A Web Design Critique of Google News

Google News has been in the media a lot lately – is it really a killer site that newspapers make it out to be? Design (and pageviews) says no.

heads up: this is a pretty old post, it may be outdated.

I recently critiqued the redesign of Newsweek, and was pleased to see the positive response. I sorta promised that this would become a regular feature for me, so I'll try to hold to that.

I'm only looking at homepages. Critiquing a whole site is a lot of work. I'll do it someone wants to pay me though :]

After leading a webinar for CoPress on homepage design, I've done a lot of research into mainstream homepages – what works and what doesn't. For the second go at this, let's look at Google News.

Wikipedia Articles Appear in Google News Results

Google has an … involved … relationship with the media industry. Newspapers have accused Google of stealing their content, rumors say Google thought about buying a newspaper, and much to the chagrin of journalists everywhere, Google started linking to Wikipedia in the Google News results.

With all the hype, you'd think Google News was an incredible product that attracted a ton of pageviews. (Actually, Yahoo News gets more hits) In truth, Google News reveals itself to have many poor design principals, and, despite some good ideas, to be an eyesore that is really designed for one purpose: act as a search engine for news articles.

  • Highly customizable: Easily the best part about the design is the amount of control given to the user over the content they want to see. Google throws out the idea that every user needs to see political and world news. You can setup search modules to show very customized content too.
  • Color coded: it's trivial, but an important visual cue. This works pretty well in the nav bar, but the execution on the rest of the site is poor. They take a strong visual cue, and tone it way down.
  • Google Juice: the site is really geared to be used as a search engine, and it shows. From the wonky side navigation, to the really cool "recommended for you" section that uses your search history to find you news, Google News is clearly designed to search your news, not browse to it.
  • Art? What art? OK, there is some art, but its really small. Visually impressive, this site is not.
  • Link List: Can you avoid the impression that the page is just a huge list of links? I can't. It would be nice to have some attempt at styling, design, etc…
  • **Summaries: **Google News works because of automation, but the lack of hand-crafted summaries really limits the usability.

Overall, Google News design gets a 2/5. It's got customization, but it's really not a friendly UI. The site clearly uses a grid style design, but there's too many eyelines – I can't decide where to look.

As an execution of the 'river of news concept, gNews misses one key aspect – you can only have one river at a time, or else, the eye gets lost. Google gets this right with search results, but somehow that design philosphy didn't carry over to gNews.

Perhaps my best suggestion for Google: bigger images. Much bigger. Draw the eye in.