When the Star’s design and product team began the journey towards a refreshed website back in 2018, the goal was to meet the needs and expectations of digital-first readers and use reader-first design to showcase the Star’s bold, progressive journalism.
Today, thestar.com is designed with the reader in mind. From intuitive article recommendations to sleek navigation to our podcasts and newsletters, every element of the refresh ensures that readers get easy, barrier-free access to the best of the Star.
Kelly Payne, Torstar’s Director of UX and Design, sat down with Angus Frame, SVP of Digital Product, to talk about the strategy behind the new look, how the team’s work was fuelled by reader insights (including hundreds of reader interviews) and how the various design elements work to complement the Star’s journalism.
Angus Frame: What were you trying to achieve with the redesign of The Star’s home page?
Kelly Payne: We had very clear design goals in mind: elevate the site’s design to reflect our high-impact, enterprising journalism and eliminate distractions and barriers so readers can get their news more quickly, and easily discover the stories that matter most to them. Every big decision we made was based on feedback from subscribers and future subscribers. It was a very inclusive and collaborative process.
AF: What exactly has changed on thestar.com?
KP: Thestar.com has evolved rapidly in the past little while. We’ve transformed from the companion website to an advertising-funded print publication into a versatile, multi-platform news destination, supported by an ever-growing base of digital subscribers. And while we have been careful to respect our heritage as we evolved the design, thestar.com today is completely different from the site of only a few years ago.
We standardized fonts and eliminated needless visual clutter. We widened the desktop version of the site, which is more visually pleasing and allows editors to better package important stories. The site is fully responsive — it looks great on all devices, from mobile to tablet to desktop. We’ve also worked to make the site 30% faster, so that readers get the news they need now, without the wait.
We made it easy to find all of your favourite ways to experience the Star’s journalism, from podcasts to newsletters. Our “Recommended For You” tool suggests stories and gets better over time, so if you’re enjoying an article, there’s always more where that came from.
We established a rigorous culture of asking for and responding to feedback from customers — which includes our Star Advisor Group — and nothing is implemented on the site without first being validated by our readers, who are our priority.
AF: How did modern reading habits, especially the prevalence of reading news on your phone, factor into the new design?
KP: Many of our readers arrive directly on a story from their phone, and that’s why we redesigned those pages first, back in 2019. People have very different needs when they come to a news site: they might want to scan headlines, skim an article or spend some time doing a deep read. In the morning, the average reader may spend 20 minutes reading articles and then return later in the day for a quick headline scan. That same reader may come back again over the weekend when they have more time to read the site deeply.
Every element of the design took these preferences and habits into account, optimizing the site for a positive experience no matter what device you choose to read on and no matter how you get to us — through Facebook or Twitter, through newsletters, searching for an article or coming directly to thestar.com.
AF: How does the new design translate to a better experience for a Star reader?
KP: Readers expect that the news on thestar.com should always be fresh. One of the ways this feedback came to life on the site is the addition of time stamps and older content warnings. These tools clearly label when a story was published and flag when it’s older.
We’ve innovated more freedom and flexibility for editors to creatively package the biggest news of the day on the home page, whether it’s a breaking news event or a big, high-impact Star investigation. That means if they’re visiting us multiple times a day, readers will always find something new.
Readers have also come to depend on our trust labels — they appreciate being able to tell when an article is an opinion from a columnist and when it’s a news report. In this era of misinformation and information overload, design elements like trust labels are more important than ever.