Web Design Men, Andrew Essex Look Into a Crystal Ball

Earlier this week Radaronline.com’s Choire Sicha dropped by a panel discussion that featured, among others, NYTimes.com designer Khoi Vinh, nymag.com design man Ian Adelman and soothsayer Andrew Essex.

They argued that the future of media—magazines and newspapers—doesn’t rest in some gimmicky Esquire cover. Nor does it rest in repurposing magazine material for the Web. Even Mr. Vinh agreed that T online, the Web version of The Times‘ cash cow, T Magazine, doesn’t work:

Finally, [Urban Baby creative director Jeremy] LaCroix asked, ‘Have you seen T‘? That is the New York Times fashion freakshow website. Really?

‘How many people wake up in the morning and want to read T online?’ asked Essex.

‘Um?’ protested a girl in the audience, who was wearing leather boots almost to the knee.

‘I don’t really feel like that site is everything it can be,’ said Khoi Vin. (T pulled in outside designers for the job.) ‘I look at a site like Refinery29 … it’s not as locked in as T … it really acts alive.’

Everyone—advertisers, Web designers, Katharine Weymouth—is trying to discover what works for the Web.

But these guys all had a few ideas.

For one, nymag.com drives its traffic with material that Adam Moss might not necessarily endorse. “Amusingly, Adelman, of New York magazine (and also the founding designer of Slate), referred to his site’s homepage blog Daily Intel as ‘Sort of news, gossip, which I’m really not allowed to say,’ violating editor in chief Adam Moss’ proscription on using the word gossip.”

Mr. Vinh argued that magazines should try to quit breaking news on the Web since they don’t really have a chance to compete with a staff the size of the Times‘. Instead, he argued, they “should just find an angle or niche and provide commentary from there,” reports Mr. Sicha.

Right, but the problem is that magazines do do blogs now; why would anyone be more disposed to click on Bon Appetit than the Gourmet blog?

Mr. Essex argued that advertisers are figuring out a way to create their own news and content like with his Air Force One campaign ad at Marc Ecko. (Also, you can consider the Gwyneth Paltrow/Dennis Hopper short film that Tod’s just created.) As a result, why bother putting an ad in Details?

One thing that could save print, they argued, is social networking. Consider TimesPeople or Sam Zell’s growing fascination with social networking:

But soon, too, advertisers will have to confront their fear of the raving commentariat that really drives the Web. As ‘social networking’ at newspaper and magazine sites picks up steam—see the launch of “Times People”—advertisers will be thrown more and more in bed with the real wild Web.

It led everyone on the panel to draw this one (chilling) conclusion: “The consensus of the room was that in the future we will all get our news from our friends.”

Web Design Men, Andrew Essex Look Into a Crystal Ball