Design says to Shovelware: ‘I need more whitespace’ — A Design Critique of TIME

Continuing the A Web Design Critique series, this post does a quick comparison of a TIME article in the online and print editions.

heads up: this is a pretty old post, it may be outdated.

I took two lessons from Time’s Q&A with Bill Keller. The first, outlined in Dear Bill Keller, was intended be a short reaction to the piece, that turned into a 1600 word article. This post outlines the second takeaway, and will be 1000 words. Pictures are worth 1000 words right? :) Take a look at the comparison between the print and online layouts of that article below.


The print layout is clearly, superior. It’s far easier to read, offers a summary of what the article is at an eye’s glance.

  • Multiple Pages The online version requires the user to click to a second page to read the whole article. Yet, the print version fits handily on one page. WHY!? There is no newshole online! Stop making it difficult for us to get to the end of the article!
  • Ads Admittedly, the print version shares a spread with a full page ad, but the content remains ad free. The online version feels cramped. There are two, small, intrusive ads, that serve to distract from the content.
  • Styling is Gone This is a great example of why shovelware is bad for design. The print version nicely separates out questions, credits, and answers with font styles. The online version? Nothing. Someone just copy-pasted the content out of a text document. It’s much harder to read than the article, let alone tell that it’s a Q&A.
  • The Sidebar is Distracting Even if Google is my homepage, there is far too much content presented to draw me in. The sidebar is full of irrelevant stuff that distracts me from the article. The clean, minimalistic design in print is far more eye-catching.

The Takeaway

  • **Use subheads **Give the reader entry points. Especially online where people are used to reeading short blurbs of text are are prone to skimming as they scroll.
  • Don’t forget the rule about one piece of dominant artwork It's amazing how truly good design never changes. Presenting one place for the eye to center on that sums up the content is a design trait that goes to the way we think – regardless of the medium.
  • Leave some whitespace Clutter on the page makes your content hard to read. Just because your CMS allows you to dump in your content and move on, it doesn't mean you should. Giving this article the same amount of design time in both print and online would have helped a lot. I'd bet that the amount of design time for the web could be much less.