Post Two: This American Life

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THIS AMERICAN LIFE.

 

This is by far my favorite podcast series. I’ve listened to it for the past two years, and it’s becoming more developed as time has past.

When looking at their website, I felt overwhelmed at first. The screenshot at the top of this post is of the site’s homepage, and it is covered with links and information. The choice of color is smart and fitting for the theme of the show (The main colors of the site are red, white and blue.), and the use of the white background allows the content to speak for itself and follows a current trend among news websites.

Although the homepage is overwhelming, the site is easy to navigate. The top menu bar helps direct users to the aspects of the site, and it provides users with faster ways to find the organization’s content. A drop-down menu is used on the top menu bar, and when looking at the design of the site as a whole, this type of menu seems to fit the site the best.

The site is not flashy, but I feel that if I were a new user who knew nothing about this organization, I would feel hesitant to explore the website. It’s a smart move to include as much content on the site as this organization did, but this same tactic could make it more difficult for some users to access and understand the site.

Overall, the usability is strong. If users know what they want to find, they are able to navigate to that information. The user might have to search and think about finding this content on the site, but I don’t believe it would be a frustrating experience.

Because of this and other reasons, the site follows Steve Krug’s conventions in some ways and doesn’t follow them in other ways.

Another example to make this point is that while it’s easy to understand what a user can click on in the website, there seems to be a large amount of noise on the home page and on other aspects of the website. To build on this point, one example to show is the top menu bar on the site. There are eight segments of the menu, but only three of them have drop-down capabilities. I feel that this could be overwhelming to some users, and it’s an interesting method to use space in the design of the website.

The website lists information vertically, and I noticed that the most important aspects of the website were located around the border of the site. On the left side of the screen, the main name of the organization and its latest content can be seen. This is followed by the top and bottom menu bar, and after this, the website features links to spin-off stories and advertisements. The borders of the website are also the most colorful aspect of the site, which I feel is an interesting choice. One of Krug’s guidelines was to use convention to one’s advantage, and in some respects, this organization’s website is going against that principle. Many websites that I have seen recently involve the scroll-down technique to access content. For me, this represents the convention in this time of web design. By going against this and by included a vertical and square layout, the organization stands out from other news organizations that tell similar types of stories and use similar types of media.

There is a strong sense of noise on the site, and this visual aspect of the site has the most negative affect on usability. The noise could turn users away from exploring the site, but for other users, the noise of the site might attract them. The visual aspects of the site add a new sense and dimension to usability. They are necessary to the site, but they do not show off the main purpose of the site. Users have to search for audio by navigating through the visuals, and this could create a sense of separation between the users and the content. Someone who has never heard of This American Life would have difficulty understanding what the site was about or what the main type of media is in the site by looking at the front page. Most people would not want to search for content that would interest them, and this is the area where visuals could potentially hurt usability.

After going through the site, I felt a sense of disconnection between the organization and myself. There are many layers to the site, and this makes the organization seem less transparent and open about their stories and storytelling methods. This soured my overall user experience, and I feel that other users might feel the same way about this site.

I’m not trying to bash the organization or its methods. Overall, the website does what it needs to do. This American Life has not lost a listener, but I feel that the website could be less cluttered and have less noise. The content of the site is the most important aspect of the site, and by making the site simpler in design, the content would have a higher chance of connecting with the organization’s audience. The simplicity would improve both the usability and user experience, and it would allow the content to be the spotlight of the website.

 

–Natasha Brewer

February 4, 2015

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One thought on “Post Two: This American Life

  1. When you first look at the This American Life website, it doesn’t see to be organized at all. But when you take a closer look you can see that there are sections clearly defined for recent tweets, other pages for the site, recent stories, etc. Like you mentioned, the colors are a little bold and create a lot of noise, especially for users who may not be familiar with news sites and where to find stories. I feel like the colors would definitely be a hit or miss for people. But then again, I give the organization props for using such bold colors because I feel like some news organizations are scared of using colors because they don’t want people to be overwhelmed or react badly to change.

    You mentioned how you noticed that everything is listed vertically. I actually really like this feature/design. Everything else we always look at whether in print or online is usually horizontal, so I would have to agree with you that I like the vertical element of the site.

    I also really like the static-feel of the webpage as you move. On my site that I critiqued (Bustle.com), the site just kept going and going and going as you would scroll down. With American Life’s site you are not overwhelmed by constant content while you keep scrolling. You have to click to navigate instead of scroll.

    I also agree that the site is busier than what you would expect from such a simple show. The show is to-the-point, yet the website seems like it is trying to entertain rather than tell a direct story.

    Like

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