I hate the new Slate. But it wasn’t designed for me.

September 23, 2013
The Slate redesign -- note the lack of navigation bar. (Slate.com)
The Slate redesign -- note the lack of navigation bar. (Slate.com)

Slate, which shares a parent company with The Washington Post, just unveiled a design overhaul. The top level navigation bar is gone, replaced with a "navigation tool" that requires more than one click to use. The new homepage is organized into blocks that sometimes make it hard to tell when content ends and advertisements begin. It's slick, dynamic, and, following a trend found in many other high profile news site launches, more difficult to navigate from a desktop PC than its predecessor.

On the old Slate, you could navigate from the home page to the technology section with a single click. Now, it takes two clicks to get to the technology page and a click then a hover to see the four most recent posts -- oh, and on my laptop the "view all" option requires a scroll because it falls below the bottom of my 14-inch screen. Basically, I hate the new Slate. But that's because the site wasn't made for me.

In a post explaining the redesign, Slate editor David Plotz cites Slate's tablet and mobile audience as one of the key factors in the redesign, saying users visiting from those devices have "nearly tripled in the past year." He goes on to describe the design as responsive and looking good on a massive monitor, a "humble laptop screen or a 10- or 7-inch tablet or even on your phone."

I won't dispute that the site looks good. But I work on a laptop around 90 percent of the time, and the site doesn't function particularly well for me. It's less intuitive, harder to navigate, and spoon-feeds me information when I'd rather chug it down.

These are largely the same complaints I have about the Web site design of Quartz and the New Republic. All three are visually impressive, but not very easy to use on a desktop computer. They're also all designed to translate to smartphones and tablets relatively seamlessly. That's not a terrible business move because, as Slate notes, that's where the audience is moving. But in the meantime, there are a lot of people still using desktop PCs, and it almost seems like a lazy developer move to give up on delivering them a fully navigable experience for the convenience of only creating one version.

Of course, I'm not a typical Internet user. Most users discover content through social media, and having a navigable Web site matters less if your readers are delivered directly to an article rather than coming in through your homepage. That's something Slate and The New Republic seem to understand particularly well. Heck, on their respective redesigns just highlighting text will give you the option to share it via social media.

Now, I know that it's curmudgeonly and cliched to whine about redesigns. But I do think making it easier for readers to discover new content on your site once they land there is a win-win for everyone involved. And by focusing on slick, responsive redesigns, this new wave of sites actually makes it harder for some users to fully explore the treasure trove of content the very talented people at all three outlets produce.

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government.
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Andrea Peterson | September 23, 2013