The International Herald Tribune, like The New Yorker (reviewed previously on Typesites), is a print publication with a reputation for good design in the print world; trying to make the same magic happen online.
One thing that immediately sets the IHT apart from most other print newspapers’ websites (including that of its parent company the New York Times) is that the IHT doesn’t seem as much to be trying to look like a newspaper. It employs tasteful gradients, drop-shadows, et cetera; which creates a look similar to a news website, rather than a newspaper who has a website.
That’s not to say that the long history of the newspaper is in any way swept under the carpet. The limited color palette and the conservative Georgia/Arial type choice prevents the site from being too flashy and web two-point-oh-y. Which is a good thing, considering we’re talking about a newspaper that started in the 1880s…
I especially love how the two typefaces on the site play off of each other. Arial is a very neutral, clean typeface. Georgia, on the other hand, has a lot of character, and is probably the best thing to happen to web typography as of yet. However, it’s been used so much lately, and has so much character on it’s own, that it quickly becomes overwhelming if used without moderation.
However, the design manages to keep a great balance between the clean and the character. The same goes for the color scheme. The muted blue and grey are as clean as any Helvetica-ripoff. And they, too, are very well contrasted by the warm yellow text elements spread throughout the design.
The use of borders on the site is another astonishingly well-performed balancing act. Like Georgia, borders can either make or break a design — and in this case they definitely make it. From the delicate dotted lines in the byline to the concise 1px border around the article to the thick, light gray border of other content boxes—they all work wonderfully with each other. My personal favorite is the thin gray border around the article images. Not quite large or defined enough to be noticed, but enough to help bring out the image.
The body copy is set in a very straight-forward 13px Arial with a line-height of 18px (about 140%), ragged right. The leading does a very good job at making the text readable without going to extremes. You can even choose a three-column view, which shortens the line-lengths a little and makes reading long stories on screen a more pleasant experience.
It should also be said that the site has some of the cleanest code I’ve seen on an online newspaper site.
The design is not without its faults, though. Firstly, as a result of the IHT trying to take full advantage of the web, the different parts of the site seems to suffer from what I like to call “Restless Website Syndrome”. This occurs when a site pulls content in from an external site, with all the stylistic baggage that the widget brings on. Much of the elegance of the design is ruined by dragging in things like the differently-styled Reuters-box on the front page.
Another example is the (awesome as it may be) function that allows you to click the name of the city from where the story was filed and in turn will launch a Google map and provide you with links to other stories from that city. The problem is that the Google map looks awkwardly out of place in the design; what was a good idea on paper, suddenly becomes a visual problem.
Not only that, but the site overall seems to have too many elements that weren’t fully thought through. The blog section of the site, for instance, still looks a little unfinished to me.
The navigation also captures this unfinished feel, in my opinion. The thick top border looks a little out of place and the three bars, while I see what they are trying to do, remind me of a poorly compressed JPEG.
There are also some minor issues that bug me a little. One of the good things about the standardized RSS-icon is that it can be colored any way you wish. So why did the IHT go for one that clashes so utterly with the warm yellow accent-color?
Then there are the uglies in the body copy itself, such as improper quotation marks and orphans. I’d personally like just a little tighter spacing between the paragraphs to make it a little less blocky.
The design overall doesn’t seem to have as much flexibility as, say, the New York Times website.
Overall, the Int’l Herald Tribune has dared do go in a different direction than most other online newspapers, and it has ended up in an elegant and well-functioning design.
However, it seems the fusion of a 121 year old newspaper with Web 2.0 may have been a bit of a challenge. What works on the site works well, and what doesn’t looks cheap and unfinished.
It may be nostalgia, but to me, the old IHT-design (without the drop shadows and gradients, but with the same content) worked better. Perhaps sometimes you can have new function, without the new style.Want more? Check out the archives for previous reviews, and don’t forget to subscribe for future reviews, posted weekly.