Digital Desk

Laying out the future of web design for news

By now you’ve probably had a chance to see Erik Hidle’s Sunday story on Steve Stuart and what it would mean if he decides to run for re-election in 2014. We decided to use that story to experiment with a new web tool that allows us to take more liberties with the layout of a story.

That tool is called scrollkit and it’s something that you’ll probably see more of in the future.

With that kit, you can play with the visuals and multimedia in a story, injecting some movement into what might otherwise be a traditional template-based layout. We are by no means the first to do this, nor was The New York Times, but the Times’ turned a lot of heads in 2012 when “Snow Fall” first appeared. Since then, a few traditional news organizations have dabbled in similar projects and the phrase “Snow Fall” is becoming a verb in the industry, ie, “Look, they Snow Falled the story.” Across the river, The Oregonian also has begun to experiment as well, publishing “Paths to a Deadly Encounter,” a story that details the events that led up to an officer-involved shooting on Interstate 84 near The Dalles in August.)

For some time we’ve kicked around the idea of giving one of our own stories a visual makeover like a “Snow Fall.” Reporter Erik Hidle came to us as he began working on the Steve Stuart story, convincing us it was the right time to put scrollkit to work. While the story isn’t an opus like “Snow Fall” or other similar stories we’ve seen, it did have a lot of photos, video and audio that fit into a timely and relevant narrative of this year’s county commissioner hijinks.

The readers’ reaction to this new visual approach so far appears to be mixed. Some like it and some say it’s more difficult to read than the more traditional layout. We’re listening, and we agree. Some things work well here and some, well, need a bit more work. Our hope is to hone our skills with more of these types of projects and do an even better job next time, so don’t be shy about sharing your thoughts and design ideas.

Paul Suarez

Paul is the web producer at The Columbian.

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