The USAToday relaunched a new version of their website that you either love or hate. It is a geek’s wet dream to dissect all the “cool” things that have been done with the site, but let’s look at it from another perspective. If you read USAToday you should have an idea of who their audience is. They cater to the normal of the norm with regards to the general population (I love the paper by the way) so you would think the website would fit that demographic as well.
The physical newspapers itself has a design that encourages the reader to dive in and read every single section and article. The website? Not so much. There comes a point and time when minimal design is just too minimal for minimal sake and not helpful enough in the presentation of content. It doesn’t get much more confusing or disjointed than on their homepage. Maybe it is how Firefox renders them, but everything looks too spaced out with no clear definition between sections.
While you can applaud the fact that they are taking a step in the “right” direction with more interactive features, how does the design encourage interaction on the site at all? Its as though they are too scared to make anything prominent so they went the next best route and made absolutely nothing prominent.
Give me the design of LJWorld.com and throw in the social features of USAToday and then we are getting somewhere. It seems like the features were thrown in because every other social site does it so it only made sense to add them to their site as well. Once they figured out how to get a Digg-like recommended section working everyone went home happy without thinking that they might actually want to get people to use the system.
And that is what’s really wrong with many social designs today. People seem to consider the social, but don’t realize the design is what makes people want to be social. One of the overlooked reasons why Digg is so successful is that if you look at the design you can simply tell how intuitive it is. If you want people to interact and use your site as a social web tool then you have to make it inviting enough for them to want to do so and I don’t think USAToday succeeded in this.