The annual jury meeting in Billund, Denmark, is over. Many winners have been found, hundreds of runner-ups have been discarded, and trends have been observed. Ulf Högberg (left in picture), member of the digital jury, looks back on a busy week.
Getting together at Legoland Hotel in Billund is always a great experience. Not only do you get to meet your awesome peers who work with digital news design. Eat all the great food and enjoy drinks after a long hard day. You also get an exclusive insight to what online news sites around Scandinavia are doing. And that’s quite a unique treat.
This time was no different. The big surprise was that we received almost twice as many entries as last year.
We suspect that re-working the categories had some influence on that. It’s always a thing in progress and we will continue to tweak those.
If you have suggestions or critique regarding this, we would be very happy to have your voice on those.
There were some clear trends this year and we saw lots of inspiring, beautiful, user-friendly examples of news design. Here are a few observations:
1: Responsive Design. There were quite a few examples who used responsive (or adaptive) design that were optimised for multiple screens – smartphones, tablets and desktops. In some cases we clearly saw that a mobile approach was the start, but also the other way around.
But you got a seamless access to the same story, no matter what. This is not only a design quest, but also a tactic and holistic approach that changes the newsroom production flow that takes some re-structuring of how you present the news. Presenting news on a mobile is very different from a desktop since you can’t fit stories side by side on a smaller screen and therefore have to decide the hierarchy of importance.
Lately, responsive design also affects how you score on Google rankings. We saw some really good examples on how responsive design was used and that mobile maturity has certainly landed. Now. If only the ad model could follow.
2: Simple Design. We saw a clear swing to using best practices for putting the user in focus and to tell the story better by using designs that have less clutter. You can also tell that the navigation is taking another approach.
The “Hamburger” menu seems to be the new norm on all screen sizes. The traditional left hand navigation is fading and users are getting used to on-demand menus, sticky headers and navigation that follows as you scroll. This allows for a clean and simple design.
Flat design has also made its way into online news design and we’re quite sure that this will continue into the next years’ redesigns. We saw that this approach is well balanced with accented details where it matters.
3: Storytelling. The last couple of years there has obviously been a shift towards shorter storytelling targeted for social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and any other single-serving blog. All these platforms work ever so slightly different that it takes quite a challenge to serve them all. “Produce one, publish everywhere” seems harder and harder.
Meanwhile, as stories get shorter and smaller, we also get to enjoy how online news articles are simultaneously getting a lot larger and bolder too. Who would have expected that? New York Times is one of the media companies pioneering the long-form digital article storytelling with pieces like “Snow Fall” etc. This has certainly inspired for a new mixed media that combines long texts, bold photography, beautiful typography, large illustrations, full-browser video into one neatly designed package.
For the new digital generation of users that rather watch a Vine video, this could be a game changer. For example, Twitter co-founder Evan Williams launched Medium, where people share longer-form ideas for those who think well beyond just 140 characters. We saw quite a few of these long form stories. Long scroll, parallax storytelling and were amazed by the creativity and that the old limitations for online design is no more.
Tablet targeted app design with a clear print approach was in style a few years ago, but failed to attract. The mixed media, long-form seems to be the way to go. Most examples we saw were also responsive and gave a very focused mobile experience that we spent a lot of time in. And no. Scrolling is not a bad thing.
4: Data Visualization. Another big trend and a new category in the SNDS competition is Data Project. Data driven journalism and Data Visualization has just exploded and you can see ads from media houses looking for people with these talents. It is also reflected in this category with many entries.
Taking data from established sources or crowd-sourcing is equally common in this field. Interactive maps, illustrations, tables, graphs, bubble charts are some of the tools that tells a story to help the user understand complex topics and issues.
To use the power of the users to gather data to get new results to help produce stories and set the agenda has become a powerful tool and will continue to grow. This also lets the audience become part of the story and boost loyalty towards the media brand. Both small and large brands have jumped on the bandwagon and we will see this explode in the future. There are lots of free open source tools out there for anyone to create a customized compelling piece.
The transfer from traditional narrative info-graphics towards sophisticated interactive data projects is the challenge here and will make a impact on how staffing and tools in the newsrooms are set up for the future.
5: TV Experience. The dawn on online TV for news organisations is here to stay. Especially traditional newspapers are putting a lot of money and effort into building full blown TV-studios to produce high quality live and on demand content, challenging broadcasters who got a head start. This has all the possibilities to be a game changer and we saw a lot of great examples in this category with integrated live texts and social media feeds as well as real time photo galleries and more.
Clearly, the ad market for this medium is a big reason for all the investments and efforts here, and programmatic buying in TV ads to target audiences is going to be the big thing of the future of online news economy.
To sum it all up: We loved how the overall digital approach has reached a maturity and a more User Experience centric level than the past years. However, there’s a lot more to do and the online news designer is becoming more and more important for the newsrooms. Agile and lean UX workflows with journalists, developers and designers are finding their way into the traditional workflows to produce better and faster content. CMS are up for new challenges, Ad and Marketing has some shifting to do in order to meet the new demands. Really exciting to be part of this in 2014.
Got comments? Suggestions on digital news design categories for next year? Don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.
See you at Fusion14 in Copenhagen, October 9-11. We got a bunch of cool stuff to show.
Ulf Högberg is an award-winning creative director who has worked for some of the world’s largest media companies, including CNN.com, ITV and Schibsted.