The Good, the Bad and the Not So Ugly of Slate
Slate magazine is a widely read online magazine, viewed by over one million readers per month. Slate is owned by The Washington Post Company and is free for readers to access. The online magazine was established in 1996 as “a general-interest publication offering analysis and commentary about politics, news, business, technology, and culture.” (Slate.com) The content posted to Slate approaches mainstream news with wit and a differentiated editorial viewpoint. It is this unique point of view that has won Slate various awards and accolades within the news industry.
Upon first opening the site in the browser, readers are able to view a clearly distinguishable logo in the left hand corner of the Slate.com home page accompanied by the date. This logo is a key for drawing reader’s eyes to the upper left hand side of the page. From there, readers and visitors are able to begin main navigation of the page by utilizing the links and pull down menus offered in a highlighted row, which reads from left to right, just below the Slate logo. The navigation bar located underneath the logo is easily distinguished by a thick maroon colored row. Pull down menus for each of the links found in the navigation bar allow users to effortlessly click on the most current stories and reports in each area of interest.
The Slate header and primary navigation bar keep with the main principles of establishing a strong visual hierarchy. The Slate home page simplifies the hierarchy it establishes by reading left to right and top to bottom, allowing readers to remain in a comfort zone of traditional reading. It also provides an immediately recognizable system of understanding for readers, focusing on what Slate would categorize as the most important items of content beginning with the upper left hand side. The least imperative content for readers would be found in the lower right hand corner.
In a recent Design Shack post, Joshua Johnson describes the need for a clear visual hierarchy to reach readers. ”When there is uncertain visual chaos on a page, the first way your brain wants to try to organize the information is in the order you were taught to read: left to right, top to bottom.”
Additional navigation for the site is easy to locate and can be found along the left hand side of the Slate.com homepage. This navigation bar contains links to more specified locations than the main navigation bar, which would be a key reason for making it standout less than the main navigation bar and for locating it to the side of the page.
The design of the Slate website is above average in its ease of navigation and its cleanliness. The site utilizes a color palette of maroon, grey and white. Maroon is the branded color of the site used to call out main points of interest including the logo, navigation and headlines. Grey is used to highlight additional areas of interest and white is used as the clean, crisp background color. Any additional colors are included through consistently updated photos and ads but are not being used by Slate directly in the general layout and branding of the site.
Slate does a strong job of using images to draw focus to its headlining stories including its top four stories that are showcased directly underneath the logo and main navigation bar. The four headlining stories are displayed in a slide show with direct link to the story. Additionally, images for stories and reports of secondary focus can be found directly beneath the main slideshow images. Providing what Slate feels as the most important content at the top of the page with secondary and tertiary reports falling directly beneath the primary content stays inline with the principles of establishing a beneficial visual hierarchy that readers will feel comfortable with.
In order to generate revenue, Slate sells ad space on their home page and web site. Ads are not only static images but also videos and animated images. Use of animated images and videos capture a reader’s attention.
The site also posts videos and Slate.com podcasts. Slate uses viral videos to its advantage by posting a Viral Video of the Day to interest readers that visit the site. The Slate Video content tool can be found on the homepage of The Slatest, a specialized microsite of Slate.
In addition to the video tool found on The Slatest, Slate also has a small multimedia navigation tool that allows users to access Today’s videos, cartoons, pictures. This tool is located to the right of the home page, close to the top of the page.
There are many ways that Slate uses interactive elements to support its content. Every post is open to reader’s comments. By allowing for comments, Slate encourages creating a dialogue with and among readers. One recent Slate post, “No, We’re Not Turning Into Japan” written by James Ledbetter, serves as an excellent example of how readers comments can further the conversation regarding the news within the online community.
A less noticeable but often times useful option that Slate provides to navigate the site is a search bar. The search bar offers readers the ability to search Slate for information or to search the web using Bing.com. Having both options offered through the search bar would make it simple for users to set Slate.com has their homepage when they open their browser and still allow them the ease of searching the web without needing to open the page to a search engine like Google.
One unique interactive tool that Slate offers to its readers is the opportunity to customize the content through the tool. This tool is located at the bottom of each Slate.com page and allows readers to create custom views of Slate based on their needs. Slate describes the Build Your Own Slate tool as “a one-stop tool that lets you pick the recent Slate articles you want, then e-mail them, print them, read them on an uncluttered HTML page, or save them onto your hard drive.” This tool is a highly interactive tool that gives readers easy customization for the news that they choose to read.
Slate also recognizes the benefit of Facebook as a social media tool for giving readers the opportunity to assist in marketing and providing legs for a report. Found along the right hand side of the homepage is a Facebook specific content box that highlights the number of “likes”, formerly known as fans, that Slate has through Facebook. The content box is extremely beneficial to Slate because it allows readers to give feedback on the content of the site as well as recommend and receive content from peers. Allowing readers to engage and influence peers regarding what posts they would recommend reading and give commentary is a tool that Slate has been able to utilize.
A tool bar with links to all Slate social networking platforms is provided to readers once you click through to a story. The toolbar includes buttons that allow users to share the story through liking it via their Digg, Stumble Upon and Facebook accounts.
Another tool that Slate has made accessible to readers is the Slate Twitterfeed content box. This area for content can be found along the lower right hand side of the Slate home page. It has been placed here because, though reaching readers is important, it is a secondary method for reaching readers but still a beneficial way for readers to be reminded that Slate has a profile on Twitter that provides up to date information. It also serves as another opportunity for readers to share with their peers the posted information from Slate that they feel is important.
Content and stories posted to Slate are written and presented well in order to make strong use of the online medium. They are clearly written and are, in our experience, rarely found to have typos. Headlines are witty and draw a reader’s attention to the story. A recent example of attention grabbing headlines from the Slate website include, “The Brett Favre Retirement Curve” and “The Culture Gabfest, “Eat Pray Vomit” Edition.” Really, what reader wouldn’t be enticed to find out more about a headline like “Palanisms?”
The content posted to Slate is also concise. Online news consumers prefer their posts to provide information without indulgent semantics. To appeal to readers, Slate writers keep posts succinct without losing their wit and view point. Most posts are no longer than two pages.
In order to better position themselves for the future, editors and publishers might consider making small changes to the design of the website. The first recommended change is to decrease the volume of content posted to the homepage of the website. This would include listing less tertiary content offerings on the home page in an effort to provide an even cleaner version of the site for readers. As more and more news sites begin to sell an abundance of online advertisements to drive revenue for their media outlets, readers might find it refreshing to find that Slate offers a less cluttered site for news.
While Slate offers many creative and interactive tools for reaching and supporting readers of the site, there was an aspect of the site that could use improvement. Along the right hand side of the Slate home page, approximately halfway down, there are several content boxes. One of these boxes is a list of the headline highlights from The Washington Post. Though The Washington Post Company is the parent company to Slate, it seems distracting to have highlights from The Washington Post listed on the home page of Slate. It may also leave readers questioning the accuracy and credibility of the news that is posted to Slate. With Slate’s witty take on mainstream news to The Washington Post’s more traditional voice, readers may experience confusion of whether or not they should move away from Slate to The Washington Post.