Putting the Reader First: A Conversation with Dante Meick

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I recently sat down with Dante Meick, lead designer at Atlantic Re: think, the creative marketing department of Atlantic Media, publisher of The Atlantic magazine. As technology evolved, Dante learned the UX tools that would allow him to optimize digital experiences and other mobile products that give their users the best possible interaction with content.

Karen: Tell me what you do?

Dante: I sit at the intersection of technology, user experience, business strategy, content and brand. I need to bring all those pieces together and in the end create an elegant experience for the viewer, the Atlantic reader.

My work is driven by the conviction that design is essential to effective communication. I enjoy creating new visual experiences and solving design problems.

Karen: How do you approach a story?

Dante: The various teams involved, from the project manager and the pre-sales team to the content team and design, get together, review the client’s goals and ambitions for reach and influence, discuss the kind of subject they’re interested in covering, then conceive a story that matches their interest and ambition. Then or later, when we have the text and visual assets, we consider the form the experience will take, and then the best UX tools and forms to give the readers or users an intuitive, fluid way of getting around in it, consuming it the way we want them to.

Karen: Do you have projects you’ve particularly enjoyed working on at Re:think?

Dante: Re: think is relatively new. Clients come to us to tell their stories to the Atlantic reader, a brand that is known to have intelligent, engaged, and thoughtful readers. For this audience, the client is almost always asking us to sell their company’s values and expertise to the world, not just talk about how successful they are. An example is JP Morgan, which funded the rebuilding of communities in Detroit. We were hired to tell the story of Detroit as it rebuilt itself from the ashes of deindustrialization and specifically the 2008 financial meltdown using photographs, video, info-graphics, and a deeply reported, multi-chapter article.

Karen: So how does this kind of “story telling” sell a business?

Dante: It’s not really that different from brand advertising in a magazine. The main difference is getting some clients to understand that we don’t do pure promotion or straight advertising, we do stories that they want to be identified with because good stories are the way to have impact on their customers that they want. We have to put readers first, because unless we do the story will not have the desired effect for our clients. Sometimes it takes a while to settle on the best way to serve their business strategy to the user experience, but we always do. Measured by the clients’ own KPIs (key performance indicators), our stories work.

Karen: What advice would you give UX/UI student about entering the job market?

Dante: Make sure their portfolios show a variety of work and work experience. I’m looking for someone who can solve problems. It’s all about solving problems.

 

 

 

 

 

Design Critique: The LIFE Gallery of Photography Website

 

The LIFE Gallery of Photography is a web site whose purpose is to display, license, and sell the work of LIFE’s staff photographers during its 36 years as a weekly magazine, as well as other images in the Time Inc. Picture Collection. From 1936 to 1972, it covered the major news in politics, culture, and the worlds of fashion and celebrity in the U.S. and the world. The gallery showcases a vast array of work by the leading photographers of the 20th century. Many of its images are instantly recognizable.

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Design Problem #1: Bad affordance and signifiers, unclear homepage

It is hard to imagine a homepage that does less to explain the purpose and utility of its site. The only interactive button on it is “Filter Photographs”, which offers some options that are understandable only to people knowledgeable in the field or those who know exactly what they are looking for—a failure of both UX and marketing. The homepage reduces some of the best pictures LIFE ever published to thumbnails, and there is literally no indication to the viewer what the site is other than the word “Photos”.

Design Solution #1: Adding its name, “The LIFE Gallery of Photography,” to the top of the page would be a good place to start, and a subhead explaining what the site is for would be another. A prominent row of hot buttons (right or left column) for each of the various functions now listed behind the “Filter” button need to be put in plain view, each one labeled by a simple word or two, as well as an additional choice for FAQs or more information. At the level under each button, the options given should include a way of retrieving simple explanations of terms and concepts that might otherwise be obscure.

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Design Problem #2: Poor mapping and feedback on the navigation bar

At the top of the homepage, the left-most, therefore primary link is to My Gallery, which a first-time user would not understand.

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Design Solution #2:   The labels should be rearranged and made clearer (especially in the absence of a title and subhead for the page). From left they should read, perhaps, “About This Site,” “Your Selections”, and then “Contact Sales and Support” (as seen below). A better solution would be to rethink the hierarchy of the homepage and its elements once a title and short description are in place. These options might then work best in a row of hot buttons like the others. Also, the About page needs to be thoroughly rethought to make it a user guide to the functions of the site as well as a salute to LIFE photography.

About This Site                  My Selections                Contact Sales & Support    

 

Design Problem #3: Poor feedback  and absent signifiers

When clicking on an individual picture to select it, there is no signifier to indicate that the selection has been moved to the “My Gallery” page, nor even that that is what will happen. The “Share” button is a poor description of the function.

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Design Solution #3: There are many alternatives, given that there is no instruction at all on this page. At a minimum there should be a large call to action that tells the user what to do, for example, “Click to Add to My Saved Selections”. Once a picture is selected, there should be an animated movement that mimics the picture disappearing into the upper right box, which could be renamed “My Selections”. At the end of the brief animated movement, a message should appear, “Saved to My Selections.”