In my web authoring class we were recently discussing recent trends in web design and layout. Much of the discussion focused on a recent move from short concise content to longer, more print like, lengthy text. This return to principles more associated with print media is also reflected in less distraction from competing advertising, links, video, gifs, to a streamlined, clean and minimal, content focused method.
One of the key moments in shift in layout (especially in editorial driven sites) was the New York Times article Snow Fall. It focuses on an avalanche that occurred in Washington, burying a group of 16 skiers. The article opens with a splash page comprising of a video that incorporates interview, reenactment, actual footage, and expert interviews – then you are invited to read the full article.
What makes it unique and game changing was firstly it’s length – the article is arranged into 6 separate pieces that can be access from the top navigation or from the bottom of the page as you finish each section – which are presented in a parallax scrolling format. As well as written content each section contain images, video and audio that compliments the overall narrative. The images are large, the have CSS3 and Java Script elements that transition fade as you scroll down, or hover over them – same with video and audio segments. The effect creates an atmosphere of minimalist, winter like, white space that makes it stand out from other articles on the NYT site. Even the advertising, which is mostly unavoidable on a commercial website, is integrated into the article in a way that doesn’t take from the overall aesthetic.
While the article is innovative and changes how long read articles can be incorporated into a web environment that can integrate other media such as video, images, audio, it is not without its criticisms – firstly, it’s a long read – about an avalanche – while certainly interesting 6 separate sections and so much supporting media seems a bit OTT. Secondly, it’s a little glitchy – loading times can be lengthy and (on my MAC at least) some elements don’t load as you would expect. While innovation and constant change is a mainstay of the web the criticisms of Snow Fall highlight the golden rule of print – content is king! If the content isn’t interesting, no matter how well presented – people wont read it.