Thursday, February 07, 2008

Visually, WashPo's 'The Root' Looks Exactly Like...A Root.

What does a root look like?

It looks exactly like what science would intend for something dug out of the ground, that's what. Which is precisely what the Washington Post's new online-only venture, "The Root," conveys at first glance.

Kind of dirty, not really cleaned up, does its job and lets leaves be leaves. (well, sort of.)

Sure, roots are tenacious. They are stable. They are dependable and anchor us. And so is the concept behind this interactive endeavor.

But one thing David Sarno didn't mention in his Los Angeles Times review of The Root, among all of the shortcomings in reporting and the star-studded staff on board for the project, is how absolutely terrible the website looks.

The design? Blocky, with colors that evoke, deliberately or not,
The images? Basic (and not very arresting).
The layout? Look at all those columns. Look at all that wasted space. Look how poor the navigation is. And for God's sake, look how far you have to scroll to get to the bottom of the page.

What is this, a blog?

And The Root is online-only! It is supposed to answer to no printed deity from high above. Even with only four people staffing the small project, it's clear that the Washington Post didn't make design a priority. For a project that comes from the interactive department, that's a mistake.

Sarno alludes to it in his review. "Visually and tonally, the Root seems to be going for a stately, moderate approach," he writes. Which is a real nice way of saying, boy oh boy, a big national newspaper gives itself a chance to break its own established mold of text-heavy, amateurish design slips and...we get this. A website that looks like one I created for kicks in middle school (And now I'm revealing my age, aren't I?)

I'm sorry to be so vehement about this project. But despite all the great content promised, I don't think the Washington Post Co. should have let this website launch looked like a website made in 2008. Instead, it looks like someone took a CMS (Content Management System for non-technophiles) and went haywire.

It's confusing. It's bottom-heavy. And it's not eye-catching at all.

The Los Angeles Times' headline for Sarno's review was, "The Root doesn't reach far from the tree." And in this case, they're right about that, too.

For a stab at new media, The Root sure looks old.

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