Designing Web pages for news sites

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Jun 27, 2008 en Journalism Basics

1. BRANDING: The main focus in designing multimedia packages is carrying across the topic of each package across all of its html pages. For example, if the topic is the Middle East, every page of the package should have some sort of design element -- logo, header, fonts, etc. -- that clearly brands it as a part of a larger package on the Middle East. The package should also have a clear, simple navigation among its entities. Preferably, the navigation also should be broken down by larger categories: timelines, photoessays, maps, graphics, video and audio, etc. Each package may have its elements created in different mediums: Flash, html, gif/jpeg graphics -- but all of them need to look integrated and share common visual queues.

 

2. INFOGRAPHICS: The information should define the design, not visa versa, and the design should clearly illustrate the subject. Charts and graphs should be used as often as possible to illustrate the statistical part of the package thus making it more comprehensible and exciting, whereas photo essays should portray the visual aspects/drama. Additionally, timelines are useful to portray the historical aspects. The colors and overall design need to correspond to the mood of the topics. For example, it's not a good idea to use pastels when you design something about war.

 

3. WEIGHT: The size of html pages and the embedded elements are still a big concern, especially for developing countries, where dial-up modems with slow connection speeds are still used widely. Hence, it's a good habit to learn how to use html creatively instead of using bulky graphics, animations, video or javascript.

4. PACKAGING: Will your special news package be part of an ongoing story that needs constant updating, such as the unrest in the Middle East? Or will it be something that once it's done will not likely be updated again such as the Olympic Games? Flash, Shockwave and prepackaged video presentations are powerful story-telling tools, but are not easily modified. Hence, they become more difficult to update. Although html doesn't dazzle “viewsers” as much, it is a design and news presentation “tool” most producers are familiar with and more easily updateable. As far as I see it, html is usually more suitable to design special news presentations and packages.

5. TIME: For breaking news – natural disasters, major accidents, election results, etc. – stick to the basics. Get the news up fast for your “viewsers.” Don’t make them wait hours or days for serious explanatory graphics or presentations. Get some elements on the site quickly that can complement the story, such as locator maps, photos, raw video footage, audio excerpts. When the newsroom has time to collect itself, work with your editors to determine how you would like to expand the story. Once you have some basic information and elements in place, then you can have designers, programmers, writers, video editors, etc. on building detailed packages. Much of what you have already placed on the site can be reused.

 

6. STAY FOCUSED: How much is too much? That depends on the topic. But don’t’ overburden the “veiwser” with so many elements that the multimedia package and story loses focus. Remember, as reporters, editors and designers you must still act responsibly as the gatekeepers of news. Try to limit photo essays to less tghan 20 photos – this will also keep you focused when presenting a visual story. Give your “viewsers” short, digestible bits of information that will complement the main story, not overpower or drown it. People only have a limited amount of time. And with too many elements they will become overwhelmed and eventually “bail out” – leave – your presentation. In the end, much of your time will have been wasted.