Pitchfork launched a redesign last week. The reaction has been mixed. Some have picked on the new, subtler logo, the exclusive use of Helvetica, and the boxiness of the new layout. One person tweeted, “Not wild about the Pitchfork redesign. I give it a 6.8.” (Credit to Billboard for finding that gem.)
Sadly for Pitchfork, a site I visit often, all of these observations have merit, though they miss the real reason why people’s reactions are so meh: from the users standpoint, the new design does not have a clear raison d’etre.
To put it another way, is the content better served by the new design? To determine such a thing is near impossible, although I guess traffic would be a good benchmark. Reactionary blog posts are probably not.
Personally, I would have liked to have seen a more radical approach to structure. Pitchfork, like many sites who are juggling not only a lot of content, but a lot of different kinds of content, has not yet found a elegant way of seamlessly promoting that content. Their approach, which is more functional than it is engaging, is to dump each content type into its own box and then to order the boxes according to editorial priority—reviews, news, new music, video, respectively. They are more interested in making it easy for the user to find the kind of content they’re looking for, rather then telling the user what content they should be looking for. And while the latter may not sound like an appealing idea in the Internet age, it is a fundamental service provided by any editorial product.
So I guess I’m saying the Pitchfork redesign represents a minor cop out. I say minor because this is an incredibly difficult challenge, both from a design and an editorial perspective, and to be fair, the new design is visually appealing. Album art, photography and video are given more “room to breathe." The site’s navigation is somewhat improved, especially on interior pages, where the site is doing a better job of promoting related content, creating an especially vicious rabbit hole.
Luckily, the content is so good, I’m sure they’re going to have plenty of more time to figure it out.