Digital Desk

Best-designed news website in the region

We are really liking the sound of that around here.

The Society of Professional Journalists recently handed us that moniker – “Best Web Design” – etched on a glass plaque along with 28 other awards in an annual five-state competition with 269 entrants. Funny thing is, the “user experience” – if we want to use the correct terminology – on columbian.com isn’t the work of journalists, though many of us have a hand in the content you see on the site and provided input on the new site design.

columbian.com web developers

Mike Rogers, left, and Eric Stanley hold the SPJ award.

No, the credit goes to web developers Mike Rogers and Eric Stanley in our Information Technology department.

More than a year ago, we started talking about redesigning columbian.com to give it a fresh, new look, improve the user experience or UX, fix some nagging technical issues and make the site responsive.

“We wanted to give all of our users the same experience regardless of platform,” says Stanley, who grew up and graduated from La Center High.

By platform, Stanley means device or screen size, says Rogers, who grew up in Vancouver and graduated from Woodland High. A responsive website is one that detects your screen size and then the content dynamically rearranges to fit that screen whether it’s a desktop computer, tablet or smartphone.

Like many companies, The Columbian has watched the rapid rise of mobile technology in our lives. Just a few years ago, fewer than 10% of our online visitors came to us from a mobile device and only a fraction of those were using an iPad. More phones and tablets entered the market, though, and consumer habits continued to shift. Today, if you include our iPhone and Android apps, nearly half of our online readers view our content using a phone or tablet.

The beauty of the responsive site is that you only need one site that adjusts to the readers’ devices. Until we launched our new site design on Oct. 1, 2013, Mike and Eric had to build things for the site viewed on readers’ computers or tablets, and then build it again on the site viewed by readers using phones.

When asked how it felt to win the award, Mike quips, “It’s about time we were recognized. We’re waiting for our bonus checks.”

Unfortunately, the SPJ award doesn’t come with a check, but it did put a bounce in our step as it validated our efforts to build the best site we can for our readers. It’s still a work-in-progress as we continue to make adjustments, add new features and learn to present information using new technologies. A panel of fellow journalists thinks we’re on the right track.

Now, we’re just going to do our best to live up to that.

John Hill

John is the web editor at The Columbian, where he has worked since 1995 in various roles. A journalist for the past 25 years, he's a fan of good storytelling, data, graphics and still likes to read an actual newspaper. Twitter: @hilljohng

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