To mark its 101st birthday this month, and following on from a redesign of its print version this Summer, America’s oldest liberal political magazine, The New Republic has launched a redesigned website.
TNR reaches over 7 million readers each month, via newrepublic.com, and across social media. And whilst its readers are typically thought of as older, over 4 million of its online readers are aged under 45; more than 2 million access the site exclusively on smartphones.
So it makes sense that TNR’s redesign takes a largely mobile-first approach: panels, adverts, and even navigation have been stripped out for a streamlined reading process; it’s so minimal it might even be called sparse.
We’ve historically appealed to a pretty traditional demographic, but we’re now making a concerted effort to reach out to a much younger and diverse group of people…and the data says those people are more likely to read our site on mobile phones. — Chris Hughes, The New Republic
The main navigation on the new TNR is infinite scrolling; when you reach the bottom of an article, the next article loads, mimicking the continuous reading of a social media news feed; perhaps not surprising as TNR’s main shareholder since 2012 has been Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook.
All other navigation has been hidden away behind a hamburger menu, not just on mobile, but desktop as well. It’s an assumption — albeit a popular one — that younger users recognize a hamburger menu, and it certainly alienates less experienced users. The usability of hamburger menus is a contentious issue, but they demonstrably obscure the available options for users; hamburger menus are always mystery meat navigation.
In the case of TNR, the hamburger menu has been used because they had to use something. It feels very much as if it’s been slapped on the desktop because it had already been designed for the mobile version. Concealing items like ‘Advertise’, ‘Contact’, and ‘Jobs’ is one thing; hiding major content sections like ‘Politics’, ‘Culture’, and vitally the ‘Subscribe’ link is another. Even the search function — which many users turn to as a primary navigation tool — has been hidden away.
The site has received a significant speed boost, by dropping Drupal, and replacing it with a custom-CMS. And the frontend feels crisp and responsive having been built with ReactJS.
The big problem with the TNR redesign, isn’t so much that it’s mobile-first, as mobile-only. Whilst desktop browsing may be on the decline, a desktop is not simply a big smartphone, and just as ignoring mobile five years ago cost you 20% of your audience, ignoring desktop now will cost in excess of 40%.
Images use device mockups image, via Shutterstock.