Ten Reasons WashingtonPost.com is Poorly Designed

For too long, I’ve begrudgingly accepted online inconvenience, relying on Google and bookmarks to find what I was looking for. I’ve rationalized about the size and complexity of the job, assuming it would get better soon. I was wrong. I feel compelled to say it:

Washingtonpost.com is a poorly designed website.

Here’s ten reasons, in no particular order.

1. Popunder Advertising
Often when you load the homepage, an Economist or another advertisement will pop up, unless you’ve got a blocker running. It’s annoying and violates online best practices.

2. Bloated Code
The home page is over 600 kb in size, and contains multiple javascript and flash elements.

3. The Menubar
Although I noticed they recently enlarged it, I find the hover-over topical menubar ugly and hard to use.

4. Sprawling, Deep Navigation Structure
Website design convention says you should keep everything within just a few clicks of the home page. Although it may be all technically be within the 4 click minimum, I’ve certainly wasted more than that hunting for an article or feature.

5. Non-intuitive Organization
Looking for D.C. area news? Just click on “Metro”. Except, if the story you’re looking for was published in an “Extra” section, you’ll need to hover over the “Local” button, click on “The Extras” (you better be a regular reader, as there’s nothing to explain what an “Extra” is), then click on your county. There you’ll find some local news, except any local news published in the metro section, or in the front page section, or the real estate section, or online discussions on local topics, etc, etc.

Interested in finding local columnist Marc Fisher’s blog? Unless you can remember his URL (http://blog.washingtonpost.com/rawfisher/), there are several options. If you are lucky, it’s one of the days the powers that be have chosen to post it on their homepage. If not, you can hover over “Local” and click on “Metro.” There will be a link to his blog there, except they only link to individual posts, so you’ll have to know it’s a blog. Another option? Hover over opinion, click on “columns&blogs.” Again, if you are luck they are “featuring” him, but chances are you will have to scroll down to a forest of huge pull-down menus, select “Metro & Education” then select Marc Fisher: Raw Fisher (you better know that’s the name of his blog). Did you count the clicks?

6. Feature Mania
Sponsored blogroll, mywashingtonpost.com, post points, slate, cityguide, traffic center, jobs, cars, real estate, school report cards, personalized alerts, day in photos, documentary video, etc, etc. WashingtonPost.com is a website for ever person at every point in their life, and each and every page contains hundreds of links to every other section reminding you of this fact.

7. Hidden Comments
Want to comment on a story? Sure, you are welcome to. Except the only people who will read it are the tiny percentage that will scroll below a “read more” box (sponsored by inform(tm)!) and click on the tiny text that says “view all comments.” By inviting comments before readers can see what others have left, they discourage the kind of conversations among readers that usually happen on blogs.

8. Express? Express Who?
They might be a wholly-owned subsidiary with a dedicated readership and original content, but the only way you’d find the Express website (or any other partner website, for that matter) is by scrolling all the way to the bottom of the homepage and clicking on “Express.” Again, you better be a local, because there’s nothing to tell you what it is.

9. The Most Viewed Mystery
Want to find a list of the “most viewed” articles? If you’re lucky, you’ll notice the tiny list (five articles only) on the side of some articles, or perhaps the tiny text box well below the fold on the homepage linking to a “20 most emailed list.” If you’re really lucky, you find this top 35 most viewed Metro articles list. What’s missing? An easy-to-find most popular page like the New York Times has.

10. Inconsistent Page Layout
The structure of the site’s various sections varies widely, and boxes containing features appear and reappear mysteriously. Even the layout of the ever-important main page varies day-to-day. Print journalists know the importance of perdictable layout to help readers find what they’re looking for – why this hasn’t translated into web design is a mystery to me.

What irks you? Or maybe you are one of the people that helped them win the “People’s Choice” Webby for best newspaper website in 2007?

Author: Rob Goodspeed


  1. i sure as hell didn’t help them get a webby award. the design of the page just before this recent redesign was at least a little better. you didn’t have to dig for as much of the content as you do now.

    of course, don’t try to talk to jim brady about any of this, because in the couple of times that he participated in discussions just after the redesign, he dismissed nearly every comment that was critical of his website. and he made sure to take extra time to lump constructive critique in with the few who were whining. he’s a man that doesn’t like to be challenged…

  2. Please don’t look at the Roll Call site. It’s an Economist Group business, but it doesnt’ look like it. Looks more like a high school web site (albeit with great content). Guess you can’t judge a book by its cover.

  3. I’ve often wondered how WaPo.com keeps winning awards, because of so much of what you’ve listed above. The large number orphaned pages really get me, too. And there’s no consistency between blog and non-blog layout, or comments! Ooh, and remember how for months and months there were no quotation marks or other punctuation allowed in the story comments feature? But there was in the blogs, because it’s powered by TypePad. Or whatever. And until very recently, their site was even worse, from a semantics viewpoint. Formatting lists using bullet characters and line breaks instead of ul’s? Oy vey!

  4. 11. Stupid pagination. You have to scroll down to the bottom of a page to figure out if the article spans multiple pages, and there’s no reader-friendly single-page view (for multi-page articles, the NYT site includes a link near the top of the article, and the layout stays basically the same, preserving line width and text size).

    12. RSS feeds are unreliable. Even if you do know the name of the columnist and where to find their articles, if you want to follow their stuff, the easiest way to do that on any other site in the world isn’t at all useful on the Post’s.

    I’d also include a complaint about how the javascript code they used to detect a change in window size didn’t play nice with tabbed browsers, but I figured out how to kill that in my user.js a long time ago and I don’t have any way of knowing if they still rely on the same stupid trick.

    I second everything about the deep layout and difficulty of finding anything, though.

  5. Another pet peeve:
    To get the list of neighborhood restaurants you have to go to City Guide, not Food and Dining. And then the f***ing City Guide runs really really slowly and makes my browser crash (both Explorer and Safari). Ugh.

  6. Let me throw my “huzzah!” in the pot regarding all the things you listed and add one more that you only hinted at: why the separation between “online” content and “print edition” content? Honestly, the fact that the site is so crappy is probably the top reason why I keep getting the print edition delivered at home. Hum…if I were a conspiracy kind of person I’d think there was something to that.

  7. Has anyone noticed the “PostGlobal & On Faith” section? When did the Post go Washington Times on us? First of all I hate that my local newspaper is bowing to religion. Second, have one section for columnists, not three sections that are terribly confusing to navigate. When you click on any link in the “PostGlobal & On Faith” section it doesn’t take you directly to the column. It takes you to a giant page of links that looks like another website. They need to simplify, meantime I’m loving NYTimes.com.

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