A milestone on the road
to digital magazines

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Opening of the T splash -- Does it take so long to cover the player download?

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The splash screen piles up.

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Covering the T!

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And then . . .

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The cover.

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Finding the menus.

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T stories follow very simple templates, but the type is small and badly anti-alisased.

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At 400%, you can see that the stems are arbitrarily placed on the raster and blurred, differently. This looks like Photoshop, not the new Flash text rendering.

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A fun visual index for the "Remix" index.

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An inspired "opening up" of a text spread from the print magazine.

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The fun "interactive" B.A. map.

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A wonderful photo essay on art spaces.

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The advertisers should love these intrusive ad positions. (But will Bloomies like the intervention of Neiman's?)

wITHOUT MUCH FANFARE, The New York Times has introduced an online version of T—the seasonal style sections that used to be called “Part Two’s” of its magazine. The design was done with the help of Createthe, an agency that designed the Calvin Klein web site. You can see the hand of Janet Froelich, the brilliant art director of the magazines, but not the influence of the Times’ famous web designer, Khoi Vinh, who has positioned himself as a mediator between print and online and who tends to favor plain old HTML over flashier technologies.

T, you see, is done in Flash. The first tip off is a damnably slow splash page (what year is it now?), that plays with the “T” logo. I am not sure why Flash designers love these intros, probably something to do with “branding,” but this user was happy to find the little “Skip Intro” line at the bottom.

Once through it, you get a closeup of Natalie Portman, under considerable makeup. As you paw around, finding the menus under the black top nav bar, Natalie twitches a little, in the manner of Max Headroom. Ultimately you realize this is the cover of the magazine, and that in the lower right there is a link to a video player which shows the talking head of Portman, with stylishly jumpy editing . Not linked is the actual cover story by Lynn Hirschberg, in “The Words” menu.

There is a white-space coolness in the design which is more Createthe than Tonchi. (T’s editor, Stefano Tonchi, has sharpened the edge that the late Amy Spindler brought to The New York Times Magazine, and you see it in the fashion and the photography of the print T magazines.) Online, the presentation is colder than the print magazines. Pictures never get very big, but float in white space. Like much of Creathe’s work, you see a lot of flashy minimalism and hear the thump thump of Miami chill music in the background. But it’s fun, and it pushes The New York Times out of its institutional box.

There are some entertaining interactive pieces:

And there is a live, HTML blog, “The Moment,” currently featuring Art Basel. This is the only “part” of T that allows comments.

What’s wrong with it? The flaws are all caused by style calls:

  • The splash page.
  • It seems alienated from the browser, its back button, its text size controls. (Why not just go to full-screen?)
  • The navigation seems odd, perhaps just a matter of getting used to, but try changing pages! You wish there was a more button at the foot of each leg of text.
  • It doesn’t work unless you are connected to the Internet
  • It doesn’t work on an iPhone.
  • Not enough distinction between the ads and the art
  • Tiny, blurry type.

But on the whole, it’s an important moment in content design online. It’s not just another web site, like so many of the recent ballyhooed redesigns. T fits its subject matter, and it tells stories in a compelling, interactive way.

The Times now ranks as the most visible mainstream pioneer in defining new digital narrative forms. Starting with The New York Times Reader, now two years old, the august newspaper has indicated the direction away from the static pages of the print medium to something richer, more diverse and still portable. It could be improved, of course: A redesign now could give it more currency and interactivity. The surprising thing is that Reader has not been widely copied. This shows you how stuck in the past most publishers are.

The Reader is built on WPF, the presentation layer of Vista, which we thought was going to be pried loose from Windows and floated onto cell phones and . . . the Mac. But WPF-e (for everywhere) never happened. Instead we got Silverlight, still in Beta, which was competes with Flash, but misses some of the essential features used in the Reader—the offline state, dynamic resizing of layouts, and Cleartype.

Adobe meanwhile had followed WPF, and started rebuilding Flash to handle some of the same features. The Flash player was made to work outside the browser window—content could be downloaded to be played offline. And font rendering was improved considerably. (Although not enough to make T very readable.)

It is significant that The Times turned to Flash for its online version of T. But it only works online, and the only live, comment-able part is in run outside the Flash magazine.

Nevertheless, the result is a marvelous experience: modern, light, minimal, and expressive. It can be important marker on the path toward the future of magazines. T will have made its mark if other publishers and TV producers take note of it and try their own narrative, rich-media, interactive digital magazines.

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In related news: The weekly Indigo digital magazines now run in a web browser, or you cam download them in their original form, a stand-alone Flash player. Indigo was designed and developed by Danilo Black Mexico.

Your Thoughts (6 comments)

2007-12-07 by Jason Santa Maria

For Real?

You've got to be kidding. That site does nothing to further design for the web. Design online is quite a bit more than just an interactive experience. People have been shitting out Flash sites like this for years, and the underlying facts still remain that it's thoroughly inaccessible, and locked up tight in a Flash file. Many people with many different capabilities on many different systems need to access the web, it's ridiculous to impose on them the method for viewing the sites. You are out of touch with what's happening online if this looks like a milestone to you. The new version of T is no more interactive than hitting channel up on your TV remote.

2007-12-07 by

Spoken Like a Print Designer

"Nevertheless, the result is a marvelous experience: modern, light, minimal, and expressive." There's nothing light about waiting for Flash to load.

2007-12-07 by

Indigo is Even Better Than This

Indigo is nice, but only a stepping stone. You were too easy on the Times. This reads like you have harsh criticism and didn't say it for political reasons.

2007-12-07 by Teevio

Definitely Not a Milestone

I would have to agree with Santa Maria. There is nothing new to the world of web design in this 'T' magazine redesign. The layout of the site has already been done time and time again by even the worst of Flash developers.

2007-12-07 by kyle

It's called flashterbation

The "Skip Intro" link is a big red flag — this looks like a standard case of a print designer with a little 3DSMax/Flash 101 experience trying way too hard. There's nothing about the layout and functionality that couldn't be replicated with straight HTML and JavaScript, which would make for a better/more accessible experience for anyone actually trying to use the site. It's lame and I predict it won't last long in its current state. Speaking of Khoi; if you want to see a milestone in web design/layout check out http://abriefmessage.com/

2008-02-09 by Bill Hill

A beautiful design mauled...

I have to agree with the other comments. Flash is a horrible way to do something like this. It's a beautiful design (in principle), and the artwork - photos and ads - is lavish. There's all the right material to do a magazine that's both gorgeous and readable. But how am I supposed to read the the "tiny blurred type", which you remark on almost as an afterthought? If this is, as you say , "much improved font rendering" then I don't know why they bothered. Although, let's face it, with type this small, no technology can make it readable. There just ain't enough pixels. On my 1440 x 900 screen, this piece of Flash occupied only the center of the display, probably way less than half the total screen area. With the right technology, the pages could have been scaled up to a point where the text was readable, occupied the full screen and it could have been an outstanding experience. It's disappointing to see great creative designers running headlong up an evolutionary cul-de-sac. But my Mom always told me I had to learn everything the hard way, too...

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