Designed by Huge, the revamped, digital-only Newsweek
aims to bring print mag qualities like cohesion and curation to the
When it was announced last fall that Newsweek, after
nearly 80 years as a weekly news magazine, would ditch print and go
all digital, it seemed to many like an ill omen--the first step toward an
inevitable demise, sort of like when a network unceremoniously
boots a faltering TV show to a Saturday night time slot. And
indeed, the prospects for Newsweek's survival as a
subscriber-supported, tablet-first magazine looked grim; consider
the fate of News Corp’s much ballyhooed iPad-only mag The Daily,
which was a complete and utter dud despite considerable resources
and ringing endorsements from Apple itself.
Thankfully, that isn’t quite the path Newsweek is
headed down today. Its new lease on life doesn’t just come in the
form of a tablet app but a website, too, built with the help of
digital agency whose successes include the beloved HBO GO app and
CNN’s flashy new website. What they’ve managed to cook up for
Newsweek is both compelling and, in terms of web
publications, simply a little bit different from much else out
there. The new Newsweek is a handsome digital experience
that taps into the social and multimedia opportunities offered by
the web, sure, but it’s also the rare website that shuns the
Internet’s breakneck news cycle and sticks to the magazine’s
original raison d’etre as a curated collection of relevant
stories. And it’s going to do it at the same pace as its pulp
predecessor: once a week, every week.
To readers who’ve grown accustomed to a constant flow of new
stories from their favorite pubs--even the ones with staid print
origins, like the New Yorker and the
Atlantic--Newsweek's model of putting out new
content every Wednesday, but only every Wednesday, might seem
deliriously out of touch. But from the start, Newsweek and
Huge were set on doing something different. And the throwback
publishing schedule is just a part of that plan.
For the last few years, Newsweek's presence on the web
has more or less been an unglamorous existence as a sub-section of
The Daily Beast, the popular news site that merged with
Newsweek in 2010. "It hasn’t really been able to breathe
on its own," says Eric Moore, managing director at Huge NY. The new
site gives it some room to breathe, certainly. But for Baba Shetty,
Newsweek's CEO, the redesign was also a chance to do an
entirely new type of web publication--something more like a
magazine, really, than a traditional news site.
"We felt there was still a place in the media landscape for
taking a step back, reflecting, and framing the week."
That meant staying true to Newsweek's original mission:
giving readers a curated selection of stories from the week. In a
digital media landscape dominated by speed and volume, Shetty hoped
to preserve the idea of the "issue," he says, "and the coherence
that brings to the reading experience."
"I think there’s actually a beautiful restraint with what
Newsweek is," he explains. "We felt there was still a
place in the media landscape for taking a step back, reflecting,
and framing the week…this idea that there’s been a set of editorial
decisions about what the most important things are to focus
But Shetty thought there was another way Newsweek could
stand out from the pack, in addition to editorial outlook. The real
opportunity, he thought, was in user experience.
"Most of professional media on the web has been crafted from a
couple of conventions that work for the business but aren’t
particularly good for the end user," he says. Here he’s talking
about the irritating, pageview-grabbing tactics like splitting long
articles up into a dozen smaller chunks, hiding visual content
behind endless, slow-moving slideshows, and throwing any and all
news against your screen in the hope that some of it will
What it all amounted to, Shetty says, was "a tremendous white
space in the market for an iconic media property that devotes
itself to user-first publishing."
One way the new Newsweek, which launched last week in
beta form, can be seen as a user-first product is simply in how
nice it looks. The site is a highly visual affair, built for
engagement and enjoyment, not pure news-dumping efficiency. Upon
arrival, readers are greeted with a cover story, complete with
Newsweek word mark, that stretches across the entire width
of their screen. The rest of the week’s stories pour forth below,
though they’re arranged by importance, not by chronology. As Meg
Man, the Associate Creative Director at Huge who led the project,
explains, "We definitely didn’t want to make another daily news
The site was designed to showcase Newsweek's long form
content, a format that’s "not typically done well digitally," Man
says. The story pages themselves are clean and visual-heavy, like
the homepage, with full-width banners up top and dynamic "image
windows" interspersed throughout. The text runs in a clean column
on the left-center of the screen, rendered in a generous 21-point
font. Ample images interject from the right side of the screen,
breaking up the lengthy blocks of text but never distracting you
from it. That, Man says, was particularly important.
"Readability was always first in our minds."
"We’re telling a story with this page, and that’s not just
through the words," she explains. "But the supporting content, and
the images that help draw your eye down the page and keep you
engaged, shouldn’t actually be interrupting what you’re there to do
in the first place. Which is reading the article. Readability was
always first in our minds."
Other clever details can be found throughout. There are some
that draw from Newsweek's print past, like a table of
contents that can be summoned from any page on the site. Features
that are commonplace on today’s news sites, like social-media
sharing tools, are still deployed in thoughtful new ways. Instead
of just dropping the stock-sharing widgets on every story page, for
example, Huge created a gorgeous full-screen pop-up that gives
users massive, click-friendly buttons for sharing articles. The way
these buttons are presented--not as third-party doodads but as part
and parcel of the Newsweek product itself--are just the
type of considered details that lend the overall experience a
cohesive, magazine-style vibe.
The result of all that care is a series of long-form pieces that
are bold and beautiful--similar to the types of immersive,
digital-first experiences we’ve been seeing more and more of
lately, like the New York Times' celebrated digital opus Snow
Fall, published last December. That article, an incredible
account of a fatal avalanche at Tunnel Creek in Washington, was a
stunning marriage of first-rate reporting and bespoke,
But Huge wasn’t just tasked with creating a one-off digital
extravaganza. It had to come up with a design that would work week
after week. And as remarkable as Snow Fall was, Man points out, it
took 15 designers to complete. "We just don’t think that’s a
sustainable model," she says.
Huge created a template that can work every week, regardless of
What they did instead was create a template that can work every
week, regardless of what the lead story is about, how long it is,
or what kind of multimedia material comes along with it. "We wanted
to make sure this was something that could be maintained without
too much editorial effort," Man says, a directive that became the
"highest priority" as they fleshed out the design.
That, of course, meant that some ideas had to be left on the
cutting room floor. "There were lots of features we came up with,"
Moore, the Managing Director, notes. "We tried to select the best
that also were scalable to use on a weekly basis." But they hope
the final product is one that will prove both flexible and
simple--a template that doesn’t actually look like a
template, from the reader’s perspective. Essentially, the aim was
to deliver some of the visual dazzle and polish of Snow Fall
without relying on a team of designers to custom-tailor the product
But a scalable, user-first experience is only part of the
equation. Web publishing is linked inextricably with advertising,
and Shetty thinks the redesign has a chance to push the envelope
All the content will be freely available to start, though
eventually the plan is to introduce a pay wall and a encourage
subscription for frequent readers. In the meantime, though, Shetty
thinks the site’s approach to on-screen ads could break new ground.
Instead of a standard display ad model, Newsweek's
pursuing a sponsorship system, where a limited number of brands
will get prominent placement on the site.
Instead of a standard display ad model, a limited number of
brands will get prominent placement on the site.
The ad units, which will debut next month, will be "big and
beautiful and highly impactful," Shetty says, but "used sparingly."
Individual stories will have no more than one unit; the home page
will typically show two. More importantly, Shetty says they’ll be
"in complete harmony with the rest of the design of the product."
Essentially, the approach to ads is the same the redesign takes to
the social sharing tools: they’re not foreign material to be
awkwardly shoehorned in, but rather part of the product itself.
"It’s not going to be the sea of rectangles you typically see,"
Shetty says. "It’s all part of once piece of thinking. If we had a
conventional business model, we’d have to have a conventional site
Of course, ads are ads, and they’ll still ultimately be a
distraction. But if Newsweek is going to survive, they’ll
be a necessary one. On today’s fast-flowing, source-saturated web,
it’s going to be hard to operate purely, or even partly, on a
subscription-based model, even with big, pretty pictures, deft
curation, and a user-friendly reading experience.
But whatever its own fate, Newsweek's redesign does
give an enticing glimpse of what web publishing could look
like going forward. It’s a bet that some readers won’t be satisfied
by quick hits and listicles, and that a weekly dose of thoughtful
editorial signal can find a foothold amidst a web full of noise. Is
that naive? Maybe. But it’s certainly readable.
Check out the new Newsweek