From INSIDE CLASSIFIED, November 2001
Designer debunks myths
Three newspapers get very different looks
By Patrick MacDonald, MacDonald Classified Services
Is it a good idea to put the classified index on the back of a section to secure a color position? Do readers really use and/or understand the numbering system many newspapers have established ostensibly to help readers locate their category of interest? These are just a couple of the questions that newspaper designer Alan Jacobson of Brass Tacks Design found some surprising answers to when conducting focus groups in three markets where he recently worked his design magic.
"Toward the end of making classified products more compelling and easier to navigate, I have relied heavily on focus groups to test traditional assumptions made about classified products," Jacobson explains. "You also have to pay very careful attention to cultural and individual market nuances before charging ahead with a set of design assumptions." Jacobson and his staff at Brass Tacks Design recently completed classified redesigns for two Tribune Company newspapers — the Hartford (Conn.) Courant and the Newport News (Va.) Daily Press — and the Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald.
Before implementing any of the newspapers' new design features, Brass Tacks Design developed a list of goals and strategies to follow. Then the new ideas were tested on focus groups, which provided invaluable feedback. Below are lists of goals, strategies and focus group comments from each newspaper.
The Hartford Courant
Hartford parted with conventional wisdom and launched a bold new design for both its print classifieds and its online classifieds at CTNow.com. "A single visual brand and navigation system will unite and fortify both classified franchises and set them apart from editorial content in print and online," Jacobson said. "The new design features enhanced navigation, improved legibility and dramatic use of imagery."
1. Create a unified brand for all classified products including print, online and advertorial through use of a common navigation system and imagery.
2. Enhance image and awareness of print and online products by improving the appearance of the print products and promoting online products in print.
3. Simplify the navigation system to make it more intuitive, quicker and easier to use.
4. Improve the legibility of liner ads without using more space.
Timeliness: Ads can be posted and delivered sooner than the daily paper.
Keyword searching: No need to rifle through pages.
Broader searches: Most newspaper sites provide access to national listings of cars, jobs and homes.
Value-added content: Mortgage calculators, neighborhood profiles and auto reviews help users make informed buying decisions.
Legibility: Text can be enlarged to suit the user.
No ruboff: Online classifieds are clean and green.
1. Eliminate all content within the current banner except for the section flag, index, and phone numbers and url for placing classified ads, to give greater emphasis to these features by removing clutter.
2. Eliminate the numerical classification system because we believe no one uses it.
3. Anchor a feature within a well beneath the banner to promote both print and online classifieds.
4. Make advertorial products (Real Estate, Wednesday Wheels) look different from editorial print products, but the same as print and online classified products to co-brand all classified products.
5. Create a library of banners that change every day to increase the visual appeal of the section. Consider illustrating these banners with real people from the community.
FOCUS GROUP RESULTS
1. Retain the testimonial panel on the prototype cover, but change its message and position: Change the message to emphasize that ctnow.com classifieds offer more listings than The Hartford Courant's classifieds. Move this panel to the bottom of the page to eliminate the visual conflict with the main banner.
2. Make the phone number and url more prominent.
3. Be prepared for some complaints if you remove the numerical classification system, but feel reasonably safe that these complaints will be minimal.
4. Expect the ultimate usefulness of the main banner page numbering index system to be more apparent on those days when categories are rearranged (as in Wednesday Wheels) or when certain verticals move out of the main classifieds (as in Real Estate).
5. Use the one-column fillers for ctnow.com, emphasizing that ctnow.com offers more.
6. Alpha-sort all classifications and sub-classifications as much as possible.
7. Restore pricing for private party ads.
8. Promote the redesigned Courant Classifieds as "easier to read " (as a result of the new liner typography) with a new indexing system that makes the redesigned Courant Classifieds "easier to use."
"Omaha goes even further than Hartford by using the classified banner to promote readership with a dramatic, 10-column color photo every day," Jacobson said.
1. Rebrand classified to include other newspapers owned by the Omaha World-Herald in western Iowa and throughout Nebraska. This will allow for integration of online classified listings for all the World-Herald's newspapers under a single brand.
2. Develop a visual style for the classified banner to increase the number of people who look at the section every day.
3. Improve legibility, navigation and user-friendliness.
4. Increase the visual appeal of the automotive, recruitment and real estate sections to match the visual sophisticaltion of the news sections.
1. Drop the word “Omaha” from classified and rebrand them as “Midlands Classified.” This will pave the way for inclusion of classified databases from all papers owned by the World-Herald throughout Iowa and Nebraska under the common url of www.midlandsclassified.com.
2. Take advantage of the region's strong sense of place by emphasizing the Midlands with a different, 10-column color photo every day. The attractiveness of this photo should draw all readers to the section, even if they aren't planning to read the classifieds. Increase reader participation by inviting them to submit their own photos that capture the spirit of the Midlands.
3. Reorganize all categories, placing greater emphasis on private-party ads.
4. Regroup and highlight the Under-$50 category to promote readership of the section.
5. Alpha-sort the recruitment category.
6. Refer from the main banner to other classifications, such as real estate, employment and automotive, when these classifications appear in other sections on Saturday and Sunday.
7. Eliminate all information in the main banner except for the classified telephone numbers and web address. Research shows that customers prefer to get other information from sales representatives via the telephone.
FOCUS GROUP RESULTS
1. Occasional readers of classified agreed that their interest in seeing the ever-changing, 10-column photo in the main banner would drive them to look at the section on a daily basis, even if they hadn't planned to look at the classified section.
2. All respondents liked the use of color to highlight the Under-$50 category and garage sales.
3. To guarantee a full-color position seven days a week, the classified section begins on the back of the Business sections and jumps backwards inside. No respondents seemed to mind the reverse order, because they preferred the use of color it allowed.
4. All respondents found the new typography easier to read, even though the columns were narrower as a result of converting to a 50-inch web.
5. Respondents found the new category headers improved navigation through the section. Only 10% of respondents said they would miss the numerical classification system.
6. Some respondents were confused by the new alpha-sort system for the recruitment category, so a new recruitment banner was created to guide them after the new design was launched.
7. None of the respondents missed the marketing information or index that used to appear in old banner.
Daily Press, Newport News, Va.
1. Make classifieds easier to use.
2. Streamline the navigation and increase consistency in labeling.
3. Enhance the appeal of the classified section and the advertorial products.
1. Marketing information in the banner helps customers place orders for ads.
2. Full-page index directs readers to the page they’re looking for.
3. Numerical classifications help readers find the category they want.
1. Include people as much as possible – in the main banner, house ads and classification headings – to increase the appeal of the section.
2. Prominently display testimonials on main classified page.
3. Increase use of process color.
4. Simplify the old marketing information in the banner.
5. Increase size of numbers in classfication headings to enhance navigation.
6. Include useful editorial content throughout the classified section to boost readership.
FOCUS GROUP RESULTS
1. Everyone preferred the color banner to the black and white banner. They also preferred the use of one spot color to no color.
2. Almost no one uses the index. They didn’t realize it directed them to the appropriate page for each category.
3. Most people use the classification name rather than the number to find particular categories, so increasing the size of the number at the expense of the name made ads more difficult to find.
4. Everyone preferred the old iconographic category headings to the new headings containing photos.
5. No one consulted the marketing information in the main banner before placing an ad, but many said the redesigned format was more helpful.
6. Many people liked having the Under $50 listings grouped under a single classification on the cover.
7. Many people were confused by the inclusion of editorial content as filler in recruitment and real estate. Some thought the content was advertising while others did not perceive the information as useful.
Brass Tacks Design provides marketing, editorial, design and technical support to newspapers worldwide. The company's clients include The New York Times, the Washington Post Company, Knight Ridder, Tribune Company, Gannett, Hearst and Newhouse. Jacobson can be reached at email@example.com or via the Brass Tacks Design Web site.
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• Hartford Courant
• Omaha World Herald
• Daily Press, Newport News, VA