#MagNet11: Ian Adelman on magazine website design

June 14, 2011

My big dilemma at MagNet this year was whether to live-tweet or take proper notes. Live-tweeting was requested so I did that, the result being that my notes are… tweets. With that in mind, below is a barely edited transcript of my tweets in Ian Adelman’s session on making a better magazine website, with a focus on design. It was a great session, except that it wasn’t long enough. Next year!

Everyone in @ianadelman‘s session is energetic. I haven’t had my coffee yet. Session about to start.

@ianadelman has recently moved to @nytimes but talk is focused on @newyorkmag, where he spent 5 years.

As you’d expect/hope, nicely designed slides. Theme of talk is “Unbound”. Wants us all to unbind ourselves from roles.

Online, unbinding the magazine brings endless opportunities.

Focus on product experience. (product design + user experience)

@ianadelman plays to the hometown crowd – as a kid, lives on Charles St W.

Most important thing about being a designer – learning how to see things that you see, not what you believe you see.

“Setup is everything.” Analogy of a complicated-looking machine – you can’t just approach it haphazardly.

@ianadelman’s first editorial experience – launching @slate. Classic designs – 15 years ago.

Lesson from @ianadelman: keep a good visual archive of your work for future presentations.

@newyorkmag went from simply a print magazine to multiplatform publishing “thing”.

Homepage isn’t the most important page – article page is. (Can’t show us – it’s a work in progress.)

Use navigation to define web identity of the brand and improve “findability” in UE.

Think of existing and new users’ usage patterns when designing navigation.

Other thoughts for redesigns: SEO, subs/circ, number and usefulness of links in top-of-page area, revenue opportunities

Make navigation an expression of what your brand is about.

Anticipate what people want when designing navigations. Don’t assume.

Job as a designer: negotiating with advertising to make change in ad units for better design.

Redesign a good opportunity to redefine how you think about your web content.

Home page redesign goals: improve organization, better window into site content, lower bounce rate

In digital, watch for patterns instead of fixed collections. Home page: what’s new more important than where it came from.

Great visual of old and new @newyorkmag home pages with overlay of content updated daily/2-3 times a day/hourly

Old design: Home page only showed daily-updated content. New: pushed hourly content to top.

People look to left of webpage when scanning – good place for newest content.

A good homepage finds the right balance of automation and curation.

Striking aspect of @newyorkmag home page: big box and mag promo relatively low down. Makes for better design.

The more links on a home page, the more people will click through. Trick is to avoid making it look overwhelming.

Navigation on @newyorkmag 15% shorter on article pages than home page – more space for content.

Design is highly templated but allows for visual variety, editorial decisions.

Always think about what your user is actually going to come to you for.

@newyorkmag automated all its newsletters – less work, increased click-throughs.

Can we bring @ianadelman back for a day-long design session? Easily going to run out of time here.

Oh, oops. New York magazine owns @newyorkmag but tweets from @nymag.

Referencing @nymag’s The Cut iPad app, which is well worth playing with, for those of you with iPads.

“What do we do well, and how can we do it better?” How @nymag ended up with The Cut iPad app. Stripped-down fashion app.

The Cut’s iPad app from idea to app store in just over 2 months. “Insane.”

Shot of @ianadelman’s design team at @nymag. I count 14. We laugh in envy.

“Question all assumptions early.”

“Get better at seeing what’s there.”

“Stay focused on logical design as long as you can.” Don’t focus on the details/what’s superfluous until you’re ready. Low-fi 1st.

“Require inclusive design.” Everybody has useful input on defining what a product can be. Important for people to have ownership.

Be aware of your product, your capabilities, your contributors, your audience.

@ianadelman comments on similarities between @nymag and @toronto_life home pages. He should be flattered…

Only a small number of site visitors will ever convert to subscribe. Won’t be because they see sub offers all over the place

Look at how you take advantage of experience and action over time to find opportunities to promote subs and newsletters.

Balance “is stuff annoying” with sales potential for design of promos. Efficacy is reduced by piling on offers.

@ianadelman hates current @huffpo design, calls it “hostile”. Thinks they have huge opportunity.

Focus on how someone experiences site over time. Make “stuff” around content change, glimpses here and there.

No one cares that your site has x brand name. Self-publishing bloggers can outperform food magazine sites (& do all the time.)

Designers/web staff should help define UE based on ad buys. Work together for best experience + revenue.

Increasing acceptance of idea that people scroll. Ads above the fold less of an issue.

@nymag’s Vulture blog example of designing around ads. 600×300 in right-hand column.

Aim for bigger, fewer ads. Better UE, better design, good for advertisers.

Vulture page automated. http://bit.ly/jjUoga Check out URL – SEO-optimized (entertainment not vulture)

Aim for multiple entry points when designing. Use automation to your advantage.

@nymag uses multiple CMS’s. @ianadelman would not wish it on anyone. Recommends choosing based on importance to you.

CMS considerations: metadata, custom fields, ease of implementation. @nymag – movable type.

Get good at making stuff before you build a business around it. Be careful of leaping into video.

@KMachado notes absence of social media promo on @nymag designs. @ianadelman: seeing random tweet on HP is waste of space.

Article page template where you get most of your views. Most important chance to say what you’re about, promote products.

Note Vulture’s “hot topics” secondary nav. Good place to put fresh, popular topics.

Design website from the perspective of mag design rather than following print’s lead.

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