Bias Is Your Friend

A week ago, I said this about the NY Times article skimmer:

Put simply, it’s better than the NY Times front page.

Since then, I made a commitment to replace the NY Times front page with the article skimmer. All that noise would obviously be trumped by this wonderfully elegant and ad-free view. Right?


I’m going back to the NY Times front page. I really hate being wrong, but I think it’s worth exploring why, as a designer, I thought this was better, but as a user, it really wasn’t. I think there are two reasons why I’m going back (maybe more, but I can only think of two):

  1. The overall structure, however noisy and chaotic, of the existing NY Times front page is forever burned in my mind. This is a painful reality: I’ve gotten comfortable and familiar with something that is less than ideal. For all its faults, I’ve learned my way around the NY Times front page. So designers be wary, the less-than-ideal becomes the ideal for an existing user base over time.
  2. In the NY Times Article Skimmer, all articles are created equal. You’d think applying a democratic use of grids would help matters. It didn’t for me. I value relative weight as I skim over the front page. When I view the regular NY Times page, I allow myself to get pulled in a few directions depending how the editors or layout people decided to take me. Features, big stories, editorials – they each have a different footprint which actually seems to make life easier.

So there you have it. I was wrong. Completely wrong…at least in my case. I think an over-arching lesson learned here: take off your design lab coat and be a user for a while. It’s not easy to do sometimes, but it goes a long way.

The kneejerk reaction with design is to apply objectively agreed-upon practices devoid of bias. This view is too narrow and probably a bit dangerous. The on-the-ground sentiment and understanding of how things work within the user community says a whole lot. Bias is your friend.

3 Comments Bias Is Your Friend

  1. Patrick Lemiuex

    Want to see a good reader?
    I think you’ll like this when it’s finally out. NY Times International edition, The Herald Tribune, has embraced an air app version of their paper. This new air version features the new Saffron Text Renderer engine inside the air runtime. What that means is that you get accurate depicted fonts and you can scale up or down the app it to any size and the text resizes like you would expect print newspaper to read. However, I can’t find the thing but I want it.
    If you could just get that paper feel and smell from a computer now?

  2. Andrew Haeg

    I’d say go further than taking off your lab coat and being a user. Go out and actually talk to users.
    The big flaw I see in most if not all journalism innovation efforts is that there’s very little human-centered, user-centered thinking taking place. Lots of money and time is being wasted on things we’d realize weren’t viable if we simply did an ounce of testing, at low resolutions.


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