Evaluating the Echo

The Northumberland Echo website.
Ever been to it? No? You’re not missing much.

When the page first appeared, I didn’t think I had the right site. It didn’t look like a newspaper company (aside from the nameplate font) until I read the navigation bar links at the top. The page has more ads on it than news. And that isn’t to say the page is cluttered. Actually, the page needs more. There is so much right space to the left and the right of the page. The news occupies the middle of the page, which is an awkward placement to begin with. The column is narrow and long, stretching nearly the whole length of the page. Thank god it’s divided into sections: top stories, local news, sports, etc. or my eye would move away from that long block of text to something more exciting, like… the ads, which offer the ONLY color on the entire page. The white background is so boring that I want to cry.

I shouldn’t want to cry about your website.

The pictures next to the news stories are a great idea, but a poor execution, because they are too small. It’s hard to make out the people in them. With all the extra space next to the column, the designer should have widened the column and enlarged the photos. The bullets work well, also. I think navigation is simple and fluid, and the stories are hierarchically arranged. Great, great work. That said, The headlines need to be larger than the text underneath the bullet, which is the start of the story. They run together, and the headlines don’t scream “read this story.”

If a headline can’t do its job, why is it there?

On the topic of size, again, I just can’t get over the fact that the words in the ads are bigger than any of the words that are actually related to the Echo’s news.

The video irks me. Not the idea of it, because I think having a visual component on the page is necessary, but I hate the placement. It breaks up this great column of textual news. I wish it was next to the news sections. This would be a better place, so that the video doesn’t look randomly placed. Also, since it includes video stories from all news sections, it doesn’t belong to any news category specifically, and shouldn’t look like it does. It needs its own place. Right now, it looks like the video belongs to the top news story of the day (the story about the Bluff Point consultant.) It doesn’t.

Already, readers are confused.

Additionally, I don’t like this layout, because everything is so vertical. It’s divided into three columns and all the columns extend down the page with everything stacked up. I think it’s boring, and I think it causes excess scrolling. I’d prefer a wider, horizontal layout. More could fit on the screen that way, too.

As for the navigation bar, it needs to be bigger, bolder. The gray doesn’t work for me. I want the bar to be the first thing I notice, since it’s the only thing that even told me this was a news site. The search bar would work better at the end of the navigation bar, I believe, too. The search bar goes unnoticed where it is now.

I like the weather box. Nice touch.

So, what to do about this boring page that isn’t maximizing its space or potential?

Here’s my suggestions:

1. The nameplate stays as is, because I have no problems with it. The weather box moves up to be centered with the name, giving more space between it and the nav bar.

2. The navigation bar would be deeper and the links within would stay the same size, but be done in bold font. The tracking would be reduced between words and evened out, since intervals are currently inconsistent. The search bar would move to the right end. Color? I’m thinking white with black words (the bar can be white because the page will not stay white).

3. That online delivery ad and the weekly poll move to the right side of the page. The column with the news moves flush left.

4. The date gets a font size upgrade. It stays in red, for notability.

5. The headlines that follow the bullets would be larger by about three font sizes and bolded. Underline would stay. The size of the stories that start underneath would stay the same size, as would the dates.

6. The news categories (standing heads) get a font size upgrade to account for the new size of the story headlines. Font size scale needs to stay how it is now.

7. The news column would stretch from the start of where the online delivery ad is now to the right edge of the first ad column. Pictures would be enlarged within the column.

8. Ad column moves over to be in line with the Old Dominion business search, which would sit on top of the ad column.

9. The video would move to be at the bottom of the news column, stretching the same width as the stories.

10. The ads at the bottom would be separated from the news, which is more important, by a thin rule across the page.

11. The background color wouldn’t stay white. I’m thinking light blue.

How would you change the Echo?


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