Category Archives: Web design

Sun Media’s new insert-paper-name-here redesign


The Calgary Sun today redesigned its website.

Actually, I should say Sun Media redesigned the Calgary Sun’s website. The new site is nearly identical to those of the Toronto Sun and Winnipeg Sun which have already been converted from the old Sun website layout (you know, the one that overused the Impact font and just looked so 90s in general?). Even 24 Hours and the Journal de Québec have most of the same layout styles. uses the old design

Two papers remain with the old, quaint web format: the Ottawa Sun and Edmonton Sun. Expect them to be switched over some time over the next few weeks.

It’s another example of the Sun chain going where Canwest has already gone. National news desks, centralized layout desks that create copy-paste pages, dumping Canadian Press in favour of its own in-house news service, electronic editions of its newspapers, laying off hundreds of people, and now white-label websites whose contents can be copied from site to site with the click of a button. (Not that the old Sun sites were that much different from each other of course, but this just furthers the process.)

In addition to the wider design that looks like all the other newspaper websites out there (in good ways and bad), a mobile version, and what is sure to be an improved backend, the new system allows reader comments on articles (or at least it says it does – I can’t find any articles with that feature enabled).

(via TSF)

Tourism Montreal up for Webby Award

I’ve never really been a fan of the Webby Awards, the anual awards for Web design. It’s not that they charge hundreds of dollars for entries (and then more hundreds to actually attend the ceremony) or because that source of income encourages them to inflate the number of winners, but for the simple fact that the judges for these awards always prefer style (or should I say “Flash”?) over substance.

Looking at the list of nominees, it seems clear that Flash-heavy multimedia ad campaign sites are held in higher regard than genuinely useful boring HTML. The famous websites and bloggers get their nods, of course (assuming they’re willing to pay or their fame is high enough that the Webbys think they’ll add prestige and eyeballs to the event), but everything else seems to be judged on looks alone. In fact, many entries don’t even link to the websites themselves but to special awards pages that explain how awesome the Web campaign is instead of just pointing people to the sites and having them figure it out themselves.

That is reflected in the nominees with Canadian connections. Officially there are 13 Canadian nominees, making Canada the fourth-most nominated country behind the U.S., U.K. and New Zealand, and just ahead of Australia (notice a trend there, perhaps having to do with the primary language of these countries?) Metro has links to them. But nationality is judged by the organization which created the site, not the site itself, so there are actually others.

Here are the Canadian website nominees I’ve found:

  • Tourism Montreal, by local outfit Sid Lee, in the tourism category. Best known for its slick (and expensive) Montreal in two minutes video, it also has an event search that warns you not to use the basic functions of your browser.
  • Adidas 60 years of soles and stripes, another Sid Lee joint, in the fashion category. Appears to redirect to another Adidas site. In any case, it’s a flashy site for a company whose business model relies on being lashy and cool.
  • Visual Dictionary (Merriam-Webster) from Montreal-based QA International, in the education category. A quality nominee that’s both good-looking and useful.
  • Smartset’s Fashion at Play, by Toronto-based Taxi, in the animation/motion graphics category. A completely useless site, it encourages people to spin boxes around to reveal new outfits, and then plays a video. That “unlocks” access to a downloadable ZIP file which contains a desktop background, ringtone and video, all of which are connected to the campaign and aren’t interesting at all. And when you unlock everything … nothing happens. Fantastic. But hey, the boxes spin.
  • 1000 Awesome Things, a Toronto-based one-person blog about things that are awesome, in the personal/culture blog category. (Hear an interview with its creator with Terry DiMonte on Q107)
  • Kaboose, a Toronto-based parenting site, in the family/parenting category. No complaints here.

I should also point out that the Boston Globe’s Big Picture blog, a very simple idea simply produced, is also nominated.

There are also nominees in advertising, video and “mobile” categories, but I don’t care about those (except to note that my favourite remix of all time is nominated as a viral video). Here are the Canadians:

Interactive ad campaigns

  • Russian Dolls
  • Nokia Accessories Portfolio Video
  • The Big Wild Email
  • Let’s Change Insurance – Aviva Banners
  • Coffee Cup
  • Online videos

  • Follow Your INSTINCT (2 nominations: Best Editing et Best Sound Design)
  • The Curse of Degrassi
  • Cyberpresse is hit-and-miss for video

    We’re in the middle of a revolution in the newspaper industry, and even though I’m caught up in the middle of it, it’s kind of fun to watch everyone try to muddle their way through.

    Photographers are learning how to shoot and edit video. Reporters are learning how to blog. Editors are learning how to link. And managers are desperately trying to come up with new ideas that will help save their industry and their jobs.

    At Cyberpresse, they’re pumping out videos. Newspapers are jumping on the multimedia train, creating videos, audio slideshows, photo galleries, podcasts and other things they couldn’t do on paper.

    Part of me doesn’t quite understand why newspapers are trying to compete with television and radio on their own turf. TV has been producing three-minute packages much longer than newspapers have, and it shows.

    On the other hand, some videos I’ve seen demonstrate that newspapers are capable of reaching a level of depth you won’t get on television outside of PBS or the occasional NFB documentary.

    Cyberpresse and its producing partner Top Multimédias offer some good examples for newspaper videos, but unfortunately a lot of examples of what not to do.

    Bad: Rudy LeCours

    Bad: Rudy Le Cours

    In the latter category, you’ll find this sleeper from La Presse business columnist Rudy Le Cours. He’s standing in front of a bright window (which is one of the first things you learn in photography school not to do because it makes the subject dark) and for three minutes and 27 seconds talks into the camera about … I think it’s unemployment or something. I had to be resuscitated a few times while watching it and I don’t remember much. There are no graphics, no charts, no pictures, no numbers. Nothing to make it worth setting up the equipment to have this guy speak text into a camera.

    This video from Mali Ilse Paquin in Italy is also a head-scratcher. The audio is clearly taken over the phone or a really bad voice recorder. And the video is just a series of pictures. A blog post or story with the pictures attached would have made much more sense.

    Good: Marie-Christine Blais

    Good: Marie-Christine Blais

    On the other hand we have Marie-Christine Blais and her “Week-end chaud” entertainment preview. She too is talking to the camera, but it’s clear she and her camera operator are having fun (something I’ve long argued is sorely lacking in a lot of news media these days). Not only is she adorable, but she piques my interest enough that I’ll click on that play button when her face comes up. The videos also put up web addresses of bands that she mentions (although displaying show times would be useful).

    Cyberpresse still has a long way to go. There’s no way to add comments to videos or embed videos on other pages. And there’s no related links on any of the videos like you can find in YouTube video descriptions. All you can do is go to this page and navigate your way through the various videos in a giant Flash application.

    Here’s hoping Cyberpresse (and others) move quickly toward having more fun (if not effort) and way less talking heads standing in front of windows.

    CBC #37 worldwide for blog media links

    Technorati, the service that monitors blogs and tells them whether they’re cool or not, has released a list of the 50 media websites bloggers link to the most. (Via TechCrunch)

    YouTube, unsurprisingly, tops the list, followed by the New York Times, BBC and CNN.

    The only Canadian media outlet on the list is, coming in at #37. This is unsurprising since CBC has been investing in its Internet sites longer than the private media, and it has national television, radio and Internet sites to fuel its news-gathering operation. Plus it has dozens of RSS feeds sorted by topic, an iPhone version of its website (and separate mobile version), it’s got Twitter, and it has a news ticker people can add to their blogs.

    I also like the fact that news stories (which are all open to comments) use Technorati to link to blogs that link back to those stories, which drives (some) traffic to those blogs and makes them (slightly) more likely to link to CBC than another website with the same story.

    If other Canadian online news outlets want to match that, they should start copying some of those features.

    CTV Olympics site goes live

    More than a year before the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics begin, CTV has launched and, where it will have coverage of the games in English and French. (This pretty much seals that RDS, not TQS, will be the primary French-language network.)

    This is the first time in over a decade that CTV will be the Canadian Olympic broadcaster, and so much has changed since the early 90s (this thing called the Internet, for example).

    For its first Olympic website, it does look pretty impressive. That said, I couldn’t get the video player to work (it’s Microsoft Silverlight-based, though I have that installed), and this is what happened when I tried to play with the past medal count widget:

    How dare you try to compare more than four countries!

    How dare you try to compare more than four countries? Behold our grammatically-incorrect error message!

    Fortunately they have a year to sort that kind of stuff out.

    Butter! Living Montreal stays inside this week

    Sue Smith and Catherine Cullen

    Catherine Cullen (right) totally not flirting with Living Montreal's Sue Smith

    Sue Smith, the host of Living Montreal (perhaps the only English television program left that’s produced for a local Montreal audience) apparently ran out of ideas this week and did five shows themed on CBC Montreal and the Maison Radio-Canada.

    Above is some little-known nerd reporter from CBC Radio who on Thursday’s show did a chocolate-chip cookie recipe she got off the Internet. (Actually, it’s my former classmate Catherine Cullen, whose career has now officially outperformed mine, allowing me to make fun of her with the photo below.) They’re actually shown on a set in the basement made by the production department specifically for this segment, which is kind of cute (did it have running water?).

    Catherine Cullen on TV

    Catherine Cullen is just happy to be on TV

    Sadly, too little of the 115 minutes over the week involved actually exploring the iconic CBC building (and too much on graphical segues and plugs for the website). The trips through various offices act more as a backdrop for various food/style/shopping/other chick stuff.

    Still, if you’re a junkie for inside journalism like me, take a peek at these:

    And while you’re exploring the Living Montreal site, you can take a peek at segments from the Flab Gab column which stars The Gazette’s June Thompson, who was brought on board in December.

    P.S. To Living Montreal (or whoever is responsible for its website): Your Flash-based video system looks cool and seems to work OK (except for the minor issue that if I pause a video I can’t restart it …  actually that’s a pretty serious issue), but this post would have been made a lot easier if you had some simple way to copy a link to individual videos. I had to get the ones above through the “Send to a friend” feature, sending myself half a dozen unnecessary emails.

    Mix … err, Virgin Radio 96 launches website

    Behold the cookie-cutterness

    Behold the cookie-cutterness

    CJFM 95.9’s new website is still pretty rudimentary. A list of shows (each with its own really uninteresting blog – posts like “It’s cold outside” and “It’s still cold outside“), and a list of the 1,300 artists on its playlist. Perhaps the most useful thing is the list of recently played songs.

    Lest you think any actual design went into it, don’t worry. Besides the colour scheme it’s pretty well identical to Ottawa’s Virgin Radio website (R.I.P. The Bear 106.9).

    And in case that’s not enough suck for you, well there’s that picture of Ryan Seacrest above.

    P.S. According to Astral Media’s legal notice:

    • You may view the website on only one computer, and it must be at your home
    • You may not view the website for commercial purposes
    • You may not link to the website if your website contains material that “may be construed as distasteful, offensive or controversial”
    • Astral may withdraw a third party’s right to link at any time in its sole discretion.”
    • Users waive all rights to any stories, ideas, drawings, opinions and other materials posted on Astral’s Web site. Furthermore, Users may only post materials which they alone have created.”

    Rue Frontenac launches

    Four and a half days after they were locked out of the Journal de Montréal (too much time for the impatient Patrick Lagacé), 253 unionized workers launched their competing news site, at a press conference at 2pm Wednesday.

    In a welcome message, Raynald Leblanc says the union was willing to negotiate about increasing the work week and moving toward multimedia. But they wouldn’t stand for the elimination of entire departments (the Journal wanted to outsource accounting) and the laying off of dozens of staff.

    Sports has its own welcome message from Mario Leclerc. And Marc Beaudet is doing cartoons. It’s also continuing the Journal tradition of screaming “exclusive scandal” on stories that don’t sound particularly scandalous.

    The site is based on Joomla, and definitely could use a bit of tweaking (Arial as a body typeface? Would it kill you to use serifs somewhere?), especially in the design of individual articles, but it’s a start.

    InfoPresse explains the catchphrase “Par la bouche de nos crayons!” (via mtlweblog)

    In other Journal news

    … and so goes Godwin’s Law.

    CFCF, welcome to Web 1.0

    The new Pulse ... err, CFCF ... err, CTV Montreal website

    The new Pulse ... err, CFCF ... err, CTV Montreal website

    It’s not even that we made fun of CFCF’s website for how bad it was, how it looked like it hadn’t been redesigned since the 90s (actually, its last redesign was in 2004, but that wasn’t much better than its 90s look). It’s that it was so bad it was completely off the radar. You couldn’t link to news stories because there was no archival system for them. Forget Web 2.0, it wasn’t even Web 1.0.

    Well, some of that’s changed now. CTV has rolled out new websites for all its local stations, including CFCF in Montreal. It includes crazy Web 1.0 features like having individual stories on their own pages, links to wire stories, and individual pages for special features. The weather page has actual graphics from the show and even an embedded video of the latest local forecast (which for some reason is done exclusively for the web instead of just taking video from the latest newscast). It’s even got an RSS feed, and the video player is improved (it’s embedded instead of being a popup).

    Looking for crap? Well they have that too. The community calendar page and lotteries page both have that vintage 90s feel to them. The traffic page is nothing but links to Transport Quebec highway cameras.

    If you’re expecting bleeding-edge features like the ability to comment on stories, sadly you’re out of luck. They point you to a contact form if you want to comment on a story. But they include handy Facebook and Digg links, so you can comment on the story on someone else’s website. There’s hints of a mobile site, but apparently that’s available for every local station except Montreal.

    Melissa Wheeler continues the tradition of hot web reporters

    Melissa Wheeler continues the tradition of hot web reporters

    The About Us page includes bios of all the “personalities”, which now (finally) include Daniele Hamamdjian and Maya Johnson, as well as this Melissa Wheeler person, who I’m sure is doing the best she can with this antiquated technology. They also list important executives like Barry Wilson and Jed Kahane.

    Radio-Canada redesigned

    RadCan also rolled its new design into service recently. It’s apparently to spotlight audio and video (which, coincidentally, is what RadCan is all about), but the audio and video player is just as crappy as it was before, mainly because it’s still based on Windows Media instead of Flash.

    NFB website redesigned

    Matt Forsythe wants me to mention that the National Film Board just launched its redesigned website. The NFB has been working pretty hard getting various films online for people to watch them for free.

    One of the big new features is playlists, which includes suggested playlists from experts. It’s a good way to get started if you’re overwhelmed by the selection and want to find something new.

    More details are in an NFB blog post.

    I haven’t had a chance to fully explore it, but at first glance the design seems slick. The homepage is unfortunately a bit cliché: Flash-based main story box which cycles between five items; grid of features below it, each with its own picture; link-farm at the bottom that’s meant more for Google than for human eyes.

    But if that’s the worst thing I can say about it, it can’t be too bad.

    Worst government website ever

    Remember the 90s in website design? The random colours, the clip art, the Geocities horizontal line images, the bad anti-aliasing?

    For all that and more, I give you the Canadian Intergovernmental Conference Secretariat! That’s the organization that supposedly organizes conferences and such between the provinces and federal government.

    Its website, however, looks like it’s for organizing a church bake sale.

    New now live

    Take a look, take the tour, read the note from the editor.

    The biggest change is that it’s wider (setup for 1024px instead of 800px) and it uses its own domain and branding. There’s also a lot of technology behind it that dates from this millennium, which allows you to comment on each article and see which articles are popular.

    Feel free to comment there (or here, and I’ll pass them along) about the redesign, which took about seven months to complete, and is chain-wide (the Vancouver Sun site is also up, and the first review is positive).

    UPDATE: See similar comment threads on redesigned Canwest newspaper sites:

    UPDATE (Dec. 3): And if you need it in marketingese, that can be arranged. Nothing is more hip and in touch with young people of today than a press release quoting the general manager and senior vice-president of digital media saying that “Each execution will be customized and branded to reflect the values and personality of each local newspaper.”

    News sites moving to full-text RSS

    I just noticed something going through my blog reader: The Gazette’s upgraded blogging engine is now putting out full-text feeds.

    It’s a trend (unfortunately too slow) of media outlets desperate for online attention giving their stuff away for free. Looking at other news media blogs, I notice that the majority now are full-text feeds.

    Here’s the breakdown:

    Full-text feeds

    Computer-generated excerpts that cut off midsentence

    • Branchez-Vous (MovableType)
    • Voir (CommunityServer)
    • Globe and Mail (Internal CMS via FeedBurner)

    Manual excerpt (written by the post author), or title-only when none is written