The Daily Beast: A Q&A

The Daily Beast: A Q&A

Tina Brown's much talked about -- and visited -- online launch The Daily Beast is now two months old. Self described as not just another news aggregate, but as a site that "sifts, sorts and curates"...

"We're as much about what's not there as what is. And we freshen the stream with a good helping of our own original content from a wonderfully diverse group of contributors ..."
In mid-November I got in touch with Brandon Ralph the CD and co-founder of Code and Theory, an interactive agency responsible for the new site's interactive and visual design, to do a Q&A.

Paul Schrynemakers: How did Code and Theory first get involved in The Daily Beast?

Brandon Ralph: Caroline Marks brought us in to meet with Nicholas Lehman to give us the big picture of what The Daily Beast was to be. We were instantly excited and immediately began working on some preliminary creative to Show Tina and team. One week later at the IAC headquarters as we sat down to present our initial creative and as we were doing introductions the alarms started going off. There was some type of bomb threat that led to a full evacuation of the building. We ended up huddling around a laptop at a nearby restaurant in Chelsea which is where I believe we won the project.

PS: Wow, talk about cool under fire (sorry, couldn't resist). At what point in the process did you walk in? What were you asked to do?

BR: We walked in rather early in the process. The Daily Beast team had laid out high level concepts for the products, but we were tasked with bringing them to life: site architecture, wireframes, user experience, workflow process, and of course creative direction.

PS: Hey, give us some insight into the design and planning behind the homepage.

BR: From the beginning we knew we we had to bring Tina's sensibility online. Internally I told the team to think big, this should not feel like any other website but should maintain all the practices and technologies of the web. The creative direction was rooted off a new and unique grid structure that relied on large type and bold images regardless of the size. The open grid structure was also constructed in a way that relied on the design of the product modules to help define the space without forcing modules to align at the base. The homepage has a natural flow. Each module can have greater or less content without affecting the visual design. The content management system that we built allows the editors at The Daily Beast to shift the modules on the page depending on what content they want to surface. It was important that the weighting of the modules could stand alone and or next to other modules with out feeling overwhelming or whimsical.
Below: The home page and its underlying 16 column grid structure and breakout of page components.TheDailyBeast-home-grid.jpg

PS: When I first noticed Cheat Sheet running down the center of the homepage I thought,  "great device to encourage users to scroll".

BR: Right from the start, The Cheat Sheet was my favorite product. It was so simple, different and effective.  More importantly, the name said it all. It was a conscious decision to have Cheat Sheet run down the center of the page as an incentive for the site visitor to scroll, as you noted. The internal grid emphasized type and spacing, locking up the individual cheats. What makes Cheat Sheet so successful are the titles. The Cheat Sheet acts as the great divide and the glue, binding as well as balancing the image-heavy left and right hand columns. We went through countless variations in an effort to avoid making it feel like an ad or a list, just a cheat sheet.

PS: One small thing on the homepage I like is the "randomness" designed into the images under Best Originals. For me, the different sizes bring in a nice looseness to the page.

BR: The different sized thumbnails in the Beast Originals also relied on the open grid structure that we developed. When image sizes and titles fall into a perfect grid, the space feels repetitive and difficult to scan. What we ended up creating was an unrestricted visual dashboard that draws the user in.

PS: OK, no more delay... here's what many readers want like to know. What was it like to work with Tina and her team?

BR: This was one of the more collaborative projects that we have worked on in a while. We had the unique opportunity of actually sitting side by side working with Tina and her team. From the beginning Tina's sensibility was spot on. It was great getting our hands dirty together in this process.

PS: Right, just dirty hands, no real 'dirt', good. OK, got that out of the way, let's get into the site. The Big Fat Story is an great example of an original content format for online. I admire the way it gives users an overview of a topic by connecting curated stories; usrs can dig deeper and leave comments. How did this section develop?

BR: The Big Fat Story had to be the one stop, 360 degree view for a story. We worked very closely with Tina Brown, Caroline Marks and team on many iterations and some iterations of iterations. It was a collaborative process - we needed to come up with a design that worked for all stories. The presentation of the topic is displayed as the anchor to which all the surrounding stories, images, or videos that make up the Big Fat Story are connected.

Below: The 'Big Fat Story' gives users an overview of a topic and connects it to a variety of sources. Users can dig deeper into the story boxes and leave comments.
PS: On Big Fat Story, and throughout the site, the editors use "Link Journalism". How did this factor into the site's overall design?

BR: The design for the Big Fat Story needed to support not only aggregated news but original news, photos and video. The content management system that we built is able to support all of these media types.

PS: On Buzz Board things get interesting when you start filtering. I'm sure as more content get added it will only get better.

BR: Long term we knew that we would have a wide variety of contributors covering a many different topics. We wanted to create a system that allowed the site visitor to sort down the content in both directions by topic, by contributor or by both allowing to surface the archive.

PS: So, any phase 2 enhancements you are working on? I'm sure you can't tell us until they launch, but... (insert raised eyebrow)

BR: We are currently working on some very exciting phase 2 enhancements and expansions but unfortunately can not discuss them until they launch.

PS: Yeah I figured, had to ask.


Code and Theory credits for The Daily Beast:
Brandon Ralph, Creative Director
Dan Gardner, User Experience Director 
Vincent Tuscano, Technical Director
Jeremy Davis, Art Director
Chenta Yu, Senior Designer
Sapna Gupta, Senior Producer

Primary brand work for The Daily Beast: Zomega


If you have a content Web site redesign, feature, applet or new product that is noteworthy or has recently launched, submit it to Paul Schrynemakers is a longtime SPD member and has been a designer and creative director of interactive media design at Voyager, TimeInc New Media, iVillage, and currently Rodale Interactive.

  • Eric Goeres

    Nice one, Paul. The Cheat Sheet is great, talk about usability via simplicity. Big Fat Story is great also -- simple yes all-encompassing. Code and Theory: Nice work, people!

  • kneeko

    I notice that the site has virtually no advertising, currently -- which no doubt provided some welcome flexibility!

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