Experiments in Formatting News: A Better New York Times

Last week, I came across a Chrome extension called Ochs which takes the New York Times and provides a cleaner, easier-to-read layout for it.  The creator, Michael Donohoe, recently left the Times after seven years there and built Ochs to scratch his own, longtime itch.  This is the lovely and very usable result:

NYT Front Page With Ochs extension



Lots of people have worked hard to try and reinvent The New York Times website, yet most attempts are idealistic and don’t take into account the hard reality of needing to include ads, of dealing with paywall material, of content ownership across a large company, of the demands of a site that is updated constantly for an audience of millions.  So what works about Donohoe’s design with Ochs?

Front Page of NY Times with Ochs


Front Page of NY Times without Ochs

The look is uncluttered and cleaner with more white space. The familiar left-hand navigation menu, ignored by most Times website visitors, is removed.  If you look at the type, you’ll notice Typekit-powered Cheltenham replacing Georgia for most headlines and Helvetica replacing Arial for bylines and timestamps.  Article body text remains in Georgia.  The slightly thinner, taller Cheltenham gives more white space and a more relaxed feel.

Article with Ochs


Article without Ochs

You’ll notice if you click on an article that the individual articles are much less cluttered as well.  The sharing bar is removed so the text column is a bit wider.  The optimal line length for ideal legibility is around two-three alphabets, or about 60 characters. This redesign brings readers close to that and keeps them there.  The “Most e-mailed / Most viewed” section is shortened and many of the other “popular on facebook” and “sign up for e-mail updates” sections are also taken away with a nice result.  The end of the article leaves the reader, quite simply, with tiny options to recommend on Facebook, tweet or e-mail, followed by some photos and links to stories in other sections.

End of Article with Ochs 


End of Article without Ochs



How many redesigns have you seen which include ads?  Probably not many, because it’s one of the first eyesores designers choose to get rid of when they’re starting from scratch.  However, Donohoe has stated that the missing ads in this case are due to technical reasons, and that eventually he intends to restore as many ads as possible to keep it realistic.  He has interesting ideas about the ads including things like “Progressive advertising” (the more you use the site the fewer ads you see), “Merit advertising” (show more ads to non-paying subscribers), and “Staggered advertising” (ads the first time you visit, but then not for the next five visits, etc.). He’s open-minded and still looking for other options.  There are still some ads in Ochs, occasionally they are muted unless you mouseover them, which is nicely done.



Donohoe continues to make progress and update Ochs as a side project, and you can check out the page on the Chrome store to see the latest enhancements as well as the roadmap for future updates.  You can also follow his tumblr page at http://nytochs.tumblr.com/.

Donohoe has another new Chrome extension, called Emphasis.  It allows deep-linking to paragraphs and sentences, so you can highlight or share phrases instead of e-mailing your friend something like, “It’s about two-thirds down the second page of the article, that part about Air Supply coming to Dublin.  Read it and then tell me if you want a ticket to their show in September.”

Emphasis Chrome Extension