I am a news ninja; I visit madison.com and quickly (but silently) scan the page from top to bottom. I’ve been here many times before, but I am a ninja, and I know the situation changes with the wind. I know the article I am searching for will be at the very top of the page, and that is immediately where I head. I read only what catches my eye, and I disappear (in a cloud of smoke).
News ninja? Maybe.
Graphic designer? Definitely not.
Fortunately, that doesn’t matter, because I know what I like. There’s that, and the fact most of the commercial websites I visit do employ graphic designers and writers. Graphic designers and writers who take advantage of elements of rhetorical awareness, user-centered graphics, and visual rhetoric to guide the reader to exactly where they want to be and get exactly what they came for. Many of these elements can be identified within the design of madison.com.
Clearly, the website is aware of its audience; news ninjas and other people who just want “the news” – nothing fancy, straight-forward, and up-to-the-minute. The site also understands its simple purpose; it exists only to deliver news through a web page. A news ninja may not be persuaded by anyone to do anything, so there all no calls to action (aside from the occasional, small ad to pay for it), and likewise, there is no need for the site to explain why it’s there. The context of the rhetorical situation does not matter to the reader, and neither does anyone else who may have an interest in the site – the stakeholders.
While the ninja will use a flashy katana, shuriken, or nunchucks, the website author employs more subtle tools: document design, information design, and sentence design. With these tools, the author is able to meet the readers’ expectations and help them meet their goals. Did madison.com wield their tools effectively?
- Document design – the top Navigation Bar allows the user to quickly navigate from one news section to another. The designers have added a nice touch – the Navigation Bar is “frozen” and will remain at the top of the page even when scrolling. A clearly labeled “Menu” button will open an easy-to-read index of the contributing newspapers and the news sections are repeated. There are plenty of headers to help guide the reader’s attention, but there is too much white-space (a ninja can’t hide in white-space).
- Information design – providing information (articles) is the purpose of this website, and that information is presented logically. Each article is presented with a title and a picture, and the most important articles also display the first line or two of text and are at the top of the page.
- Sentence design – each article has its own sentence design, but usually they are simple and easy to read.
The weakest element on the site is fortunately one of the least important for its purpose (and ninjas pay no attention to visual rhetoric). All but a few of the articles have a picture, and those pictures are either stacked in columns or spread across the page in rows. No picture is given emphasis and none immediately heighten a ninja’s senses. The pictures are put on the page only to provide a quick suggestion of the content of the article.
If madison.com is anything, it’s simple, and that simplicity is exactly what a news ninja needs to see. The focal point is the site’s icon in the banner at the top of the page – conveniently drawing attention just an inch above the Navigation Bar. Along with thumbnails, headlines, and headers there are no other design elements. The web page is laid out to fit as many articles and pictures as possible rather than designed to persuade or argue.
This website has nothing graphically extreme, and has made no attempt to use beautiful colors. Other than bolding, the same type is used on the entire, blocky page, and there is no effective use of white space. Proof that less is more; I will continue to frequent madison.com, because news ninjas only want to get in and get out.