Help me to redesign New Internationalist

  • Words: Andy Clarke

A few weeks ago I received an email from New Internationalist magazine asking me if I’d like to work on the redesign of their online magazine, blogs and shop. I was away from my studio when the email arrived so I pecked out a quick reply on my iPhone. I think it went something like New Internationalist? Oh fuck yes!

PDF referred to in this screencast


New Internationalist has been around for 35 years, campaigning on a host of social justice issues. It's not as overtly political as I am, but for me, as a designer who is interested in social issues, this is a dream job.

The current New Internationalist site has been around for a few years and I imagine like many sites, its grown organically over the years, to include new sections, new areas such as a shop and new functionality. It's not, by any stretch of the imagination, a bad site, but not being one to look a riot policeman's horse in the mouth, I'm relishing the opportunity to improve it and to make a new platform to carry New Int forward online for the next few years.

I have to confess that when it comes to design, I'm often a bit of a dictator. Not the kind of wearing a uniform, awarding myself military medals kind of dictator, but often pretty close. Let's just say that I have strong opinions on the ways that things should be done.

So I'm going to attempt to take myself out of my presidential compound a little bit for this project by attempting to design more in the open. Maybe not to the extent that my friend Mark Boulton has done for his designs for Drupal, or Jeffrey Zeldman has for Mozilla, but close.

I think that this is important for a project like New Internationalist, because I truly believe that what it at stake here is more than just a web site. If my design can help New Int succeed in getting their messages across more effectively to more people, then I'll likely have done the most important job of my whole design career. That's how passionate I am about this project.

We, that's me and the New Internationalist team, Adam and Philip, have agreed that we are going to design predominantly using markup and CSS. This means that we will be able to react to your feedback and suggestions much more quickly and make new iterations of the designs faster so you'll be able to interact with them in a browser, rather than as flat graphic visuals. That doesn't mean that I won't be showing Photoshop or Fireworks comps, I will, but these comps will be kept to an absolute minimum and they will demonstrate overall look-and-feel directions, rather than being pixel-perfect representations of the templates that we'll be building.

The guys at New Internationalist have already given me a set of requirements and I've been mulling these over for the last few weeks. In the spirit of openness, here is a PDF of what I received. Like most sets of requirements, I'm treating these as starting points for the new design, rather than as a checkbox of issues that I need to address.

The essence of my job, as I see it, is to tackle several important design, UI and business related issues:

My first job is to improve the presentation of New Internationalist's content to make it more readable, accessible (in the widest sense) to people who may not be hardcore New Int readers. This is hugely important for me as I want people who have not read the magazine before to become more easily engaged with the subject matter. I'll be working on this through a more open layout, with better typography and with fewer visual distractions.

While we're on the subject of topics, I want to make it far easier for readers to follow topics that interest them, everything from global warming to globalization. This is going to involve designing ways to people to more easily find those topic areas on the site, but also ways for people to be kept up to date with new articles, whether that be through RSS, Twitter or emails.

The New Internationalist home page is particularly challenging as it needs to convey constantly updated content from New Int blogs as well as articles that have been republished from the printed magazine. Feature blog content too heavily and a reader might not notice that there are articles from the magazine. Go the other way and focus on magazine articles that change less frequently and a reader might be given the impression that the site is updated less often. This is going to be a fine balance.

Finally, fundraising/monetization is a vital part of keeping New Int active and this is achieved through donations, subscriptions to the magazine and the sale of books and other items. I want to make the buying of these items an integral part of the New Int experience, essentially placing books that are related to article topics in key positions inline as well as making sure that the subscription process (to the print and electronic versions) of the magazine is featured prominently and is far simpler than on the current site.

As an example of one of the areas that I'm aiming to improve, as it stands at the moment, the magazine subscription process is fairly lengthy, confusing and takes the reader across multiple pages and then onto external sites. These external sites have their own, separate navigation and as there is nothing, bar the URL change in the address bar, to warn a person that they are leaving New Int, this could be confusing and counter-productive. In case you missed it, and I imagine many people do, the link to subscribing to the electronic PDF version of the magazine is almost invisible too.

Of course, these are only a few examples of the design challenges that I'm going to work on. There will be a raft of smaller design decisions to make along the way.

As I'm designing more in the open, your feedback and suggestions are going to be vitally important, both on the design work that I make but also on the existing New Internationalist site and what it does right and wrong. I'm interested in your opinions if you're a regular New Int reader of if you've never been to the site before.

I'll be posting about the redesign here. I'll post links to markup and CSS templates along the way so that you can see my UI and layout decisions in your browser. Plus I'll be using Flickr to demonstrate design visuals and to collect ideas and inspiration.

I need your help to make the next iteration of New Internationalist the best that it can be. New Int matters as an organization and because the important work it does and the subjects it covers.

Please, go take a look at New Internationalist online now, read some articles and help me by participating in this design process.

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