instigated many fundamental changes in the way we think about the design of each of our platforms, Adelman says we still haven’t found success in smoothly guiding our readers through each device.

He proposes a challenge that will determine the success of each of our publications as we stumble our way through the digital frontier: “We need to design systems that can successfully deliver great story experiences across platforms that we know and platforms that we don’t know. So that requires making sure that the story travels with a certain amount of information that is not applied just at the end. It has to be understood in the way that the story is assembled and managed.”

Aldeman also offers a starting point. He says to pay attention to patterns, such as what is helping readers navigate a homepage. For The New York Times, that may be its Watching section, for example. Once you figure out a system that uses those findings to lead a reader, you can begin to achieve the goals that we’ve been chasing since the 90s.

Reflecting on how the digital industry has changed, Adelman says: “I think it’s about acknowledging the fact that the constraints are, on one hand, less, but in the way that they become compounded, they’re actually somewhat greater.”