In early 2015, when one of the country’s most respected English dailies, The Hindu, decided it was time to redesign its popular website, it engaged Delhi-based Itu Chaudhuri Design. The Hindu is the oldest Indian newspaper website and it already enjoyed unparalleled popularity with an especially strong readership among the Indian diaspora. The idea of revamping the website stemmed from the necessity to attract and engage a new generation of readers while remaining friendly to the paper’s traditional consumer base.
On speaking with the design team at ICD and from comments from the business team of the news daily, one also gathers that the year-long and not-so-easy exercise of redesigning the The Hindu’s website is also an attempt to redefine the paper’s ethos in terms of the new media by continually asking the questions: ‘How can the new intuitive, interactive and responsive tools be used to bring out the legacy of editorially led journalism?’ And, How can these possibilities be leveraged to assert the curatorial power of the editors who may have been bulldozed and run over in past years by Google Ads?’
Except for an interim redesign of the home page a couple of years ago, The Hindu website last received a face-lift in 2009. To reach a growing audience with a contemporary design, the website needed to be user friendly and high on functionality while being ready for the possibilities of personalization. The Hindu’s editorial team that initially included Subhash Rai and Mandira Moddie gave its brief to the ICD team lead by Lisa Rath to modernize the site and ostensibly make it more appealing to a younger audience that rarely picks up a printed newspaper.
Screenshots of the Hindu's old and new home pages.
As new readers increasingly migrate from the desktop to tablets and smartphones, the new design needs to migrate as effortlessly as its potential audience. The non-print readership of the paper is already 60% on mobile formats and only 40% on desktop. Moddie explains, “The redesign of The Hindu website aims to reach a completely new audience, different from its print readership. We have the opportunity of using online platforms to appeal to a wider, younger, vibrant audience, while retaining Hindu users and extending and complementing the offerings of the print publication with a tradition of 137 years.”
A challenging aspect of the redesign was to optimize the breaks to smoothly accommodate the varying widths of numerous electronic device formats
In India, newspaper websites rarely match the revenues enjoyed by their print editions. The major English language dailies such as The Hindu are growing their print circulations minimally while circulation revenues that are among the lowest in the world are now finally growing at 5% annually. Predominantly sustained by their print advertisement revenues, their web advertising revenues too are relatively low.
No to native advertising?
Since the monetization of the web continues to remain the holy grail for most mainstream newspaper and news content sites. The redesign of The Hindu website also needed to keep this in mind to be friendly to a variety of future subscription or monetization implementations as and when these become either feasible or desirable.
For the past few years, one of the prevailing ideas for monetization of news content on the web is that of ‘paid content’ or ‘native advertising.’This form of promotion or advertising that appears in the style of the news website albeit tagged as an advertorial has of late been extensively discussed and mostly extolled at the Wan-Ifra India digital conferences as well.
When the ‘native advertising’concept was discussed at the outset of the website redesign brief, the stand of The Hindu’s business (and one would guess its editorial team) was to completely eschew or forego this form of revenue generation. Subsequently, there has been some re-think of this concept and one presumes that the re-design will also have to be re-calibrated for this. Apparently, the business side has made a presentation to editorial and native advertising was agreed to with stipulations for clear disclaimers and limits placed on which spaces could be used and how much native advertising can appear.
Can newspapers take on Google?
The Hindu’s website was flush with display advertising that at times was felt to be bit obtrusive-apparently a good deal of it driven by high traffic analytics and in many cases delivered in the form of pop-up displays that distracted readers. Moddie says, “As you are aware, industry-wide, display ads are not really a great or consistent source of revenue . In addition, the current industry standard display ad formats have also impacted user experience. Readers are increasingly using ad blockers.”
As a quality news brand, and often dubbed as a ‘newspaper of record,’the The Hindu’s news site has also experimented with temporary third-party paywall solutions for its digital content only to ultimately relent and make the site completely open again. The overall approach in the redesign was to leverage the curiosity and reliability of the news gathering, the quality of the writing and the objectivity of the editing all of this to ensure more accessible and attractive search results. In the new and plastic environment of multimedia, with access to much more than just this morning’s paper, this requires the curation, packaging and repackaging of stories that have come before and updates that are yet to arrive.
Thus, the newspaper and design teams have created a new digital information, content and entertainment ecosystem that attempts to assert, to some extent, independence from the Google Search. The idea, as Rath explains, is that Google Search often brings a reader to a particular article and after consumption, there is hardly anything luring to keep the reader hooked to the page.
Lisa Rath, principal team lead and Kshitij Tembe, project lead at ICD
Underlying the redesign is an attempt to create a new website with a strong character that contains pointers and signposts that will encourage exploration and hence sticking around for those who visit either by chance or habit. Moddie emphasizes, “A challenge that we faced was that of the vastness of our website, with sometimes five layers of sections. We found that we had great content that was hidden inside layers and layers of the site. So, we decided to restructure the features section of the site to start with and broke away from the nomenclature of the print supplements. Each section page has been designed to be a destination in itself, and we now have new sections such as ‘Entertainment’ featuring music, dance, theater, art, reviews and movies; ‘Life & Style’showcasing food, fashion, fitness, motoring and travel; and ‘Society’ that includes faith, history and culture. These sections showcase the best content from our print supplements ‘MetroPlus,’ ‘Friday Review,’ ‘Sunday Magazine’ and ‘PropertyPlus.’ ‘Specials’ showcases curated content on a wide variety of subjects that have been designed for the user to explore and read in depth various articles in a single destination.”
The new landing pages intend to keep the reader within The Hindu site by looking less like traditional article landing pages and more like home pages in themselves with all the bells and whistles that home pages can contain. For instance, the website in its new avatar enables readers to reach a place or platform from which they can click on further temptation architecture is designed to help readers easily and intuitively access content, with pointers to reach popular and latest content. Also integrated are social media sharing options to help users share articles of the interest with friends. It features larger displays for videos, photo galleries and podcasts on trending news, entertainment and lifestyle issues. The new design also envisions readers (perhaps subscribers when this privilege again becomes available)creating their own ‘My Hindu’ personalized websites.
Several interesting design ideas have been attempted with the ambition of using the digital connection in both directions. While the main masthead is designed to help a reader access any material on the site in a neat and predictable way, it also allows the editorial team to highlight a key trending topic, which has special coverage for a reader to be attracted and informed. This is again an attempt to give editors an opportunity to curate the news or to overcome the overweening arithmetic of search engines. As Rath says, “The ultimate logics of the search engine is to take us to the most popular story and because we are all reading it, it will continue to increase in popularity. In the end, there may only be one story or one website.”
In other words, the website has been designed to reflect a complete visual and textual environment that entices readers to make themselves comfortable and look around and stick around. The new categories, curated pointers and packages drive home the underlying motto, ‘Even if Google brought you here, make yourself at home and stay a while.’
ICD team working on the redesigning of the Hindu website
The redesign of the The Hindu’s website implies a huge acceptance of the new medium, which itself throws up new tools each day. It implies that the editors of the newspaper and the site must carry on the tradition of being curators of a much larger and complicated world of suggesting what is important, relevant and interesting where bringing out the daily is only half the job.