Last week, Slate launched its long awaited redesign. For a site that is in my regular ‘morning tab’ browser run, to me, this was a big deal. According to the commentary by David Plotz, Slate was motivated by beauty and ease. There is much to like about the new design (for instance, getting rid of the tyranny of multiple article pages). But the designers have missed the opportunity taught to us by the makers of Prego.
In one of the earliest TED talks (from 2004), Malcolm Gladwell talked about spaghetti sauce. There, Gladwell tells about the reinvention of that sauce. Specifically, when Prego looked to find the perfect sauce (one that matched consumer tastes), they found that there was no such thing. That was because there was no one consumer. Consumers grouped themselves according different tastes. Some liked it lumpy, others spicy. So if you wanted to perfect Prego, the key was to abandon the notion of the perfect Prego. There were many Pregos and you needed to have different recipes for different consumers.
The same lesson is true for readers. Some readers like their news lumpy (reading once a day) while others like their news smooth (reading as it happens throughout the day). Slate’s redesign imagines that their reader is a combination of these. In the top left corner are the ‘best of’ readers while in the top left is the ‘as it happens’ readers. Scroll down and to the right you get the ‘what everyone else is reading’ readers, the readers looking for spice in the center and to the left are the ‘I only like certain writers’ readers. And keep going and you have the ‘I only like sports’ readers and so on.
But there is no perfect Slate. There are perfect Slates. The new design understands that at some level but requires their readers to buy a ‘combination’ pack rather than a single variety. The good news is that there is something for everyone. The bad news is that no one can get just what they want. And if your aim is to attract attention so that you can place an ad, that is a serious problem. For the ads are at the centre. Aimed at the attention of the perfect consumer that doesn’t exist.
There is hope. This can be easily solved. Allow the readers to click and hide broad sections. That would be tasty.