Over the past few weeks, both TechCrunch and Politico have rolled out new, sleeker websites that are more user- and advertiser-friendly.
The agency behind them? New York-based Work & Co, which works with clients like Apple, Planned Parenthood and a slew of digital publishers and media outlets.
Publishing Insider spoke with founding partner Mohan Ramaswamy and design director Sarah Sampsel about creating a compelling product to hit all the necessary notes in today’s increasingly complicated digital advertising world.
The balance between addressing the needs of the publication and its advertisers can be tricky, but Ramaswamy explained the agency’s first step is to understand a client’s business objectives. "We can’t shoehorn ads into the experience. It should be immersive for an advertiser but not [require interpretation from] a user. Interruption doesn’t work,” he said.
“We also ensure that we strategize for a variety of ad units, from traditional IAB standard units to larger high-impact custom experiences that aren't at the whims of the programmatic marketplace.”
Ramaswamy added, “We always have to be sure that we’re designing for transparency — and making it clear to readers that something is paid for -- while allowing for it to still be prominent. In the case of Politico and other premium publishers, it can be great content.”
Ramaswamy noted that the design for desktop and mobile is done simultaneously to ensure best ad placement so ads can be sold together and work within a responsive layout.
From a design perspective, Sampsel takes the homepage into consideration, noting: “For general market publications especially, traffic is often coming in through a side door. They have to think about ways of engaging readers at story level — then think about how to brand yourself in a way that’s authoritative and guides a reader to discover the rest of your content.”
She added, “For very specialized digital publications, like Politico, which is giving critical information about policy and news breaks, the homepage can be extremely significant. Publishers have to understand the best cadence for rollouts and where to devote time and resources on the best experience.”
The type of publication is also essential to the way it’s designed — particularly in Politico’s case. Sampsel said: “When you’re moving from multiple columns on desktop to a single column on mobile, thinking about hierarchy in a smart way is critical.
“For Politico, we had to design modules in a way to ensure people understand the hierarchy of the stories — from the newsiness of it, to the in-depth nature of the reporting and analysis, to sponsored content.
“We created a really flexible grid structure so every module flexes to ensure that across every screen size, Politico is telling the story it wants to tell. We tested layouts for breaking stories, election coverage, developing stories, and how to feature the magazine content across multiple devices.”
She added, “When you’re working with news content, you have to pressure-test. A design for news — which is as real as it gets — isn’t what you concept for in a perfect world. It’s not as pixel-perfect, and the headlines aren’t all the same length. You don’t necessarily have the perfect art for every story.
“It’s really important to take real news scenarios that are happening and test them to get an understanding of how an initial report can explode into 15 follow-up separate stories.”