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Design Review: Tampa Bay Times Website

After years of a boring and borderline ugly website, the Tampa Bay Times has finally undergone reconstruction of their online presence. It is a much needed breath of relief, and from a design standpoint it is a much needed improvement.

What I like:

Grids: I love the grids they have used to separate elements. The refreshing space makes the site light and airy while making it easy to read. There is an immediate hierarchy that is vital to good design. On the Things To Do page the grids are very evident. They work to modernize the site and create visual interest. I think the Sports is the least effective. I don't like the placement of the twitter stream. I wish the story links were aligned on the left to be more consistent. Sandwiched in the middle, the story links look awkward between the negative space in the twitter feed and the scores.

Fonts: I love the juxtaposition of the slab-serif font used for the navigation and the thicker serif font for the sub-headings. Slab-serif fonts are a trend I have really gotten behind because they are so clean and simple while being bold and assertive. They have adopted a font pairing that gives a modern and polished look that mirrors the quality of their content.

Color: I like the simple complementary color palette. The black and white with the orange and teal accents are simple and effective at accentuating the content, not distracting away from it.

Dominant Photo: I love that they have a such a large photo dominating the page. It makes the site interesting and it peaks my interest. The large reverse type headline over the picture is a playful and modern way to implement what is normally a boring aspect of an online story. I would have liked to see a scrolling gallery to see other pictures with other stories highlighted, but overall I like the effect.

What I don't like:

Complexity: I think the home pages are too text heavy. I would have liked to see it simplified with the stories emphasized with more visual aspects like pictures instead of text. I know it is a news site and to say they have a lot of content to display is an understatement, so I appreciate their efforts. Without a doubt, it is a solid news site and one of the best I have come across. I would have just liked it to be even more simpler and visually easier to navigate.

Alignment: I would have liked to see the elements aligned better. There is not a really consistent arrangement for the columns. It goes from 4 columns in a section to 1 to 3. It is just not as consistent as I would have liked. The bars that separate the elements definitely help, but I think a more consistent grid system could have been used.

Header: I don't like the header on the site. The white space between the weather widget and the newspaper title is awkward. I don't think the weather widget is important enough to be in that spot. I also wish there was more space around the logo. It looks a bit squeezed in especially with the heavy black navigation bar.

Conclusion:

I am a consumer with a passion for graphic design, which I'd like to think gives my thought some clout. However, I'm no expert by any means. I have never created a website so complex. I'm just learning HTML right now. With that being said, I am incredibly amazed at the transformation the site has gone through. I respect all of the people who work for the Tampa Bay Times and value their commitment to their craft. This is by far one of the best news websites I have come across, which only matches their distinguished and well-revered content. Their dedication to progress is evident in the way they work and now the way they display their work.


Student's Perspective: What I Learned from Journalism Interactive 2013

This past weekend was one of the most eye-opening and inspiring experiences I've ever had. I had never heard about the conference Journalsim Interactive  before two weeks ago. As a student at UF I was able to go for free, but I also worked the event to help one of the organizers of the event. Anyways, the event brought some of the brightest and most forward-thinking minds in the communication field under one roof to talk about journalism. Just by being surrounded by incredibly innovative and successful people, I was inspired. More importantly though, by going I learned a lot as some of the professionals expertise rubbed off on me.

There were not many students there which was a tragedy. Anyone who wants to go into the field who didn't go missed an amazing opportunity. However, by being one of the few students there I had a unique perspective that helped me take away something different from everyone else.

Below are five of the biggest things I took away from this convention:

1. Get LinkedIn

I had heard of the site and knew people who use it. However, I thought it was only for business types. I never knew how important it was to have an account for those in the communication field. Lynn Walsh, who led the Job Hunt session, stressed the importance of getting LinkedIn. She told us about all of the people she knows who have gotten jobs through the site. Walsh said that there are always recruiters who use the site to look for qualified people. In conclusion, GET LinkedIn.

2. How to More Effectively Use Social Media

This panel turned my ideas of social media's impact on its head and showed me how powerful of a tool it can be to complement journalism. Using tools like StorifyRebelMouse and Delicious can make a good story even better. For Twitter, make sure you are giving the viewer new and interesting content. Don't just upload a picture, give it context and meaning. Also, always be on the lookout for something. If there is an accident then take a picture and let people know traffic is backed up. If you are not tweeting original thought or adding value to previous thoughts, then what's the point?

I also got experience live tweeting and writing on deadline. I live tweeted the sessions I went to and wrote blog posts for the convention's website immediately afterwards. It gave me a feel for the power of social media and the effect it can have.

3. Data Visualization is the Future

Infographics have always been something I have loved. Since my yearbook days in high school, I have loved designing alternative coverage and presenting information in digestible and fun ways. The Functional Art: Infographics and Design session by Alberto Cairo  reaffirmed my love for data visualization and showed me how vital it will become in our industry.

Cairo also kind of flipped my idea of what an infographic should be on its head. I have always loved the seemingly endless and number-filled graphics on the web. I like numbers so I never saw anything wrong with them. However, Cairo raised a valid point about them.  What's the point? What's the purpose. Why? Above all, infographics should present vital information the viewer wouldn't have known otherwise while also making the data meaningful. What I considered infographics was just pretty data. There was no meaning and no context. Cairo taught me to think about the viewer and present the information in a meaningful way. As much as I like form, function of infographics is much more important.

4. Give the Reader Something New

A hybrid lesson learned from both the infographics session and the social media session, it is vital to give your viewer new information. If you are not giving them something they could have discovered themselves, then why even publish it in the first place. For social media, this comes in the form of adding additional information to the pictures or tweets you post. Rather than take a picture of the snow outside of your window (for all of you Nemo survivors) report how much snow or if there are any streets blocked off. For infographics, makes sure you are making sense of the data and presenting it in a way that will provide meaning to the viewer. All of this is easier said than done, but I am working on applying these ideas to my content creation.

5. Networking, Networking, Networking!

All of the professors I have had while in school have told me every writer has a maximum amount of exclamation points they can use in their career. I used an exclamation point here because it is worth it to use one of the few I have in my stockpile. Next to amazing content, networking is the second most importnat thing you can do and the most important thing you can do to get a job. As a student looking into the belly of the beast (i.e. the real world), not having the idea of getting a job after college terrifies me to death. I'm almost scared enough to want to stay in school forever. However, through events like Journalsim Interactive and by meeting people I am building up a network of people which will be my saving grace when I prepare to get a job. I've gotten freelance work by knowing people who know people. Friends have gotten jobs by knowing people who know people. I'm excited to be in a business that is changing so rapidly. It is exciting and unnerving at the same time. I know I'll be okay though all because of networking.


Infographics: The Future of Journalism

Infographics are a current trend right now in the field of graphic design, but they have been an underutilized resource from a journalistic standpoint.  The idea of journalism is to tell a story, and infographics are capable of doing that in a much more visual, appealing way. As media consumers continue to want their information faster and simpler, infographics will be a bridge between the traditional storytelling aspect of journalism and the instantness and easily consumable aspect of modern society. Infographics are the future of journalism and it is important to understand what makes an effective one.

Infographics, above everything else, need to tell a story. The entire reason that people become journalists is to share information and stories. The need to share stories is instilled in our identity and culture. Infographics are a way to tell a story in a simpler way. The graphic nature of infographics allows the story to be broken down into its main components and made digestible for the average media consumer. The infographic will fail if there is not a compelling, informational, emotional, interesting, personable, or even newsworthy story behind it.

Infographics need to be universal. People need to be able to look at an inforgraphic and know exactly what they are interpreting. Use the ideas of semiology and sign systems to make an infographic that can appeal to the most amount of people possible.

Infographics need to relay new information. The reader needs to gain something by reading and experiencing the infographic. The infographic is a failure if the consumer is able to walk away without getting anything out of it.

Although not a necessity, it is a bonus if the infographic is designed well. Good design will attract people in and its good content will keep them coming back. Good design should consist of a balance between simplicity and ingenuity. Don’t be afraid to try something new and go out on a limb. Design is forever changing, and by experimenting, you can push that process along. However, keep in mind that infographics are supposed to make getting the information easier, so simplicity is also vital.