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What changes would you like to see to the look of openDemocracy?

oD blog 140We've recently made some changes to the layout of the site but we haven't finished yet! Let us know how you think the design of openDemocracy could be improved.

As you (hopefully) noticed last week, alongside the launch of our new section Transformation we made a few changes to the look of the site. 

It was not a full-scale redesign. What we’ve tried to do is improve your ability to navigate openDemocracy, and as a bonus we think it’s now also more pleasing to the eye.

The site’s new layout features a navigation bar at the top – giving our editorially autonomous sections OurKingdom, oDRussia, 5050, openSecurity and Transformation the prominence they deserve.  The second tier of this bar allows us to locate major debates and projects, such as Can Europe Make It? and Cities in Conflict, within the navigation structure. In addition our front pages now cover a wider area and present the opportunity to use bigger images alongside the top story, giving the editorial selection of the day even more emphasis and flexibility. And a new slideshow on the right hand side allows us to highlight some of the best content with some striking images

With this new design we’ve responded to the input we had from readers, and you were frustrated with one aspect of the old layout in particular: the footer bar. This was the grey area at the bottom of the old site, that was originally introduced in an attempt to give each section greater profile through an introductory pop-up.

The test site for the May 2012 redesign.

However, you told us that this footer came at the expense of reading space, wasn’t adequately responsive to scrolling on mobile devices or zooming for those whose vision requires reading larger fonts. “Of course it’s good to know about all that the site contains, but this feels like the wrong way to let the reader know” was one fairly mild assessment. When we looked at heat maps of mouse movement on the site it was clear that readers were not using the footer at all as a way of getting around.

To adequately display the great number and variety of editorial projects is a constant challenge at openDemocracy and one that our front page editors strive to respond to. And our previous design helped by introducing innovations that allowed greater editorial promotion, which we’ve kept. These included front page selections for each section and the inner and right columns that allow us to profile debates and put together topical collections of articles.

It might be worth a quick glance back at the design of the site in early 2012 as a reminder of how different the site looked little more than a year ago, with fewer spaces for editorial selection and curation, particularly on our section pages.

openDemocracy in early 2012

The front page of 5050 in early 2012

Changing patterns in how our readers access articles is also part of this picture. Whilst we work hard to make our front page better, we’ve noted that an increasing number of visits come directly to articles via social media (around 10 % of visits come via Facebook and 7% from Twitter, compared to 5.5 and 3.5% respectively a year ago). Use of mobile and tablet devices has also increased, from 10% of all visits a year ago to over 20% of all visits in the past month.

So it has taken a while for us to address the navigation issue - too long, in fact - but we haven’t finished there. We’d like to give you a dedicated mobile design, as well reconsider the use of fonts, line spacing and the site width, and increase the variety of layouts for our top articles. 

At this point it seems wise to ask, given your insights last time around, what you would like to see. What do you think we should prioritise to improve the experience of reading openDemocracy?

Thanks to Oli Sylvester-Bradley of Defacto Design for the latest redesign of the site. 

About the author

Andrew Hyde is the Publisher of openDemocracy.