Critique: The new (and improved) Macon.com

Today I’d like to critique the recent redesign of my former newspaper’s website, The Telegraph/Macon.com, in Macon, Ga. For years we’d suffered with a cluttered, portal-styled homepage that devoted more screen real estate to aggregated national news and real estate widgets than it did to original, local content (see a small snippet of old site here). The share buttons were completely out of date, the commenting system was clunky and the overall feel of the site was one of chaos. Even when we did do special features including complex packages and maps, they looked out of place against the stark ad-cluttered grid of the site. While the deep red color at the top of the page gave the site a sense of branding, it ultimately left too much white space to make a strong impression.

The new Macon.com is a marked improvement over its predecessor. For one thing, The Telegraph masthead in place of the Macon.com header logo signals a greater emphasis on local reporting and a shift away from trying to be a portal to all things Middle Georgia. Not using the word ‘Macon’ also helps brand the site to users outside of the confines of the Macon city limits into the growing suburbs of Warner Robins, Centerville and North Bibb County.

From a design standpoint, the new site has a lot going for it. Perhaps most strikingly, the bold, gradated masthead gives a feeling of coherence and robustness to the site. I’m also a big fan of combining the traditional newspaper headline font alongside the modern-looking serif used for the phrase “Middle Georgia’s News Source.” What also stands out, though you can’t see it at the current moment, is the decidedly photo-friendly nature of the new design. Images on articles fill the full column-width, creating a strong visual impact. On the homepage, the feature story usually includes a relatively large 600px by 400px image, with a black opaque strip along the bottom containing the headline and excerpt in a contrasting white text.  Going back to font choice, what also makes the site stand out is its mix of serif and sans-serif across the site. In addition, the grey bars that underlie section headings create an organized, grid-like feeling without being two distracting.

Most of all, unlike many other news sites, the new Macon.com doesn’t feel like everything has been squished together. The content navigation bar is kept to a maximum of 8 items in a large sans-serif font, with a drop-down jQuery to display children categories. The top page-nav bar also reflects visual restraint by sticking to only six items, rather than a massive compendium of every single vertical the paper offers the community. Finally, the choice to move the “Latest headlines” section from the middle of the page to the right-hand column is a wise one, as our eyes naturally look to the left or right before the middle.