While there has been limited research specifically pertaining to the design of news websites in the past, there has been an increase in research pertaining to news websites since 2015. The recent research shows more Americans are accessing their news content online, whether it be from a desktop, tablet, or mobile phone.
Pew Research shows 68% of smartphone owners use their phone at least occasionally to follow along with breaking news events. This then increases the need to design websites in a responsive and inclusive way. Meaning that websites should be accessible on multiple devices and should be usable for the visually and hearing impaired.
MiniWatts Marketing Group shows on their website http://www.internetworldstats.com that 50.2 percent of the world’s internet users are in Asia. Then looking at the Statistical Report On Internet Development In China by the China Internet Network Information Center (CINIC) shows that 92.9% of users accessed the internet on a mobile device, 64.6% on a desktop, 38.5 % on a Laptop, 30.6% on a Tablet, and 21.1% on TV. This leads to the need to design with the users needs in the mobile environment but not forgetting about other devices.
The report also shows that “users of basic Internet applications such as those for instant messaging, information searching, and network news grew steadily, and their usage rates were all above 80%.” And that “providers of network news developed the “distribution algorithm” based on user interest to meet users’ demand for personalized news in the mobile Internet era.” The report also claims that “the integration of traditional media and new media accelerated, and the all-media trend initially appeared.”
News website users show similar behaviors as online shoppers. Users in a 2017 study displayed the same drive in their web usage as shoppers where “ the loyalty formation process is based on the same relationships between quality-based, attitudinal, and behavioral dimensions.”
The researchers suggest online news producers “should constantly monitor and improve their system quality” through improved compatibility “with all kinds of browsers, devices, and operating systems; short loading times; an intuitive and clear navigation; as well as advertisements’ seamless integration are important measures.”
Researchers also found users of news websites were more satisfied when the content is informative and entertaining. A 2015 study in the Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology “confirmed the assumption that interactivity should be valued when designing an interface, especially when the goal is to retain users of a news website.”
User Participation In Design
Who knows which design is better, the experts or the users?
While arguments can be made for both, research shows that testing user response to website designs reveals knowledge about what increases satisfaction for users interacting with news websites. This is useful especially when considering design elements that could affect the usability for older and/or functionally challenged users.
In taking a participatory mind-set in the design process, the subject of inclusion and accessibility should be taken into consideration. In Design for Social Responsibility, authors Roger Coleman, John Clarkson, and Julia Cassim write that design improvements that have been geared toward older and functionally challenged users have later on proved to provide benefits to all users.
A 2014 article by Clinton Carlson, Whitney Peake, and Jeff Joiner in the Communication Design Quarterly Review discusses evaluating usability and developing increased usability through greater public participation in the design process. The study analyzed how food recall announcements could best be communicated to consumers. In agreement with the Al-Radaideh-Jordanian study, the researchers chose to create a method that looked at usability from the user’s perspective, not experts. Carlson, Peake, and Joiner take this a step further and advocate for a participatory mind-set instead of an expert-mindset in the design process.
Co-creative methods may give designers and researchers deeper insight into end-users needs in the design of future products. Used at the front end of the design process, these methods may be able to help designers and researchers gain context, empathy, and understanding.
However, it is a fine line to walk because as Peter Wright, Jayne Wallace, and John McCarthy write in their 2008 article “Aesthetics and Experience-Centered Design” that while it is useful to look at aesthetics for usability testing it would be a “mistake to understand it as something like an engineering specification” and that it should not be used in mechanistic ways.
If designers do decide to get input from users, they should do so ethically. The video below gives guidelines on how subjects should be treated when participating in user-testing.