The Toronto Start picks adaptive over responsive design. At a time when many media houses are adopting responsive design for their digital properties, the Toronto Star instead opted for adaptive HTML5 versions for different devices for its recent online rehaul. “The wild debates about responsive design have been going on for a couple of years now, and I think it’s been fairly polarizing,” said Ali Rahnema, vice president of digital media.
Rahnema said the choice was due to theStar.com’s constantly changing content. “Certainly, the principles of responsive design make a lot of sense for sites that are less dynamic and more static,” he said.
Responive design would have restricted the Star’s ability to present different types of stories, content, and visual elements, as well as its ability to address the different expectations of different types of users, he said. “We’d prefer to design this for the desktop, and then have our HTML5 offering for the tablet, and a different HTML5 offering for smartphones. We felt that that was the right way to go, at least at this stage.” Going to the site on different devices will automatically call up the appropriate version, he said. Mobile apps can also be downloaded at the Get Mobile page.
The Star worked with Toronto’s Dashboard agency, which was brought on board to compile best practices, rethink the site’s UX design and do the initial core page designs that the Star’s team later built upon. The new site was unveiled on Jan. 30.
The redesign was powered by Adobe CQ5, a switch from the Star’s previous homegrown CMS. “The beauty of the new site’s back-end is that it’s a complete modular structure,” Rahnema said. “Anything you see on the page that’s a distinct box is literally a drag-and-drop module.” As a result, the design team can tweak the template as it sees fit, which Rahnema said benefits the editorial side as well. Whether it’s a breaking news story with a large pic and minimal copy, or a 3,000-word piece without many photos, the paper isn’t locked in to one type of layout, he said.
As well, the Star can now organize its offerings to better showcase other content. Site navigation is now available on the left-hand side, and related and ‘most popular’ stories are featured by topic in boxed packages. A new ‘mystar’ tool enables readers to follow favourite writers, sports teams, and customize weather and horoscope info. “The site was very crammed before, so we feel like we’ve aired it out a bit,” Rahnema said, citing the increase of white space.
While Rahnema said it’s too early to comment on analytic results, he’s happy to report that the redesign has done no harm. SEO has held up and there’s been a healthy amount of link-driving from social media. “Maybe it’s a weird measure of success, but I think the best indicator was that in the first two days, we had under 100 emails or telephones,” he said about reader complaints. “That’s actually not a lot for a site of this magnitude. I’ve been involved in redesign launches in the past, and that’s the lowest number I’ve certainly ever experienced,” he said.