Very few of us consume news the way we used to. Even in the last couple of years, newspaper apps have taken precedence, with many of us using our smartphones as the only way of accessing trending and breaking news around the world, accounting for a huge increase in active users across all platforms. The pervasive nature of the way we access news on our smartphones has also meant that the way we access it has to be simple and elegant – with minimum disruption or barriers to getting the information we want when we need it. This blog post explores newspaper apps and user experience, and looks at some ways developers and designers have made news consumption one of the easiest things we can do on our phones.
Any app that requires a lot of information to be consumed in a short space of time has to be minimal, simple and easy to read. Most news apps today go for the simple approach, with a design that favours accessibility and a ‘swipe first’ approach – eschewing the ‘long read’ for a far more transient, immediate form of news consumption. This follows through when it comes to design, too, which simple conventional layouts that correspond to what the users expect to see. Much of this also echoes the format and layout of traditional media.
There has always been a lot of discussion as to what typefaces are easier to read on a mobile device, and this conversation doesn’t look like it’s about to go away, with AIGA’s Eye on Design recently joining the conversation by highlighting some of the serif fonts not typically associated with digital platforms that have increased in popularity over the past year.
Typefaces on news apps have to fulfil three criteria – be attractive on smartphone or tablet displays, be easy to see in every reading situation and additionally be on brand, confirming to the design and layout conventions across all platforms.
This means that often, typefaces on news apps follow what we (or the reader) would expect to see from that service. Serif fonts on more ‘conservative’ media such as the Telegraph and the WSJ, and ‘modern’ sanf-serif fonts on more liberal leaning publications such as the Guardian.
Layout and Reading Behaviour
Adapting to the reading behaviour of users on tablets and smartphones is more important than on the printed page, as of course display size is constrained and people have a different attitude to consuming news on the go. The scrolling nature of our everyday life on smartphones has also got to be considered, and many newspapers, such as the Telegraph in their newly designed app, offer a rolling feed of news items separated into categories. Others, such as BBC News and The Guardian, offer a slightly more curated approach, with special blocks and features that draw your attention with larger images and highlighted text.
Use of Photography
The latest generation of smartphones have the best screens we’ve ever seen, and this technology is likely to improve and condense – increasing in resolution and taking on more forms of immersion like holographic display and VR. A newspaper’s use of photography is important – they help to tell a story – and the way the photographs are displayed goes a long way in supporting the app’s overall aesthetic. Images have to be made bold in terms of colour and display, easy to see and often have the ability to take centre stage within an article to break up the text in a user-friendly way.
Putting the Right Information in the Right Place
More often than not, it doesn’t matter how good the content is, if a news app doesn’t have the right layout and doesn’t feel right, users won’t stay long. It is easy to find news apps that do this bit wrong – personalisation and ease of bookmarking the right content to suit individual tastes is a key to a successful newspaper app.
Scrolling Action / Animations
There is an art in making something feel tangible even when it’s not – and news apps have to recreate this with even greater accuracy as people are essentially replacing a real newspaper or magazine with the information they can find within the app. Some apps, such as Flipboard, utilise a ‘flip’ animation, as if one was turning a page, but other applications fine tune their scrolling action to ensure the best possible user experience and feeling of control and usability.
With the new Telegraph app, there has been a clear desire to move away from conventional ‘branded’ apps, that follow the colour themes and conventions of the newspapers themselves, towards one that is bolder, brighter and challenges people’s perceptions as to how the news needs to be consumed. Flipboard also follows this attitude – being more akin to a ‘Pinterest for the news’ with bright colours, light-hearted animations and bold, saturated photography.
Creation vs. Curation
User control and a bespoke experience is at the heart of so much of what we do online. Today, most services that are offered, whether subscription or otherwise, give users the chance to personalise them to some extent, and newspapers both today and in the future should be no different. Some of the best news apps out there have excellent bookmark, following and personalisation tools. The Guardian’s app, for example, allows you to follow individual contributors to the paper so you get know their content, their style of writing and how often they post. An in-built app notification system is key – users can be notified on when their followed authors have published – building brand loyalty and ensuring people keep visiting and using the app.
Another aspect of a good newspaper app is how well it integrates with social media. Many newspaper’s stories are now broken online, and both Twitter and Facebook have a huge part to play in what kind of news we’re shown and what kind of news we’re interested in. Good social links and a clear ability to share on a range of platforms is central to a positive user experience.
There is a lot of competition out there for newspaper apps. Their use of tech and increasingly advanced way of integrating into our lives are making them ever more relevant, and in an age where we want everything instantly, they are doing a good job satisfying our need for knowing what’s going on around the world in a well designed and intelligently conveyed manner.
The future is exciting for the world of digital news. Much like all elements of new, innovative tech, it’s an ever changing scene, but with the likes of VR becoming a mainstream option for a wide variety of consumer media, it’s likely that the daily news we read every day will become much more immersive – offering entirely new digital ‘journeys’ or experiences that will provide us with an even better understanding of how it affects us. It’s easy to see how UX needs to be at the very heart of this, with words, photography, video and design elements concerning scrolling and animation all working together to provide a modern, streamlined and enjoyable experience.
Seen a particularly good bit of UX in an app and what to tell us about it? Join the conversation and say hello on Twitter.