Times New Spartan: Unprompted Redesign Chatter

opinions2 Times New Spartan: Unprompted Redesign ChatterA few weeks ago, The New York Times received some harsh and unsolicited opinions on its web design from Unit Interactive designer Andy Rutledge.

Mr. Rutledge dissected nytimes.com in a multipage memorandum (meticulously designed, it must be said) posted on his personal blog, Design View, including mock-ups of an alternative layout.

Last week Mr. Rutledge was met with a little countercriticism, from the Nieman Journalism Lab, ex-Timesmen and others.

“I guess my overarching point is that, while there are no doubt lots of pages on nytimes.com or any other news site that could use a once-over, the problems of large-scale information architecture for news sites are really hard problems,” Josh Benton wrote on the Nieman Lab blog.

“Smart people think about these problems. And their solutions require more than a nice slab-serif typeface and some white space.”

As Nieman director, Mr. Benton could be considered such a person.

In Mr. Rutledge’s defense, the newest nytimes.com designs, on the opinions page, do have elegant serif headlines and quite a bit more white space.

The clean look designed by Tom Bodkin preceded opinion editor Andy Rosenthal’s revamp of the Section Formerly Known as the Week in Review and its content. In print the makeover brought heavily inked magaziney cover pages and irregular columns, but the online complement remained decidedly spare. It lacks the cluttered left and top navigation bars found on other nytimes.com pages, as well as the reliably depressing “Most E-mailed” box—both among Mr. Rutledge’s suggestions.

A broader overhaul of the opinion section online is due to completed in the fall, Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy told Off the Record. Forthcoming additions will include content from Times sister paper the International Herald Tribune, expanded commentary, and more interactive features.

With all the ambient redesign chatter, we wondered if the layout is a sign of things to come for the rest of nytimes.com, which hasn’t been seriously redesigned since April 2006.

“We’re always refining design on the site but we haven’t announced that there’s any major redesign,” Ms. Murphy said.

As for Mr. Rutledge, he seems to be still licking the wound.

“It is likely that these baseless criticisms have cost my studio hundreds of thousands of dollars or more in potential projects,” he wrote in response to the counter critics.