Lars Damgaard
strategic user experience designer
August 29th 2013

Is the new design trend in visual storytelling good for telling stories?

The combination of fullscreen images, elegant use of good typography, chaptered navigation, odd grids and fancy microinteractions form a new trend in digital journalism.

Snow fall by New York Times

It looks fantastic and allows stories to be told in a more rich way than the usual, generic content templates and though they provide a fantastic user experience, they might compromise the actual reading experience.

A collection of examples

I have listed a couple of the most famous examples below.

This land by New York Times


This land by New York Times

Snow fall by New York Times


Snow fall by New York Times

The Jockey by New York Times


The Jockey by New York Times

Cycling’s Road Forward by Washington Post


thisland

Bushfire by The Guardian


Bushfire by The Guardian

Daft Punk by Pitch Fork


Daft Punk by Pitch Fork

Reading experience vs. user experience

As much I love the overall user experience of this trend and the perfect technical execution of the examples above, I find myself questioning the the actual reading experience more and more. This is obviously a matter of personal taste, but I still see some general challenges in this way of presenting digital journalism: it’s difficult to actually read the story, because it’s the details surrounding the words and not the words themselves that get the attention. The user experience is good , but the reading experience is bad. Ironically, the only rich story that I was inspired to read rather than experience, was “The Jockey” because I happened to view it on my iPhone, in which the composition adapted to a very clean and minimalistic design that was close to the built-in reader in Safari.

Form becomes content

It goes without saying that the “rich formats” has gained popularity because many traditional news websites lack the ability to present content in interesting ways, especially compared to the proud traditions of handheld print newspaper design.

I don’t want to criticize such experiments that can raise the bar for digital user experience design and digital news design. However, when it comes to the “rich formats” that I have presented above, form becomes more important than content. This is probably a questionable distinction, because the more sophisticated point is that form becomes content. However, this means, at least for me personally, that I have a hard time focusing on actually reading it. I remember how Snowfall or Cycling’s Road Forward made me feel, but to be honest, I don’t really remember the stories, because I experienced them instead of reading them.

Newsweek on the other hand, serves as an interesting example of balancing a rich user experience with a good reading experience. They do use rich elements to create a magazine-like experience which is way more interesting than the standard content templates, but they do it in a way that still invites you to read and not just experience. The longforms of SB nation pretty much works in the same way: a rich format that looks great, but still invites you to read.

What do you think? Did you also scroll your way through Snowfall or did you read it all the way through? Let me know on twitter

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