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Why Most Nigerian Print Media Website Design Looks Same

Getting a job at one of the best media house in Lagos Southwest Nigeria (my former place of work) wasn’t because I was prolific with page layout/planning and all that. The major cash cow for me was because I stood out with my creative designs. The crowning factor was because I had a strong hand in designing creative covers especially for the weekly news magazine, I shared in details here if you’d like to read it up. That was the major reason why I was brought on board and, by the Grace of God; I did that consistently every blessed week for 7 whole years.

My Take On Company’s Website Design…
I’ve never really been okay with the design of the publications (they were two at the time I joined) website. Intuition told me that there was something better that could be done with the look and feel of the website but then I didn’t know much about website designing but I could defend my case because I was a good graphic designer – the bottom-line is a good design abi now?

Later on, an opportunity came for the website to be redesigned. Before the redesign, I had been told that my input would be needed and I was really so excited. But that was actually where everything ended. Throughout the process of the redesign, I never had the opportunity of knowing what was happening till the redesign was done.

Though I still had my reservations after the website redesign, I just kept it to myself. After they came up with the redesign, we were now called upon to air our views about the new website. When it was my turn, I commended the work but told them there was still room for improvements especially when it comes to the overall look and feel of the website – In clear cut terms, it wasn’t a huge or remarkable change from what they I saw before.

What Were the Parameters For The Website Redesign?
I really never knew the parameters for their new design. Today it is possible to design your website based on tangible research of how real time users of your website interact with basically every element you have on your website or blog.

travelmate-magazine-website-design-lagosTravelmate magazine website
Travelmate’s magazine website was my first shot at a news media website. I indeed tried to cut off from conventions to a very large extent. But there were just the basics that should be considered. I built the website from scratch combining CorelDraw and Photoshop for the User Interface design; Dreamweaver for development and finally extended the website with WordPress to enable regular, real time updates.

Dazzle visitors/readers by overload of information on home page?
Is that all that counts? When somebody like me lands on such websites, sincerely, I bounce because I just get overwhelmed. Everything seems to be seeking to grab my attention. I will prefer you grab my attention with one thing first, then gradually lead me to others instead of just showing me everything at almost the same proportions.

In hierarchy, it’s important you set important things first. Let people coming to the website know the major headline of the day. By appropriately setting your heading, <H1> tags, you create clarity.

There should also be some form of relief for the eye. Design should be soothing to the eye of the user. Color usage also is important. My favorite website that period then was that of ThisDay Newspapers. (take a look at the screenshot below)

thisday-newspaper-lagos-website-design-homepageThisDay Newspaper Website
Yeah immediately I landed on the website I knew this was a unique website design different from the one I’ve been seeing including ours at the time. I felt like staying more. Well I know you’ll say it’s because I’m a web designer. Well, I guess, consciously or unconsciously, there quite a number of people like me out there that would feel that way and stay on this website.

Their design was different. The concept they used was captivating. I guess the designers never took a look at most Nigerian newspapers website or he looked at them and wanted something out of the box, so he decided to go against the grain.

Why Then Do They All Look Alike?
A PARTICULAR TEMPLATE FOR NEWSPAPER OR MAGAZINE?
From the little we’ve inference, it seems all these media websites fall into the same box because they use similar themes, templates.

TRYING TO SYNCHRONISE PRINT WITH WEB
Home pages of Nigerian newspapers’ websites always seems to take a similar look to its print counterpart. For example my ex-boss’ notion was always: “Put everything in the front cover.” At the end it looks like nothing because nobody is really ready to take a look at a mass of nonsense. People rarely read these days.

TRAITS TO TRENDS:
This may spring from editorial need and ease of technical implementation. Editors and managers at one site see others doing it, notice that it solves their problems, and adopt a variant—and so a trait becomes a trend.

He walked in and said “Sylvanus, please use that concept again.” O God this man don come again o! I fumed. My former MD was always pinchy and insistent when it comes to design that works. Hey if it works, we can always use it again and again who cares. Hey! I do.

Despite my angle of explanation for my new design, he would remain hell bent on me repeating a particular concept that worked. But then that was a completely different scenario. Different design for different scenarios. No Sylvanus use it jo. The problem here is that he was too boxed in to hear what you had to say…he was just out to have his way. He could be right but then this kills creativity and morale of the designer.

DESIGN FOLLOWS TRENDS:
Mobile was this crisis that woke us up from this shared delusion that the web was this fixed width,” said Josh Clark, a web designer and developer in the U.S.
“To a certain degree, websites always look the same. Design is fashion and it follows trends. We’re in the middle of a trend of big and clunky, not just because of responsive design but also because of touch,” Clark added. “As touch has spread from small screens to laptops and desktops, all desktop designs have to be touch-friendly, and that has influenced the aesthetic, too.”

ADVERTISING UNITS:
“Media sites have a specific limitation called an ad unit that really limits the flexibility of design, because unlike every other unit, this ad can’t change size,” Clark said. These sites make provision for their clients paid adverts that have fixed sizes and could, in some days, be quite a handful which just adds to too many elements for the eye to contend with.

Sales, most times, are not the major income generator for print media companies. They rely heavily on these adverts to remain in business. It now depends on who calls the shot. The client may say he wants to take over your front page or your website’s home page for an advert. In this case what happens to the great headlines, stories, values that keep your visitors coming and your traffic up? In clear essence, it is those quality contents that have attracted the audience and consequently led to the websites high page rank on search engines. So now, you’re on top and the next thing is to short-change that with so much advert that the visitors don’t find value anymore and the next thing is for them to bounce off. I think the best approach is balance. I hate it when I see the front page of a newspaper three quarter filled with an advert and then, I still have to buy that with my hard earned money.

CONSTRAIN OF MOBILE
Flat Design
The lack of shadows, gradients or really any elements that attempt to illustrate depth are gone, in favor of what is known as “flat” design.

Flat design arose in concert with mobile. In addition to having a modern look, the minimalist motif looked impressive on smaller screens while also minimizing page load, meaning that websites would come up faster on slower mobile networks. Flat design is also a hallmark of many of the new media sites.

Well, I kind of liked the new user interface of Windows 8. It was somewhat different but then the flat UI elements there were for a deliberate reason: faster download or upload times on mobile devices.
You see clearly here that design ought to be functional and meet certain objectives –solving anticipated or existing problems.

THOUGHT PATTERNS, APPROACH
Dan Mall, founder of web design firm SuperFriendly in the America said. “I think as the tools become more intuitive and the process becomes more intuitive, it will free us up to start thinking about these things in different ways.”

When we say context, I like to refer it to something influencing something else. We may like to say something like making an informed decision. Content is different from context.

Content is half water in a jar; while context perceives the jar half empty or half full. It’s an angle thing. We all see things from different angles so design should also consider all these.

Think Differently, Design Differently
My approach to the redesign of nurturedscills.net website, is totally different. I didn’t just jump into designing or doing my traditional stuff of seeking for inspiration before starting out with the design, NO, I researched a new way of presenting my design based on what real time visitors were interested in and practically clicking on. I had one big bold letterpress on my board in my former place of work. On it was written “If everybody is thinking alike, that means someone is not thinking.”

Ordinarily, if we were all really thinking, our thoughts are most likely not going to be the same. During brainstorming sessions, we are open to different thoughts and opinions –we should be receptive to new ideas as they fall in place. Thinking differently might also include recognizing the limits of responsive design and planning accordingly.
And it’s not just screens. The rise of contextual advertising, in which a variety of data is used to tailor advertisements, could end up pushing design forward as well.

Timing Matters
I was really fagged out and sleep-watching the news one evening when I got a loud shout: “Wake up!” It was like a switch that tripped me on: “Look at what you just wrote about…” it was on CNN. They were announcing the deadline (21 April 2015) for Google’s Mobile update that would penalize websites that are not mobile compatible. I had written a blog post on that warning and posted it on 2 April 2015. I had completed my responsive website redesign and updated before that date so I was just in the nick of time –Thank God O! This brings to bare the issue of timing when you’re working online. You need to most fast. Things are changing like a wave of lightning especially in the information technology world today and you need to respond to them fast.

White Space
“Like anything else, it’s best when used judiciously,” said Marcotte. “Hypothetically, if a page were overrun with those photo/caption pairs, it’d be easy for the reader’s eye to get lost among the boxes.”

White space is a powerful element in design that a lot of Nigerian newspaper websites don’t seem to explore. It affords relief for the eye. Space itself commands its own uniqueness, class and visual power. It gives that contemporary feel and focuses the eye on important stuffs in your design. It provides room for hierarchy in your design.

Al Jazeera’s Arabic news site home page uses image-heavy grid while still providing a clear visual hierarchy. Time magazine focuses your eye on the big, bold chunky typography and one single outstanding image

Crowning it all up
Constrain of mobile, advertising units considerations, using a popular template or theme; boxing yourself in with trends that has its origin in traits, limiting what is possible all form the points that keeps most Nigerian websites similar in look; but then you need to take the time to research what works best for you within the watchword of simplicity, aesthetics and most importantly the user’s experience.

If you need help on redesigning your media website to make it more functional and effective, talk to us…

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