It’s official: America hates Advance’s news sites

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From Massachusetts to Oregon, from Louisiana to Michigan, with Alabama in between, readers hate the new look of Advance Internet’s sites after their 2012 makeover.

MLive.com 2012 design

Yellow mama: MLive.com switched to Advance’s new look in January 2012.

It’s official: America hates Advance’s news sites

From Massachusetts to Oregon, from Louisiana to Michigan, with Alabama in between, readers hate the new look of Advance Internet’s sites after their 2012 makeover. By Wade Kwon.

Storified by Wade Kwon · Fri, Jul 13 2012 02:08:11

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Advance Internet runs a network of template news sites across the United States. In February, it began a rollout of a new site design. (Shown above, with the 2012 design on the right.)
Again and again, readers said how much they disliked the new look, listing reasons that echoed each other with every new site debut.

Sites with the 2012 design:
• Michigan: MLive.com [switched in January 2012]
• Alabama: al.com [May 2012]
• New Orleans: NOLA.com [May 2012]
• Massachusetts: MassLive.com [June 2012]
• OregonLive.com [June 2012]

Sites with the older design:
• Alabama/Mississippi: gulflive.com
• Lehigh Valley, Pa.: lehighvalleylive.com
• New Jersey: NJ.com

• Pennsylvania: PennLive.com
• Staten Island, N.Y.: SILive.com
• Syracuse, N.Y.: syracuse.com

MLive.com

Michigan’s MLive.com led the way in January, and reader feedback was negative from the start, with 300 comments.

About the new MLive.com home pageWe are pleased to present a major redesign of our homepage and navigation. Our goal is to stand out as the most useful and responsive sou…

“From a design standpoint, the new site is a complete and utter failure.” — Tom Allen

“I don’t like the bouncing header at the top of the page either as it follows down the page when I scroll to read. It’s very distracting!” — LadyBuggs

“This YELLOW is very hard on the eyes … like staring at the sun.” — kmo, Jackson, Mich.

A Michigan State sports forum also discussed the changes, free from the MLive.com moderators.
mlive – site redesignscared] must be going for a yellowpages look [shrug]

“They honestly turned their horrible webpage into an atrocious webpage. They removed the sports headlines on the front page and made it look like a yellow pages version of a Facebook news feed.” — Io Triumphe

“It’s not clear to me how anyone in a position of approving this redesign could look at that mess and think: ‘Yeah! That’s better!’

“It’s unpleasant to the eye in several ways and will result in my having negative gut reaction to the products and services that are advertised there. How’s that for a potential hit to the bottom line?” — Misterray

More readers responded via the MLive.com Facebook page …
Our new homepage is… | FacebookSign Up Make the world more open and connected.
“A huge disappointment. The yellow header is annoying and the way it navigates down the page makes it hard to locate the real news. Their previous format was so easy. Why in the world did they think they had to change it?” — Margaret Hedlund, Grand Rapids, Mich.
“Get your money back MLive management, you’ve been fleeced by someone that’s sold you an outdated, incredibly fugly design.” — Andrew Powell

“I’m not trying to jump on the hating bandwagon here, but the designer honestly needs to learn some new design techniques. Hopefully it wasn’t too expensive.” — Kyle Korth 

Advance hired Mule Design Studio of San Francisco to create the new look. Noted designer Mike Monteiro (@Mike_FTW) led the project.

The blog post says, “We collaborated with the Mlive.com team to completely reimagine what a local news experience could be: exciting, responsive and community oriented. We interviewed current Mlive.com users throughout the state to find out what mattered most to them.

“The result is bright and bold, a new home page and navigation system with a layout that cuts down on clutter while offering people clear paths to the stories and features they care about.”

The Mule post pulled in an unusually high 37 comments.

Mule Design Studio’s Blog: A Bright New Home for Local NewsMlive.com is the leading source of news and information for the state of Michigan, incorporating the output of eight local newspapers in …

“Epic failure. You guys totally screwed up on this one. You’ve moved digital journalism backward.” — Dude

“Yeah … I wouldn’t rush to put my name on this site. Talk about an eyesore …” — Andrew

“You may want to read the 99.999 percent negative comments being posted by the real mlive users before you use this as marketing for your services. You really missed the target on thus one including the use of a color scheme that is not only difficult to read but alienates a majority of mlive users because it closely resembles that of one major university in the state over all the others.

“Mlive readers want information and an intuitive way to get at it. Not tabloid ‘pop.’ You delivered neither, and your client is paying for it dearly.” — Jim

al.com / NOLA.com

New Orleans followed in May, with Alabama close behind. It appeared little of the feedback from Michigan’s upset readers influenced the NOLA.com or al.com rollouts.
Following the site changes came the newspapers’ cutbacks in both personnel and printing.
NOLA.com’s change prompted more than 300 comments.
About the new NOLA.com homepageWe are pleased to present a major redesign of our homepage and navigation. Our goal is to stand out as the most useful and responsive sou…
“Before the Nola.com design change = I visited the site five to six times per day.

 

“Post-Nola.com design change = I come here once every few days to see if this disaster has blown over.” — MikeMcMillan, New Orleans

“Frustrating user experience, harder to get at the actual news, slow and an all-around mess. I can even understand the less headlines/more ads angle, but this is bordering on unusable.

“There are just easier ways to get news. I’m sorry to say that I won’t be back until this layout is gone. Thanks for listening.” — Bigeauz

“Congratulations, web designers! Your work is the daily winner on webpagesthatsuck.com. NOLA.com is officially the worst designed web site in the world on May 13, 2012!” — sadnola, New Orleans

NOLA.com readers vented on Facebook …
So, this is… | Facebookundefined
“PLEASE go back to the old format on the website. This new one is terrible.” — Jonathan Maki, New Orleans

“The new nola.com format is atrocious. If the ownership of the Times-Picayune is counting on daily readers to move to online viewing on non-print days, you are going to lose your customer base quickly.” — Joey LaHatte, New Orleans 

“This is just my opinion, but your change in format is awkward, clumsy, hard to navigate efficiently and somewhat garish. I don’t frequent it any longer. While I understand the reasoning behind going digital, I wish you had stayed with your first choice in formatting.” — Cory Price

The poor design of NOLA.com inspired Alabama-based WordPress developer Matt Thomas (@iammattthomas) to offer his own vision for how the site should look.
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My personal redesign of nola.comIf you’re within digital earshot of me, you’ve probably heard about the corporate owners of New Orleans’ daily paper, the Times-Picayune,…
The new look of the site drove Times-Picayune reporter Kari Dequine Harden to email an angry missive to her editor, her publisher and a NOLA.com managing producer.

“Compared to other news outlets, our website is a joke. We break news, but no one would know because of the worst news website known to man, and the priority setting — whoever is doing it — is totally fucked.

“Embarrassing, compared to TV. And yet we are focused on digital now? Enhanced? Who is buying this crap?”

Times-Picayune reporter: I can’t keep my mouth shut and pretend everything is okay | JIMROMENESKO.COM"Sometimes I just want to scream about what is happening around me" at the newspaper, she writes. "Those of us laid off still have jobs t…
The change at al.com inspired more than 400 comments.
The al.com 2012 front page redesignOnline reaction to previews of a new look to Alabama’s biggest website View the story al.com 2012 front page redesign on Storifyal.com 20…
“Every time I look at this site, I think about the care and effort that goes into designing the front page of Alabama’s three major daily newspapers [Birmingham News, Huntsville Times, Mobile Press-Register]. And when I think about all that care and effort disappearing, it makes me sad.

“The Press-Register and other Newhouse-owned papers apparently employed some decent designers for their print publications. Please do not just fire these men and women. The digital side of your company needs their talents more than ever.

“You’ve replaced three newspapers with centuries of tradition between them with a website that I’d have been embarrassed to have designed 15 years ago. This is not the way to move to the digital age.” — whatsnew

“This is all y’all keep saying INSTEAD OF LISTENING to your clients: ‘I hope it will grow on you like it grew on us as we were testing the site.’ Of course it grew on you: You’re being paid, and it has to grow on you. We, on the other hand, hate it, and there is no benefit to any of this.” — jstephenrice, Huntsville

“Not really a fan of the new site … Old site was simpler, less flashy and easier to navigate.” — dodoc

Frustrated al.com readers also left comments on Facebook.
Have you noticed… | FacebookWhen we launch the new design for al.com homepages early Wednesday morning, it is is just the beginning of our work to make your place be…
“I am not too impressed with the new look; everything is jumbled together and is confusing. Tone it down!!!!” — Donna Walter Vildibill, Birmingham

“‎1996 called and said you should have hosted the site on GeoCities and added dancing cat GIFs.” — Franklin Hayes, Birmingham

“If this is just the beginning, I hate to see what the rest is going to look like! Not a nice, warm-and-fuzzy place for a home page anymore!” — Ken Furr, Mobile

MassLive.com / OregonLive.com

June saw the bicoastal launches for sites in Massachusetts and Oregon. Advance finally made one concession: It dropped the bright yellow primary color for a warm gray, used on al.com and NOLA.com after numerous complaints.
The smaller MassLive.com pulled in more than 30 comments.
MassLive.com to unveil major redesign for its homepage – FAQ helps readers navigate new pageMassLive.com is getting a new look. On Tuesday morning we launch a redesign of our homepage and main navigation. Our goal is to stand out…
“Absolutely horrible. You literally see almost no information once the page comes up. Have to scroll way too much.” — Just the Facts Ma’am, Northampton, Mass.

“Looks like change for the sake of change, and never mind about user friendliness or utility. I was very disappointed to see that it’s no longer possible to find world or national news. What a disappointment! Overall, a real step in the wrong direction.” — mick99, Easthampton, Mass.

“It looks clunky … lots of empty space in the drop-down menus, too many images on the page with large text. The site does not look like a newspaper site, or perhaps it looks like a paper geared to children or visually impaired. Look at NYT for a very ‘newspaper’ look … Guardian UK accomplished what you are trying here, but with a much better looking/arranged look.” — pronoblem, Holyoke, Mass.

OregonLive.com’s relaunch prompted some 165 comments from readers.
OregonLive.com’s homepage redesign FAQOregonLive.com has a new look. On Tuesday morning we launched a redesign of our homepage and main navigation. Our goal is to stand out as…
“I am not a negative person, and I generally don’t make negative comments. But the new format makes viewing and scrolling VERY slow, and the scrolling doesn’t work properly — it misses a line or two every time I hit Page Down. The headlines do look too large and cluttered, but that’s an aesthetic issue. I’m much more concerned with the reduction in functionality. I agree that the company evidently did not get its money’s worth. 
 
“Good luck, as I’m sure there is a lot of political capital vested in the new format. But it’s not working too well for many of us.” — pdxmom

“The top bar is HUGE, it takes up a full third of the screen, please get rid of it. The home page is less ‘busy’ than the old, but the bold print and the large number of photos and ads make it hard on the eyes.

“Big, bold print … why are you shouting at us so much? We are your customers, not your enemy (or your little sister that just took the last cookie!).” — CYoung

“Olive. It’s the pits.” — lefttownin86, Oregon City, Ore.

@gregforschools @ndungca ugh – the new @oregonlive site is horrendous. next to zero usability testing. prelo-slab font style? really!?Jeff Katz
Really don’t like the new "OregonLive" siteJB
The complaints were echoed on the OregonLive.com Facebook page.
OregonLive.com has… | FacebookDamon Patrick Carroll, Denise Polverine and Erin Kemper like this.
“It’s just terrible. Come on, OregonLive, you are the top local paper. Can’t you see how papers like Seattle Times, Washington Post, New York Times all have very easy to read pages?

“This is a great example how breaking the mold was not a good idea. Too much clutter and disorganization.” — Joey Tuma, Eugene, Ore.

“This is a really poor design. The ‘following navigation bar’ is outdated and not laptop or tablet friendly. Give users an option (cookie-based or user-setting preference) to not allow the 2005 navigation bar to follow or not follow. Font style is horrible. You make poor use of real estate.

“By saying, ‘The changes might take some getting used,’ you are extremely condescending to your readers.” — Jeff Katz

“Another vote against the new website design. It is just awful, hard to navigate, nothing is recognizable from the old format. What was wrong with the previous version? I used to visit daily; now, I think I’ll delete my shortcut and find my news elsewhere.” — Elizabeth Smithwick

It’s coming

Watch out, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Hold on tight, New York and Mississippi. Advance Internet hasn’t “fixed” your sites yet, but it’s coming.
The efficiency of having every property using the same design will win out over hundreds, thousands of complaints. Readers from Gulfport to Bethlehem will wake up one morning, astonished and upset at their trusted news site in fancy new clothes. They will complain, loudly, echoing the ones posted above for the past 6 months.
Advance’s site editors and producers have responded to many commenters to assure them that they are, in fact, being heard, that improvements are on the way.
And still, the rollouts roll on.

Wade Kwon is a communications consultant based in Birmingham, Ala. He has also been a journalist for 25 years.

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