Nifty Spin on a Portal Display at MSNBC.com

This launched over a year ago, but like a re-run that you’ve never seen “it’s new to me”. I first have to say that i am now a fan of the MSNBC home page and I respect the work that went into it. I visited it for the first time after following an RSS link and these are my impressions of a particular feature:

What caught my eye?

Big letters. I enjoy using typography that draws my eye to headers and key bits of info. When used to their potential (e.g., the big words and numbers actually mean something, and aren’t a giant marketing term) they can offer a better visual anchor than an image. The headline here caught my eye as I scrolled down the page and anchored the portlet very effectively. I enjoy the control I appear to have with the options at the top (how many stories, placement/priority of the portlet). Those simple controls were enough to make me futz with the portlet and already begin to engage with the page in a personalized way.

What I like:
  1. The grid is askew. The fact that each section is given its own space within a a more complex grid (more than 4 equal columns) allows the sections to appear in a readable way suitable for the content.
  2. The fonts are readable and the typography assists in the design. The large font anchors the section, the font for each story is well spaced for reading, the blue is clearly clickable and the grey gets out of the way.
  3. The story of this section is laid out for me. I can get a pretty good sense of what I am going to find within the “Business” section of the site. This is especially helped by the “Topics” area of the portlet (you’re not a true media site if you don’t have a “topics” section yet).
  4. There is a good futz-factor. The links are clear and the display is simple enough that I feel like I know what will happen when I click them (i.e., enough to not be afraid to futz with the “Move Box”).
What seems to be missing:
  1. Disappointment when clicking a story link. The stories themselves don’t seem to have caught up with the industry standard in terms of cross linking, summary info and integration of multimedia integration. CNN’s mosaic style is the best take on that so far.
  2. # of stories control on top is a bit confusing. The definition of ‘stories’ is a bit random. I imagined it was referring to the list of stories on the left, but it appears to also refer to the “Multimedia & Features” section as well. This sort of blurs the meaning of the ‘featured’ story on the left with the other ‘featured’ stories on the right. Also – what is a portlet with “0” stories? An interesting choice for basically closing the portlet.
  3. The left is more effective than the right. The ill-defined usage of the feature area is bothersome. I have created and struggled with such sections myself. It looks great on the PSD file (the image balancing out the text and such…) and I so want to find a use for it. It works when it is featured videos and such but after a year or so, i imagine it is hard to enforce such a rule.

New to me… nice job.

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