AFAR Media produces a print magazine about travel, an online travel guide, and a mobile app. I’m the lead product designer, working on both the desktop travel guide and the mobile app. AFAR presents a unique challenge: the web site has to represent our print magazine while at the same time serving as a web application that aims to be a utilitarian (but fun) travel guide.
One of my responsibilities is to balance the business needs (read: ads and sponsored content) of the site with the goal of creating a clean user interface. These two competing interests endlessly butt heads, and one aspect of my work is wrangling them to coexist peacefully. Another significant challenge of my role is reconciling the expectations of a team that comes from traditional media (the print magazine) and our product team that is more aware of user experience practices and eager to create a forward thinking product.
An example of this: we are currently working on a site redesign, and one of our goal’s is to effectively communicate that the site is connected to our print magazine, but goes further in that it is also a travel guide. The traditional media side of the equation expects a three-column layout with ads and other miscellanea in the right rail–what one designer coined as “the junk drawer of the internet”. But who came blame them, because that is how magazine sites have looked for quite awhile. (Though that paradigm is shifting now with the responsive redesign of many high profile magazine sites.) The thinking is that we should fit as much information and links on the home page as we possibly can because that’s how we can appeal to the largest number of people. There is an aesthetic prejudice in operation here termed horror vacui, from the Latin “fear of empty space”. Here’s an interesting article from Code Academy regarding horror vacui in the context of web design. So by filling a home page with as much as we can, the aim is to convey value through the quantity of our content. But as the Code Academy article explains, the perception of value decreases as the page content increases:
As horror vacui increases, and a given space becomes cluttered with things, the perceived value of that space tends to decrease. This is why luxury brands normally have quite a minimalistic window, with only one or two articles, or premium magazines have an extremely clean layout, with very low information density. When interacting with such a spotless, uncluttered experience, users perceive it as being more elegant, classy, stylish, and refined.
If AFAR were not a high-end company that caters to a luxury crowd, conveying this type of elegance may not be as important. But as a magazine that focuses on expensive international travel, there is no getting around the fact that AFAR’s audience is interested in “refined” experiences. More importantly though, it’s just a good design practice to reduce the noise and communicate a clear message, especially when a site has two separate functions as AFAR’s site does.
So as we embark on our site redesign, it is my goal to convince the traditional media powers that be that white space is their friend, and that a cleaner design allows more control over the AFAR narrative. Not to mention, it’s easier to use and results in higher conversion rates.
The images you see here sketches for the home page redesign.