Recently, Google debuted their new experimental Google News interface, named Google Fast Flip. The motivation behind this feature lies in the question, “Why can’t the web function like a magazine?”
After examining the UI, I had some concerns that’ll hopefully be addressed by Google.
Firstly, it is a very slick UI. Everything moves smoothly like butter, and it is a very nifty UI for demonstrations and showcases. But is it an effective way to browse news articles?
When I browse for articles with heavy textual content (like in most newspapers or even Google News), I look for headlines. In the default view of fastflip where the thumbnails are very small, the headlines are too small to read. You could read them if you squinted a bit, but that would make things harder, not easier, to browse for articles. To address this (and probably accessibility), Google displays the headline of the article under the thumbnail. However, if my eyes have to keep shuttling back and forth between the thumbnail and headline, that results in a jarring effect. Yet more work I have to do on an interface that’s supposed to be more “casual.”
Visual Artwork based browsing
The idea of replicating the flipping of magazine pages is interesting. But most pages in magazines are meant to catch your eye. Whether they use beautiful artwork in advertisements, or provocative messaging, the idea is that you have about 1-2 seconds of a reader’s attention, so you better catch their attention enough to want to find out what you’re selling to them.
But this idea doesn’t work on the web, or with fastflip. Most of the articles are bodies of black text on white backgrounds. There is simply not much distinguishing each article, apart from the design of the publication’s website, and occasionally a really beautiful picture which will draw your attention.
On the topic of design and artwork in newsstands, there’s a great TED Talk.
Perhaps some of these designs would make Google’s FastFlip more compelling.