Ugly, ugly ugly.
May 22, 2000 8:50 PM   Subscribe

Ugly, ugly ugly. The redesign is finally - and unfortunately - live. It's not a magazine - it's a portal! Mignon Khargie - wherefore art thou? Blegh.
posted by gsh (55 comments total)
Oooh, that's rough. Thumbs down.
posted by hijinx at 9:11 PM on May 22, 2000

Remember the good old days? Capitalism will ruin the web and take away any power it gives the consumer.
posted by DragonBoy at 9:15 PM on May 22, 2000

Terrible, I used to be able to get the jist of the story from the headlines, now...there are no headlines.

In 2-3 months someone's gonna be in big trouble over there
posted by Mick at 9:16 PM on May 22, 2000

i smell cubicle. when i smell cubicle, i run.

no matter how much fine writing a commercial "content" site may contain, i am so turned off by the very premise that i never bother to check it out. i'm sure i've missed a lot of fine writing due to this immature bias. on the other hand, in the time i've saved by ignoring over the years, i've discovered many fine sites that are hidden from the general population.

paintings or reproductions? hand-made furniture or ikea? you pays your money and you takes your choice.

that said, as portal design goes, this really isn't bad compared to most of what's out there. is it? i mean aside from the ninety columns of 9px text, which should probably be given a couple of thorazines and escorted back to bellevue.
posted by Zeldman at 9:27 PM on May 22, 2000

Honest tangentish question here: how many portals do we need? For that matter, does the majority use a portal other than one of the Big Guys?

There are just too many players trying to be page one, and IMHO it's distracting from establishing quality design and content.
posted by hijinx at 9:30 PM on May 22, 2000

Arf. It looks like a cross between and someone's way too busy blog. And to top it off, there's the unlovely school girl as slut Britney Spears for a cover model. Too bad, the old design was much better.
posted by Lynsey at 9:34 PM on May 22, 2000

Metafilter is my Portal.
posted by DragonBoy at 9:38 PM on May 22, 2000

Metafilter is my Vortal.

posted by Neale at 10:00 PM on May 22, 2000

It never ceases to surprise me that those most ready to criticize are usually those least fitting to.
While the design might resemble "portal" design, it's clearly not a portal. It very honest points only into Salon content. And does so in a far more economical way than it did before. The patchwork styling allows them to float more lead content in a smaller space, meaning I don't have to scroll as much.
I suppose designers will always have to face the kneejerk reactions of an audience that craves the status quo. Change Bad!
Anyway, the main suggestion I'd make is to use bold-ing to highlight key concepts in the copy blocks, a la Arts and Letters Daily
posted by peterme at 10:25 PM on May 22, 2000

It never ceases to suprise me that those most ready to criticize are usually those least fitting to.Darn those website readers and users commenting on readability and usability, eh? (insert smiley face here)
posted by jess at 10:40 PM on May 22, 2000

Well, Peterme I have to agree with ya. Whilst it does kinda irk me that salon has given up a format that I have grown found of, I must admit that it has been a place scarce of much content of late. Camille Paglia is the only writer that I can stand there. I enjoy Art and Letters Daily too. Maybe I was wrong about you being such a lackey to the user experience.
posted by john at 11:00 PM on May 22, 2000

i'd have to agree with jess there, peterme -- do we, as readers and users, have less of a right to comment on something just because we aren't, well, you or someone like you? oh please.

"change is bad" is rather a gross generalization. my objection to salon's change is that it makes the site harder to scan and to read; the fonts on the main page are too small and unresizable, and it's difficult to spot the headlines.

also, your comparison with arts and letters daily isn't quite valid -- aald has much much less daily content then salon, and everything new goes on the top of the page, which makes finding content simple, which certainly isn't the case for salon. but then again, since i'm not a expert on the user experience, maybe my user experience doesn't matter. :P
posted by lia at 11:36 PM on May 22, 2000

I'll withhold comments on the redesign until I can get the page to load fully. I'm still waiting for 47 images to load (47!!! Hello!?! Do any designers remember that you can only have 4 conncurrent connections to most web servers at a time? I have to wait my turn 12 times to see them all!). I also noticed two side-by-side wide ad banners at the top of the page, forcing me to open my window to >1000px wide, a size I never surf at.
posted by mathowie at 11:37 PM on May 22, 2000

>It never ceases to suprise me that those most ready to criticize are usually those least fitting to.

no comment.

however, the 9px text is probably a serious usability problem for linux users, some mac users, and the visually impaired.

9px text does not display correctly in most linux systems. you can get away with it on a photo caption. but to set an entire page of text in that size is just wrong, peter.

and the only sites i've seen that rely on type of that size throughout are portals (where the client is forcing as much content as possible into the page) or some uberdesigners' sites, where text is often (unfortunately) de-emphasized.

for a site that intends to be READ - a site where text is the hero - this is a poor design decision.

as an interface expert, you should know that.

to say that people who criticize this design are "unqualified" or "afraid of change" is just a way of ignoring what's actually being said.
posted by Zeldman at 12:17 AM on May 23, 2000

I've read every comment, am writing this now, and it's still not done. Lemme check... nope, still not done. I give up.
posted by Dean_Paxton at 12:43 AM on May 23, 2000

Just had a quick look at the salon stylesheet..... It appears to be 10px font sizes and not 9px font size (I could be wrong, but there's only one mention of "9px" in the stylesheet and it's not used in the index page, and I'm sleepy to boot)... Also, the CSS file is huge, and sure looks like it could be trimmed down a bit. And as for my two cents, I actually never saw the original salon index page. Usually I just clicked links that went directly to their articles, but I sort of like the new design. It's not quite that portal-ish. There's sufficient white space, and it's not exactly "crammed" with information.

I think the design was just badly implemented by whoever wrote the code behind it. It does however force the user to scroll too much... I'd imagine if they used relative font sizes there'd be even more scrolling involved....
posted by PWA_BadBoy at 1:31 AM on May 23, 2000

i know i'm totally unqualified to judge this design, but it's really annoying. there are NO headlines -- you have to go into the subsections just to find the articles. grr. i was hoping i could click through lots of extra pages that are slow to load to find out that the "mother who think" [insulting] have nothing interesting to say today. oh, and oops.

posted by palegirl at 1:50 AM on May 23, 2000

yep. same thing. I don't know. it's not as bad as everyone said, I was expecting resized .jpegs stretched out in flash or something, but I hate it, I loved the old salon, it rules. Why they changed it?
posted by tiaka at 5:06 AM on May 23, 2000

Peter's right though. It's not a portal....I'm still wondering where that comment came from.
posted by jkottke at 5:43 AM on May 23, 2000

It may not be a portal, but man, does it suck. Broken links everywhere, unflattering design, images that take forever to load...

In the old page, you knew where the stories were: they were punched up in the middle column. Now, it's just a morass of stuff, and there's no real indication, other than the cover story, that there's anything interesting there.

And I thought the Roger Black discussion was over long ago - you know, one guy who's full of himself deciding that others weren't qualified to judge quality. Hmm.
posted by solistrato at 6:00 AM on May 23, 2000

I'm not surprised by the redesign. The Free Software Project portion of the site had been using a similar design for at least a month prior to this week.

Now, if only the images on the site would load...
posted by Electric Elf at 6:30 AM on May 23, 2000

I like the new look. They beta'ed the look in this OSS section a while back. I have no problems reading the page, and I'm running at 1600x1200.

Headlines other then the section title would be nice (although there are headlines when you click through to a particular section).
posted by Calebos at 6:57 AM on May 23, 2000

I think they may have been having server issues. The site loads much more quickly now than it did a few hours ago.

You'd think it be easier to design a site where text is king; believe me, it's not. The news site where I work undergoes hundreds of redesigns every year, major and minor. There's tons of considerations that go beyond asthetic and UI-ology. Most of them are from marketing:

"We have to give this feature more prescence, because we're running it in our ad campaign."
"These ads must go on the left side per our agreement with BigCo."
"We need to boost the numbers in our Arts & Living section."
"Our content partner needs their logo yay big, yay wide, and under the nav, above the scroll, made entirely of tuna, done by last week, etc."

We push for a layout that guarantees maximum traffic to all sections so our sponsors and providers are happy with the numbers. It totally sucks because your design ego gets trampled, but them's the breaks. People don't come to a news site because it's pretty. They come because it has the content they want and it's easy to find. I think Salon has accomplished most of this with their new design.

DragonBoy is right. Capitalism will ruin the web.
posted by scottandrew at 7:26 AM on May 23, 2000

They're completely ignoring the group of people still using fixed-resolution 640 x 480 monitors.

I can picture the design/layout meeting at

Designer: "Hey, let's put the entire page into one gigantic table thatt akes forever to render."
Boss: "Duh, yeah. That's a good idea."
Designer: "Lewt's also use a really small font setting so we can fit more contetn on the fornt page."
Boss: "Duh, OK. Everybody uses PCs today, so 10pt is plenty big enough. I can read it fine on my computer. Let's do it."


The design itself isn't all that bad. It's clean, crisp, and the layout works fairly well. It's only when you start looking at usability and readability issues that you start to notice the design's weaknesses.
posted by camworld at 7:55 AM on May 23, 2000

Something tells me your script, camworld, has the actors reversed.

Unfortunately, it's still something of a reality that if the boss has a big monitor (which they all do) and a fast computer, and a big-ass T1 and 100mbps ethernet connection, they'll push the design to maximize that, no matter how much the designers or actual implementors scream bloody murder. :-)
posted by cCranium at 8:01 AM on May 23, 2000

I made the portal comment because the damn thing LOOKS like a portal.

Too many links, no visual hierarchy, bland ass colors, itsy bitsy text to cram more more more information onto a page, no sense of Salon the brand at all. As for the scrolling - it's still out of control. They are obsessed with the vertical - it's time to show the horizontal some love.

I've been building and designing sites for 5 years, Peter, so you can step off with your comment as to qualifications.
posted by gsh at 8:03 AM on May 23, 2000

Maybe most, Scott, but not all.

The basic problem they're trying to overcome is a similar one that regular newspapers have. You try for a feature that will appear above the fold in stacks or the window of an honor box; then you have sections that come apart and each have their own top stories; all are saying "open me! open me!". There's an audience that odesn't need that and always reads the biz or sports section ALL the way through. Those readers are in the pocket. What you need to get are the casual readers who don't read that section, or maybe even any part of the paper, on a typical given day. My prediction for Most Likely Tweak We'll See: direct links to featured stories, the reason that the reader is at the site in the first place.

Even so, your top story isn't going to do it for all those readers. So you have two or three lesser stories each vying for the attention of a particular set of the audience. I'm not sure how dozens of little blocks of text do that enticing job very well. So, Second Most Likely Revision We'll See would be the return of a headline-type format.

The columns & stuff, I don't particularly like, but I can live with. It's simply this navigation issue that's going to be a trip-up. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the only story that gets comparable traffic is the lead, because of the direct link right on the headline.
posted by dhartung at 8:09 AM on May 23, 2000

The term "portal" is so 1999. Let's move on.

Yes I agree with dhartung. There's a definite problem in surfacing their content. It's been knocked down two-three clicks.

posted by malhinha at 8:27 AM on May 23, 2000

"two-three clicks" = two-three sets of ad impressions, which may have been a big part of the reason for the redesign.

posted by harmful at 8:47 AM on May 23, 2000 points out
that the date archive is much more usable.
posted by icathing at 8:56 AM on May 23, 2000

My point wasn't that I'm the User Interface Expert and You're Not so Shut Up.

My point was that the points suggested as Salon's detriment (apart from the font size, which is teeny) don't take into account the actual design problem the site is trying to solve--what is the appropriate front-door to a site with 12 main buckets that change every day (and, if you read David Talbots letter to his readers, more than once a day)?

Salon has opted for a patchwork design to provide an overview of activity throughout the whole site. The previous model, of one long scrolling page, required you to scan up and down and up and down looking to see what's been updated. It was inefficient. This uses horizontality to present more information in a smaller space.

My point is that it's terribly easy to criticize a design when you have no idea what all the forces are that lead to it. I trust that the folks at Salon aren't idiots, and that this solution, while not perfect, is likely the least of necessary evils, given the hairy problem they have to solve.

My point is that none of us know what's going on inside that organization, and also that until you've worked in design within a product company (and not as an agency or a consultant), you don't know the extent of the issues faced in making design choices.

And I would add, finally, that Salon would likely benefit from being MORE portal-ish, providing embedded links directly to stories, and not these chunks of copy that take you to the main page for a section.

posted by peterme at 9:00 AM on May 23, 2000

>Salon would likely benefit from being MORE portal-ish, providing embedded links directly to stories,

yes, i agree, given the problem they are trying to solve, they need to work more like a portal.

i wish they did not have to solve that problem - and probably, so do the designers. i think we all understand that market forces are ever at work on a site like this, and that the designers have been given a tough problem to solve at the behest of Marketing or Editorial or both.

and i think we all agree that 10px is too small. (i wasn't checking when i said "9px," i was estimating. the narrowness of the sans-serif font makes the text appear even smaller.)

sites about story usually fare better when one or two stories are featured. that's how the old salon worked. that's how most sites of this nature work.

putting "everything" on the front page usually works better for sites that are trying to sell you something. again, this was not the designers' decision. but i think some of the critical comments bemoaning the editorial/marketing decision to put "everything" on the front page are perfectly valid. readers have a right to complain.

sometimes engineers do a beautiful job of solving - or coming close to solving - a problem set by marketing. but even when they do that, the software may still suck, because the marketing agenda may be wrong (bad for users). when software doesn't work, users are free to complain, even if they are not engineers, and even if they do not understand the inner corporate politics that produced the unusable software.

same thing with publications.

the designers did some very nice things here, but in a way it is all beside the point.
posted by Zeldman at 10:20 AM on May 23, 2000

Well, for those of us who liked being able to easily scroll through headlines of the newest stories, rebekah recommends the archive view.
posted by harmful at 10:29 AM on May 23, 2000

If a site is harder to use, then less people will use it.
If less people use it, then less ad impressions.
If less ad impressions, then the redesign fails.

posted by Mick at 10:34 AM on May 23, 2000

It appears that they still have a few bugs to work out, which might be easier if the bug-reporting form worked (click the button). Of course, this may be fixed by the time you read this.
posted by harmful at 10:35 AM on May 23, 2000

I understand the patchwork design, and the pressures they must be facing to meet the needs of all their stakeholders. But me? I just miss the white space. All that glorious white space.
posted by msippey at 10:36 AM on May 23, 2000

MetaFilter Tip of the day: If your MeFi window has been open for a long time, refresh it before posting a "new" comment.
posted by harmful at 10:37 AM on May 23, 2000

the html is sloppy. the image count is bad.. not to mention images that dont show up.

im really amazed at the fact that the site appears to be static pages.
posted by sikk at 11:52 AM on May 23, 2000

Oh. And anyone complaining about how market forces and capitalism are "ruining" the Web, yet pays their rent (or mortgage) through working on the Web is, needless to say, hypocritical.

Capitalism was the best thing to happen to the Web.
posted by peterme at 11:53 AM on May 23, 2000

>>Capitalism was the best thing to happen to the Web.

Right on! I mean, look at what it's done for other media. I can't wait to see the web's version of Godzilla or Who Wants To Marry A Millionaire!, or the Backstreet Boys, even!

Quality stuff!

posted by scottandrew at 12:33 PM on May 23, 2000

Hang on a minute -- did Peter really recommend Arts and Letters Daily for a style tip?

Maybe it's just me, but I think that's the harshest criticism of all. (I too miss all that glorious white space.)
posted by werty at 12:49 PM on May 23, 2000

Oh. And anyone complaining about how market forces and capitalism are "ruining" the Web, yet pays their rent (or mortgage) through working on the Web is, needless to say, hypocritical.

Better a live hypocrite working to change the system from within than a starving ideologue who refuses to compromise and thus renders themself ineffective.


posted by Mars Saxman at 12:57 PM on May 23, 2000

It seems to me that the problem is more one of commercialism than of capitalism.
posted by harmful at 1:21 PM on May 23, 2000

How about we just leave it at: Capitalism inevitably happened to the web, and we all have to deal with that. It would be a mistake to attribute all the ills of the web to that inevitability; it would be another mistake to presume that capitalism has or will have equal influence in all areas of the web. It would be the biggest mistake of all to think that, since capitalism was inevitable (or even good), capitalism should be the only criteria by which we make judgements on the web.

posted by feckless at 1:49 PM on May 23, 2000

Good point, harmful. Although I think the line between the two are becoming more and more blurred. Designed to make money vs. a system to make profit -- seems to hand in hand nowadays. Maybe always.


peterme's right on one point: we don't always know the reasons behind the decisions. It seems the developer/designer community always comes out swinging when high-profile sites make poor design choices. We know better, but we weren't there at the strategy meeting when the Big Boss put his foot down.
posted by scottandrew at 1:50 PM on May 23, 2000

About the semantic use of "portal"....

I'm an american who lives in Buenos Aires and works in the internet industry. People here use all kinds of anglicanisms; "tenemos que implementar un customer relationship management", "hay que meterse en business2business", etc. And not just for technology either.

I've noticed the word "portal" is used to describe just about any site that is successful and has lots of traffic. We get clients who say, "we want to be a portal", which I've lately taken to mean, "we want to be fabulously rich but have no clear strategy to provide value".

A couple of examples of this: recently I saw a local newspaper talking about the sale of the "portal" Verio to NTT (they're a hosting company), and about the failure of the "portal"

This bothers me, but I'm not sure if it does. Linguistically, in the end, words mean what people think they mean.

posted by lockecito at 2:31 PM on May 23, 2000

Maybe Webster's definition of "commercial" (which I don't know how to link directly) makes my point better:
b (1) : being of an average or inferior quality <commercial oxalic acid> <show-quality versus commercial cattle< (2) : producing artistic work of low standards for quick market success ... 4 : supported by advertisers <commercial TV>
Capitalistic companies improved the technology and infrastructure of the network because it served their needs to do so, and in the process created resources which we all use. I see commercialism as responsible for ideas that concentrate on attracting attention at the expense of serving other needs.
posted by harmful at 2:37 PM on May 23, 2000

hmm. anyone who responds to criticism of a site by defending the designers ("we don't know what they were up against") is probably missing the point, and is probably too close to the process.

if the designers did a good job of implementing a bad idea, that doesn't make it a good site. the initial post essentially said, the site has not been improved by this redesign. who would argue that the site HAS been improved? to criticize those who state the obvious - the site has not been improved - is to stifle conversation and side with those trapped in the process, instead of siding with readers.

the struggle between good design and market forces is nothing new. it's sad - but inevitable - that it should do this medium what it has done to every other. it has its good points too, as noted by others above: 1.) it builds the infrastructure. 2.) it promotes usage of the medium, which in turn means a larger audience, provided that audience can find something of value to read or view. 3.) it pays some of us money, so we can feed our families and maybe even do something non-commercial, where bad design decisions are our own fault, not those of marketers.

oddly enough, someone you know has written about this very subject at but, uh, it's bad form to link to your own stuff, so i won't.
posted by Zeldman at 3:12 PM on May 23, 2000

It may be bad form for him, but that just lets me add the link.

I have two objections to the new Salon: (1) I now have to click twice where I used to have to click once, and (2) I now have to scroll horizontally where I previously didn't have to. Both those things mean that I have to work harder than I previously did, in order to view the same stuff. Any redesign that makes me, the user, work harder is, imo, a bad idea.

posted by Dori at 4:04 PM on May 23, 2000

The archives-by-date page is even nicer if you throw some Perl at it.

Unfortunately, they haven't quite gotten the printable pages working for all articles - but I use this script daily and will try to keep up with their revisions.

Does anyone else here do this with sites whose content they like but whose layout they can't abide? Like this?
posted by nicwolff at 6:45 PM on May 23, 2000

>Does anyone else here do this with sites whose content they like but whose layout they can't abide?

that's cool.

no, i don't do stuff like that myself.

wish i could. someday maybe.
posted by Zeldman at 11:43 PM on May 23, 2000

I've been trying to think of what problems the new design may have been trying to solve. One major point of the new design has to have been an emphasis on the categories. Under the old design, Salon essentially had to come up with new content in every category each day, or that category effectively didn't exist on that day. I wonder if the poor quality of some articles might have been due to the pressure to create "filler" to get the section on the front page. Anyway, the new design emphasizes the categories, but at the expense of showing clearly what's been added recently, which is what we had all come to expect from the old design. Was there some way they could have increased the emphasis on the categories, without losing the recent updates?
posted by harmful at 6:56 AM on May 24, 2000

I wonder if the poor quality of some articles might have been due to the pressure to create "filler" to get the section on the front page.

Interesting. Salon's quality was always kind of unpredictable. I suppose that is one of the things I liked about it: it felt like a collection of essays written by real people, some of whom were professional writers and some of whom probably weren't. There was no single bland corporate voice coming through everywhere. This is not usually a compliment, I suppose, but I liked it.

Incidentally, I find the new look so close to opaque that I will probably cease hitting the site daily. When I looked at the old site I saw articles and sections, new stuff and old stuff; when I look at the new layout I see an array of boxes and lines and colours so complicated that I have to stare at it for a few minutes just to figure out what I'm looking at.


posted by Mars Saxman at 3:27 PM on May 24, 2000

Salon 'splains itself. . Larger fonts, service tweaks and other improvements promised. Note that Talbot points those of us who like the old layout to the articles by date page. Hmmm ... where have I seen that suggestion before?
posted by maudlin at 8:03 PM on May 24, 2000

Salon Responds.
posted by alana at 3:02 PM on May 25, 2000

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