The Atlantic has a new digital look. The media company unveiled a redesign of its web site on Thursday.
“We felt that the design of the site was not reflecting the urgency or density of ideas and content that we’re creating,” The Atlantic president Bob Cohn explained. “We wanted the site to feel as urgent and relevant as our newsroom does.”
The new site is, in some ways, a return to the old for The Atlantic. When the web site was last redesigned in 2015, it did away with many of those conventions in favor of a cleaner look that used larger images to highlight specific stories. Trading a messy but newsy look for slick visual appeal did not go over so well with the kind of loyal fans who would take the time to compose lengthy e-mails. Readers wrote in to complain, one calling it “a table of contents for the illiterate” and another comparing the homepage to “a cancer,” according to a post on the site at the time. Still, despite the complaints, there was no significant drop-off in web traffic in the months following that redesign, according to data from ComScore.
Now, two years later, it seems that those naysayers have prevailed. Changes to the homepage include twice as many stories above the fold, stories presented in reverse chronological order below that first screen, and a column showing stories broken down by writer. Advertising-friendly changes mean more video higher up on the site (although, as Cohn was quick to point out, there is no autoplay) due, in part, to user testing that found that readers were not likely to scroll down as far as the former design called for.
“One of primary motivations for redesigning now is we’re just producing more content in any given day than we ever have, and the old design was really meant to feature one big story with a grand treatment,” Cohn said.
Some of that increased content is, of course, attributable to the frenzied pace of political coverage. According to Cohn, the plan was to reallocate writers covering politics to other beats following the election. “Well, obviously all bets were off,” following Donald Trump’s victory, he said. At the end of January, The Atlantic said that due to coverage of Trump’s executive orders during his first days in office, traffic to the web site set new records with more than 3.3 million unique visitors for two consecutive days. In April, according to data from ComScore, The Atlantic and sister site CityLab.com garnered a combined 19 million unique visitors.
But it isn’t all Trump news driving traffic. This Tuesday, the web site posted “My Family’s Slave,” its lengthy June cover story by the late journalist Alex Tizon. That story helped The Atlantic break its previous traffic record with 4.4 million uniques in a single day, according to the magazine.
“A cover story often attracts a big audience, but this story is just an aberration any way you look at it. But it is consistent with the trend of cover stories out punching on the site,” Cohn said. “As we’ve transitioned to being a company that speaks in all kinds of lengths and mediums, it’s been really heartening to see that the pieces we spend the most time on, big magazine cover stories, are so often the big performers.”