FOWA Notes: Managing User Interface Design - Khoi Vinh

Managing User Interface Design - Khoi Vinh - NYTimes

Blogs at

The future,
The future's going to be awesome
We're going to be living in space colonies
Users will change (pic of planet of the apes)

What I'm talking about today,

Design Challenges of NYTimes

What we Do and what we don't

The design group designs the platform not the news

We don't do infographics

The sheer volume means you can't art direct any single news story.

Here's an example in the print version. It wasn't just laid out it was art directed. The same story online had no special design.
This is because we are using templates.

Tools can't keep pace.
The internet allows for instantaneous publishing but not instantaneous design.

Examples of the desing we're doing for the platform.

Travel pages
Booking tools, rating tools.

New slideshow template. Black background. Keeps in the same window. Spent time with the photo editors to learn how they wanted to present images.

An exception:

The designer and editor went to extra length to develop custom layouts for the 5th anniversary of 9/11

Pluses and minuses

  • Highly specific
  • This is what we should be doing
  • Time consuming


special projects with sufficient lead time.

News design tomorrow
One day we will be able to design in real time.
there will be a new kind of publishing that will be more mature than what we have today.

NYTimes is no-longer just a platform for delivery of news. We want to be a platform for new-centric activity involving communities.

Trad media uses narrative design which is judged by how well it tells a story.

The web is about conversational interactions.

online we're trying to work out where we fit in a many to many relationship.

Part of this shift means we are looking towards providing new mechanisms for consumption.

We're building discrete apps to supplement the experience.

Times Topics
Times Reader


A revision of our web-based bookmarking app.

Our content is evolving into functionality.

e.g:  inline audio streams.
Content that accompanies the articles.

Video on the home page in the library and on articles

One-click access to Digg Newsvine etc as well as blogger friendly permalinks. Articles now last for several years.

This is all consistent with a SEO driven world.

A new paradigm.

As our tools progress, they give us incrementally more power to control the presentation of out interfaces.

the uncontrol

Countervailing Forces in Quality

HDTV vs YouTube
Skype vs SMS
Times Reader vs Memeorandum
Digital SLRS vs camera phones

Web Pros can't get enough web 2.0

Users have no idea of what web 2.0 is.

Focus on the basics
get the basics right before anything else.

Definition of management:
getting things done through people

For design management
creating the condtions under which great work can happen.

Principles of Design

no such thing as a free feature
Thinking of apps as software masks the costs of functionality
Free isn't really free

Hidden costs of software features

Additional interface, widgets, screens, code, testing and Quality assurance, support

The cost of expression.

In trad media content authors bore the cost of expression
In digital media users bear at least half the cost of expression.
If you try to be really expressive you may turn users off.

So we try to think of apps as machines.

Over determination is good.
Every feature to have multiple valid reasons for being.

Example of telephone pad with both number and Alphanumeric characters.

Options are obstructions.

options are features that couldn't be resolved.
Screenshots of loads of option windows in Microsoft app.

Offend experts not beginners
Experts aren't as easily offended as beginners.

Most users are intermediates.
Most features are for experts.

The sweet spot is in between.

Users don't need to get to everywhere form everywhere. A ton of navigation that needs reducing.

Test like you mean it.

User testing, not executive testing.
Test for usability not acceptance.

Language informs interaction:

Twitter: what are you doing. Label stays influences the content.
Twitterific the label disappears so the input might be non-sequitur.

Let tabs be tabs, let buttons be buttons let links be links.

A maximum of elegance through a minimum of ornamentation. Turning off the images the look and feel remains intact.

Within a family of interfaces avoid monotomy,

Use a grid, design for order.


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