VG.no: revealing the beauty of an ugly duckling

VG.no is by far the ugliest news-website I’ve come across. And at the same time the by far the most visited website of Norway. Up until today I thought it to be a peculiar feature of the Norwegian internet, defying the normal laws of usability and web-layout that applying on the “normal internet”. I thought it as an amateurish, left-hand production, the success of which more than anything else evidenced what I assumed to be an obviously poor general state of the Norwegian internet.

How wrong I was.

On the contrary: VG.no s enormous success is achieved through, not despite, it’s aesthetic appearance. And it witnesses a thorough understanding of the way you want information presented, when that information is not just information, but “news”.

This was revealed to me Monday by Torry Pedersen, editor-in-chief and ceo of vg.no, at the local Mediekonferencen-conference. Here’s what I grasped from his keynote:

1. Prioritize!
What to think of headlines in Times New Roman, with a fontsize that varies from word to word and in all cases are gigantically large? The answer is: it’s a headline that has been thought about by a human being – an editor, who wants to tell you something, and has a clear sense of the importance of his messaging. It’s prioritized, no doubt. And news-readers like prioritization.

2. Be dynamic!
One of the great virtues of internet-news is the pace. If you’re able to have the breaking news online with the speed of light is a very clear competitive advantage. Especially so, if you’re also able to make this clear to your readers.

3. Give ’em the overview!
Lot of new-pages has a limited number of stories at their frontpage – but excellent search-functions and menus for navigation. This works fantastic for users, who basicly knows what their looking for. However in the news business, readers often don’t know what their looking for (a basic learning for the succes of printed newspapers is exactly that readers very much like the compilation of news newspapers provide, easy to browse through to get the overview). That’s the reason for the very, very lengthy frontpage of vg.no (the worlds longest, according to Torry Pedersen). Vg.no is designed for browsing – not searching.

But does it have to be that ugly to meet these purposes? Probably not – but it both seems to work, and to have helped vg.no to achieve their goals. As Torry put it: it’s about doing the right things – not doing things right!

And is an ugly design a guarantee for succes? Definetively not! But it helps to the extend it gives the content-creators and conversation enablers freedom to do what their best at: creating great content and building relations-ship. Without worrying about aesthetics or limitations of predesigned cms-templates!

To give you an idea of what this is all about, this is what vg.no looked like this morning:

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