No surprise, since it’s been in the works for a while: ESPN.com is poised to launch its redesign later this summer or early fall (link via The Big Lead). ESPN president George Bodenheimer said the site will have a simpler, “cleaner” design. As a former front page editor at ESPN.com, I’m curious what the next incarnation of the .com will look like. (Check out the the site’s progression here).

A source told me to “think Yahoo but sleeker.” Apparently, they think the current homepage is too cluttered. I wonder if users who have grown accustomed to the design think it’s cluttered, because I don’t. Perhaps it’s because I’ve gotten used to where everything is.

But to borrow a line from Prince Akeem:  It is also tradition that sites must and always do change, my friend.

“[The redesign] is not a sign of weakness,” Bodenheimer said. “It’s a sign of strength.” 

I couldn’t agree with him more. Users are always going to complain about a redesign (“THIS F’N SUXXX!” is probably quite common in the feedback forum), but after a couple months most of them won’t even remember the old design.

The last time the site radically changed its look, in late 2006, I think it set the bar high among sports sites. The rotating spotlight area has been copied by others — including hard news sites — in one shape or another (can anyone think of an example of a rotating spotlight pre-2006?). What’s up to debate, however, is how effective that area is for driving traffic.

The main issue with any redesign is how to address the “top” story (or centerpiece or main stage — every place has its own moniker for it). That’s the most important real estate on the site. It’s a daily battle for section editors as they lobby for their stories to get “stronger play.”

Editors everywhere — from newspapers to online — believe the most important page is above the fold. Sure, the top story gets the most play, but I think it’s wrong to believe that users won’t navigate and scroll.

The section slices at the bottom of msnbc.com are very effective. Word is that users are navigating to those areas in high numbers to click on stories and content. I think any redesign should maximize space and use the scroller effectively. Not maximizing the potential of the bottom of the page is a weakness of many a site.

So I’m eagerly awaiting the new look of ESPN.com, seeing if they solve the issues that plague every news site and if they set the bar high again.

But I’m not too optimistic about their redesign launch date. Like any redesign — and I’ve been through a few — projects deadlines and time frames are thrown out the window. My source seemed to agree: “NO WAY” they’ll hit that time frame.

So maybe we’ll all have to wait until 2009.

Advertisements