The Atlantic has re-designed their website and its become a cross blog web design experience for them. As a result, their tech staff has is in the middle of the cold reality of the only truth in Web Site/Application re-design: any new design, (regardless of new features, slick interfaces and robust platform), has to be respectful of the history a web user has with previous design.
I know I’m on vacation, but since this debate has started with some sparks (see Fallows here and here, TNC here, Goldberg here and here, Ambers here), just a few words. I never saw the whole redesign before it was launched and I was not included in the process at all. It has all sorts of bells and whistles which people tell me are great – including a new “content management system” and something called Disqus which is a way cool commenting device with avatars and such.
The web designers at the Atlantic have two main user groups:
- the reporters, bloggers and authors who regularly fill their site with the some of the best commentary on the web
- the readers who (especially in the case of Sullivan and Coates), have formed active and thoughtful ongoing open discussions with their authors.
The second group is the hardest to please. Especially when the change is implemented without notice, it feels like a kind of soft betrayal. A splash page when the re-design happens doesn’t count as advance notice, because splash pages are actually mini video games where the objective is find the “close (x) aka on to the site” button. They are hardly the way to tell an old friend that your plastic surgeon has remade your face. Another dilemma is the varied ways that users interact with the Atlantic. I read a variety of Atlantic authors, but rarely does that start with me browsing to TheAtlantic.com. Instead, Google Reader is where my news gathering starts and ends every day. My feeds from The Atlantic went kind of hay wire and then…notes appeared from the authors in the feeds notifying me of the site update.
What they are doing isn’t easy, but if they keep the feedback loop open, allow the users the same freedom to interact with their favorite authors as they did before, they will be more than fine. The content’s good enough that people will wait through the growing pains.