INN Member Website Review: October 2015

In the realm of nonprofit news, the websites of INN members represent the front end of our digital presence and impact. As the newest member of the Products and Technology team — aka the Nerds— I’m working to get acquainted with our members and a site review seemed a good way to start. It’s also a useful every so often to see what we’re collectively doing on the web as a benchmark for future progress.

My review this month of the 100+ INN Member websites shows a very healthy community. I found thousands of examples of insightful reporting, excellent storytelling, and engaging design. As with any sample of 100 websites there are bound to be things we might improve.

I’d like to suggest three priorities we could work on together over the next year:

  1. Responding to the Mobile Challenge
  2. Going Social
  3. What is good design?

Responding to the Mobile Challenge

In State of the News Media 2015, Pew Research Center reports that “39 of the top 50 digital news websites have more traffic...coming from mobile devices than from desktop computers.” Yet a significant number of nonprofit news sites that excel in every other way are not optimized for mobile.

Converting a non-responsive website to cross-device friendliness can be very challenging. The solution used to be providing a “mobile” version along with the “desktop” version of the site. But now with so many different types and sizes of devices and displays, the better practice is to publish a single site for all devices using the techniques of Responsive Web Design.

The speed with which mobile devices have become part of our daily lives is unprecedented in the history of technology. In 1995 there were 80 million mobile phones users worldwide. By 2014 the number of mobile phones reached 5.2 billion, including 2 billion smart phones. The number of smart phone users worldwide is projected to reach 4 billion by 2020.

The smart phone is changing the way people engage with media and each other. In a recent Zogby Analytics survey of millennials, 87 percent said “my smart phone never leaves my side.” 78 percent spend more than two hours a day using their smart phone and 68 percent prefer using their phone over a laptop or desktop computer.

But it’s not just younger demographics who are increasingly going mobile. Since 2008 time spent per day with digital media has more than doubled for all U.S. age groups. As highlighted by Mary Meeker in her Internet Trends 2015 report, almost all of this increase is from media consumption on smart phones.

The integration of smart phones with everyday life is rapidly changing the way people discover, consume, and share news. The urgency of addressing any mobile gap can’t be minimized.

Going Social

Social media have become increasingly important for discovery and sharing of content, with nearly half of digital news-consuming adults saying they use Facebook every week to get news about government and politics. But in some cases social media integration on news sites remains problematic, with bloated tracking scripts or missing Open Graph metadata needed for effective engagement.

I suspect many of us are concerned about the intrusiveness of the big social media players. It’s in their interest to make it easy to share our content on their platforms. This helps us reach new audiences and expand our news impact. But we also understand that their business model is predicated on harvesting as much personal information as possible about the people who visit our websites.

Many of the free widgets we embed on our sites make it easy for people to share our content, at the cost of exposing data about their interests and behavior. Social widgets can also slow website performance. The leading social media players and technologies keep changing. In this environment, developing best practices around social media is very challenging.

What is Good Design?

I’ve been a news professional for 28 years, and a web designer for the past 15. I think design without good content is wasted space. Good reporting on a flawed website can have great impact. But good design applied to great content can make a huge difference.

Ideas about what constitutes “good web design” have changed dramatically over the past decade, and will continue to evolve over the next. Fashions aside, we have learned fundamental lessons about what works for website users. We know people don’t like feeling lost or confused. They don’t enjoy struggling past obstacles to simply read a story.

Website designs can inflict many distractions on visitors in an effort to control their attention. Sometimes it’s important to get across (e.g.) the idea that our organization needs their support. But if we do this in a way that frustrates our users, we’re designing at cross purposes.

Each of us understands this from our own experience. We decide every moment whether to stay on a web page or direct our attention somewhere else. Something is always competing for our attention. As storytellers and designers, our job is to win that competition.

We can help our audiences by providing a distraction-free space to engage with our content. I like the phrase “radical clarity” as an aspiration for our websites, especially story pages. Mobile has forced us to rethink designs that present too much information for a small screen, and we need to carry that thinking over to larger displays as well.

Solving everything now

Building anything of enduring value almost always takes more time than you want it to. The corpus of INN Member websites represents a tremendous amount of work by their creators, and great value to their audiences. As a website builder I know that work is never done.

My hope is that a year from now we can repeat this review and see clear signs of progress, especially in the areas of mobile friendliness, social media optimization, and clarity of design. The INN Nerds will do what we can to help. And I'll be writing with more details and actions we can take to address these priorities in the coming weeks.

October’s Book Club Selection: Microinteractions by Dan Saffer

cover_color_lrgWe hope you'll join us for our next News Nerd Book Club hangout on Wednesday, October 14th at 1pm ET.

This month we'll be reading Microinteractions: Designing with Details by Dan Saffer.

From the book's website:

The difference between a good product and a great one are its details: the microinteractions that make up the small moments inside and around features. How do you turn mute on? How do you know you have a new email message? How can you change a setting? All these little moments—which are typically not on any feature list and often ignored—can change a product from one that is tolerated to one that’s beloved.

This book provides a new way of thinking about designing digital products: as a series of microinteractions that are essential to bringing personality and delight to applications and devices.

Here's the event invitation and hangout link if you'd like to RSVP.

Hope to see you on October 14th. Happy reading!

March Book Club Recap: The Design Of Everyday Things

For the March Book Club we read The Design of Everyday Things and gathered for pie and ice cream* at NICAR on Thursday, March 5th.

Nelson’s book was first published more than 25 years ago, with new editions and updates. The book’s ideas continue to resonate with readers and designers.

Our discussion included observations and links to other work and resources, including:

  • The value of applying industrial design philosophy to other areas.
  • Giving yourself some grace in response to frustration -- it might just be bad design.
  • UX faces larger and more complex challenges than designing a single use object.
  • The opportunity for organizations to identify the needs of their community and build accordingly.
  • How do responsive and native apps meet users needs?
  • What is the role of testing and types of testing.


Jeni’s Ice Cream for the yummy treats. They are based out of Columbus, Ohio and have shops in many great places, including Atlanta.

We compiled notes from the conversation and links to resources mentioned.

Next Month

Our April meeting will be held at 1pm ET on Wednesday, April 8th (RSVP here) and you can help us pick the book we'll read by voting in this quick survey. We'll announce the selection by the end of the day Friday!

Welcome The Newest Member Of Our Team: Kaeti Hinck

INN's news applications and technology team has been growing steadily over the past few months to allow us to better serve our members.

june2013kaetismallToday we're very pleased to announce another addition to the team, our new Design Director, Kaeti Hinck.

Kaeti joins INN from MinnPost where she was most recently Director of News Technology. In that role she managed MinnPost's web development and strategic digital projects

In 2011, she successfully led a redesign and platform migration for, which launched as one of the first responsive news sites in the country.

She also created MinnPost's data team, leading news application design and interactive reporting. All of MinnPost's data projects are open source and available for other journalism organizations to use and learn from:

Before joining MinnPost, Kaeti spent time as a magazine editor, video producer, graphic designer, and photojournalist. Much of her work has been focused on visual journalism, design, and making things for the web.

At INN she will be responsible for improving the design of our current products (including our Largo WordPress platform) and will work with the rest of the news applications and technology team to develop interactive features and news apps to support our members' editorial work.

Kaeti also brings a lot of strength in building team culture, process and design thinking and we're excited to get to work with her on tackling the thorniest problems facing nonprofit news organizations.

Kaeti's first day at INN will be September 22 and she'll be with us in Chicago next week for the Online News Association Conference. Please make her feel welcome!

Come Learn With Us! Announcing The News Nerd Book Club

On Web TypographyINN encourages you to Always Be Learning.

To make sure we’re being responsible and accountable professional news nerds, today we're announcing a new monthly book club.

What we’re proposing is pretty simple — let’s read a book each month and then get together to talk about it.

We'll likely focus on books about design, development, team workflow and dynamics (especially remote/distributed teams), but we’re open to suggestions for other topics (we have a hackpad here to collect future book suggestions).

Since we also value learning and building in public we also want to open the book club up to anyone who wants to participate, not just our team and not just INN members. We’re hoping this will also be a way to get to know other people interested in or doing the kind of work we do.

Since we're a remote team we'll likely meet via Google Hangout, at least initially (although if we happen to be in the same city we may meet in person and let others join via hangout).

For September, the first book we'll read will be "On Web Typography" by Jason Santa Maria. You can find out more about the book and purchase it here.

Our team is planning to be in Chicago for the Online News Association Conference (Sept. 25-27) so we're having our first meeting in real life there on Thursday, September 25 at 5:30 CT a short walk from the conference at Dollop Coffee and Tea (345 E Ohio St, Chicago, IL 60611). We'll also work out a way for people to join virtually and will send out details closer to the date.

Please RSVP if you plan to attend so we have a rough count.

As part of that meeting we also plan to have a book exchange so if you're going to be at ONA and have old books sitting around you'd like to swap, plan to bring them along.

Get updates by following @newsnerdbooks on Twitter and we hope to see you in Chicago!