CNN.com has unveiled a refurbished homepage this Election Day, an attempt by the company's design team to simplify the enormous amount of polling data that will be coming in, as well as tailor its offering to the various types of users that will be accessing the site Tuesday.
The new homepage went live at 5 a.m. ET and will continue to roll out throughout the day. Up top it features an interactive "dashboard," with three wide columns that will show the results, as they come in, for the Presidential, Senate and House races. Those numbers will of course change as the day goes on, while the rest of the page will be actively programmed, changing modules in the late afternoon, evening, and into Wednesday, when the site will revert back to the old design.
"What we're really trying to do is help users make sense of what is going on," said Marisa Gallagher, VP and executive creative director for CNN Digital. She and her team started the process by using what they know about CNN's audience, and customizing the offering. For example, she said, they know that in the morning, users tend to be more excited and hopeful, while by midday, they start feeling anxious and wanting some distraction. There's some of what Ms. Gallagher calls "nailbiting," that goes on all night, and there's a "big relief" on Wednesday. To appeal to those different emotions, the page will offer different content as the day goes on. For example, around midday, when people are looking for a break or a distraction, the site will give them a "little candy" in the form of easily digestible videos, while in the evening, as the race results start flowing in, interactive modules will offer data for those looking for it quickly.
Catering to Demographic Tastes
Part of the challenge is changing the content depending on time of day, and appealing to different types of users, some of whom are completely unfamiliar with the site. The three most common types are the escapists, people who come to CNN to get away from their regular routine, the seekers, who have a very deep interest in one major issue, whether it's healthcare or foreign policy, and the ritualizers, who see logging on the site as part of their routine as a cup of coffee.
"The election might even trigger people to become seekers or escapists," said Ms. Gallagher. "So folks that aren't news junkies might be converted for the day. And we have the chance to show them the wonderful work we can do and hopefully make them repeat visitors."
Another challenge is bringing on the various content that CNN.com does offer -- the breadth of which can frankly be a little daunting to someone not familiar with the site -- and surfacing it as the day goes on. Below the dashboard will be modules that change throughout Tuesday, from video, live television, CNN's citizen journalism feature iReport, and Op-Ed pieces from both President Obama and Governor Romney.
The same experience is also translated on mobile, on the mobile Web, and CNN's iPad and iPhone apps, which will feature the same dashboard and video modules. "Hooks" will be placed in the apps that will act as a call for action to make people turn on the television, or access it via CNN's TV Everywhere option, currently available to 80 million homes in the U.S. CNN apps have to date been downloaded 24 million times, according to the company, on iOS and on the Android platforms.
Compared to 2008, the biggest difference is that the team really wanted to take advantage of all the new web design features that have surfaced in the last few years, like Ajax and responsive design, as well as the more seamless integration of live video that those advancements offer. "We're doing good data, in a digestible way," she said. "But we're also bringing in the personality and warmth of Wolf [Blitzer] and Anderson [Cooper] so you feel that sense of connection along with the data geekery." Compared to 2008's coverage, this year's homepage is much cleaner and more dynamic.
Like a Digital Magazine
The idea is to make CNN.com's Election homepage like a digital magazine. Ms. Gallagher took her inspiration from tomes like travel magazine Afar, which, she said, does a good job connecting to the local, both visually and physically -- good for election coverage, where the most interesting stories are found on the ground and need to be surfaced. "We're active users and absorbers of magazines like New York Magazine and GOOD, both of which do amazing data visualization as well," she said.
Other than the homepage, CNN.com also debuted other special Election-related features, like the "Campaign Explorer," a partnership between the media site and Google that presents Presidential ad and travel spending in an interactive format. While Ms. Gallagher's team worked on the overall "feel" of that microsite, production company B-Reel was tapped by Google to design the actual visuals. There's also "The Undecided," a multimedia feature and collection of photographs by Christopher Griffith that spotlights the voters that could potentially swing this entire thing. Electoral Maps, a polling center, and CNN's "Poll of Polls," (which Ms. Gallagher admits looks a bit "Pinterest-y") rounds up the coverage. All of it adheres to Ms. Gallagher's "style guide," seen below.