As I was poking around for a website that I liked, I realized how limited my Internet use is. I’m pretty much on 10ish websites regularly: 5 or so news sites and blogs, plus Blackboard (possibly my least favorite site on the Internet) Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and Netflix. None of those are exactly inspired designs.
For this critique, I decided to focus on a site that I think is excellently designed for its purpose. I picked Longform, which aggregates narrative journalism from around the web. It’s a product of the University of Pittsburgh’s writing program and I vastly prefer its design to another similar site, Longreads, which is somehow more popular even though its web design drives me insane.
Regardless of what you think of the whole ~longform~ obsession that runs rampant among a lot of j-schoolers, this site is great. I like the simplicity of the overall design, because if I’m on the site, I’m browsing for something to read for 10+ minutes. I don’t want to be interrupted by flashy interactive elements or massive images.
I have everything I need to known about a story laid out in front of me: its title, in large black font, then its author, publication and pub date plus a blurb. I can easily decide whether or not I want to click and read the story on its original site.
Stories are stacked for easy scrolling and skimming. At the bottom, you have to click to the next page to get more stories. I’m not normally a fan of endless scrolling, though I do think it would work well here.
Dropdown menus at the top of the page let you search articles by some broad categories. The nav is easy to locate and use. I don’t have strong feelings about the heavy use of red of the page, but I think it’s broken up enough by the black white and gray elsewhere to work as the main color.
You can also search by writer, publication, tag or by putting whatever you want in the search bar, which is just about everything I would need, search-wise. If you click on the links attached to a writer’s name or publication on the main page, you get taken to a list of everything on Longform featuring that writer or publication. This feature is particularly nice because it saves you a search step, and I think most narrative journalism fans have a couple of writers they’re kind of obsessed with. For me, Eli Saslow or Lane DeGregory could write about what they ate for breakfast and I’d probably read it and love it.
Longform is far from fancy, design-wise, but I think it’s pretty perfect as an aggregation site. It’s calming to scroll through and easy to navigate if you want to venture off the homepage. As a bonus, I’m also convinced it has one of the best iPad apps out there. You can actually read most articles in the app offline and that’s entertained me on more plane and train rides than I can count.