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Design on the Clock

26 Jan 2004 by Jason Fried

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer launched an innovative home page redesign today. The layout changes based on the time of day. They have an afternoon layout (“more links to material that might provoke a smile”), a 4-o’clock layout (“brand-new headlines, traffic cams, stock reports, top clicks and more”), and an evening layout (“at night you’re probaby shopping, gaming, researching or chatting… so, we’ll highlight consumer reporting, shopping channels, game reviews, forums, upcoming events”). They’ve put together a page to explain and diagram the redesign concept. A nice effort at thinking differently about web-based news. Or is it?

Layouts that change based on the clock. Useful or frustrating? What do you think? News at 11.

28 comments so far (Post a Comment)

26 Jan 2004 | stu said...

I like the idea of changing elements depending on the time of day. We used to do that when I designed websites for radio stations. We would change the dj depending on who was on the air. In that instance it worked becasue it tailored the information to a different audience.

However, to change a look and feel of a site is , such as a background color, is a bad idea. Too confusing.

The goal, of this site, is not to be different, but to be informative. Changing the design does notsuccessfully accomplish that.


26 Jan 2004 | Bill Brown said...

They're assuming a static notion of mankind's circadian rhythms that doesn't hold. Lots of people want news headlines at night (uhh, isn't there the ubiquitous "nightly news"?) or traffic cams throughout the day.

That said, I think there might be some areas where time-sensitive layout changes might be useful and appropriate. I just can't think of any right now.

26 Jan 2004 | Joshua Kaufman said...

The layout doesn't appear to be changing as much as the content modules change. I think changing content modules depending on the time of day is a good thing as long as it's consistent. Changing the look and feel of a site is a different question that I'm not so sure about. Minor design changes to reflect the time of day are clever, but changing the page background color seems pretty drastic.

Reminds of a weblog that used some fancy system to change the site header depending on the time of day. I can't remember where I saw it now, but surely someone else can remember?

26 Jan 2004 | joe said...

I think it's a great idea! I am interested to see what their user feedback will be. I think that many big news sites like this one could benafit from some more forward thinking like the SPI is doing. Newspapers have been doing this for years by presenting different content on weekends and specifically a Sunday edition. With all the tools that we have available to us on the web, why shouldn't our sites be just as flexible (and automated).

26 Jan 2004 | Mike said...

Josh, the only blog I can think of that does that is Dunstan's blog over at

I think that there is nothing wrong with changing content based on the time of the day. As long as the layout stays similar enough to not confuse visitors, I think its a welcome change.

Speaking of a welcome change, man does their logo suck.

26 Jan 2004 | John said...

I think it's genius, and very gutsy. Even if the user response isn't as good as they hope, I think it is commendable that they are trying something so different. The web needs more of this type of creative thinking to reach its full potential.

26 Jan 2004 | Brian Drum said...

Adrian Holovaty did this for 6 Weather, Lawrence, Kansas. The illustrations change according to the weather forecast as well as the time of day. Very slick.

26 Jan 2004 | huphtur said...

now if they only went with web standards, it would have been perfect.

26 Jan 2004 | Richard Bird said...

While "time of day" or "season of year" may be interesting concepts, they are hardly useful.

Back in 2002 sometime, BBCi completed a very nicely done redesign in a project they called, "The Glass Wall."

In their approach, the page grid and color scheme responded on two unique dimensions: content and user-specific frequency.

Different content types would be assigned a specific hue (basic color direction). Page grid backgrounds for sub-content responded to frequency of user-specific visits by changing color intensity. The more often a particular content type was frequented, the more intense its color would become -- reflecting its ongoing value. Meanwhile, less-frequented navigation gradually fades from prominence.

27 Jan 2004 | Wilson said...

Actually, Adrian Holovaty and the folks at have been doing daypart layouts for a lot longer than just on the weather site. Every evening (I think around 6pm), the news site switches to a "Sundown Edition" that swaps in a new lead story, pulls in more events and entertainment info, as well as more multimedia content on the front page. It actually ends up with quite a bit of straight news content as well, it just gets compressed. There's also a link back to the "standard" edition.

I think a lot of news sites are looking at their hourly traffic and watching it drop off all afternoon. So there's an obvious service to advertisers in driving traffic with new content in the evening hours, but I think it improves the experience for users as well, by focusing on the relevance of content to the time of day, beyond just the order that new stories are added.

27 Jan 2004 | One of several Steves said...

Funny how things come full circle. This "new" idea was pretty popular 50-100 years ago when newspapers published morning and evening editions, based on new news and different tastes of people reading the paper at those times of day.

So, it takes a new technological tool for newspapers to go back to what they were doing back in the days of lead type and manual typewriters.

27 Jan 2004 | Scott Kidder said...

I know that some of the IBS network of sites (or at least most of them) has done this for a little bit. For example, see

I'm not sure how effective it is, but it's a neat idea.


27 Jan 2004 | cj said...

News sites, in particular, have an interesting hurdle. Traffic tends to spike early in the morning, taper off during the afternoon and then rise again during the evening. Being in the business to make money these sites generally operate under the page views and advertising/CPM model to pay the bills. One must consider how you entice all those computer using office workers to log on and check the site during lunch or later. Changing the content (time based) throughout the day is one way a site might be able to get that elusive single user to become a two or three time user (day).

27 Jan 2004 | Bill Brown said...

I remember being impressed by some changing image for the web site of one of the Batman movies way back when. A check of IMDB indicates that that was either 1995 or 1997.

27 Jan 2004 | Osiris said...

It all depends on the audience. For a news based site that is catering to an audience in a specific geological area, its a great idea. For a blog that is read by people around the world, its probably not as appropriate. However blogs tend to be more personal, so you could have fun with periodic changes that isn't effected run just by the local time of day.

27 Jan 2004 | steve minutillo said...

How do they know what time zone I'm in? Oh, they don't? Great.

27 Jan 2004 | Smiler said...


Surely if you weren't in or around Seattle the site would provide little benefit - I would imagine that they have enough people from the local area visiting to warrant doing it.

I think things like this can work well when a lot of your users are in one region together. Like area focused newspapers.

27 Jan 2004 | ~bc said...

Terribly interesting concept.

27 Jan 2004 | Mike Thompson said...

I'll try to inject some of my thoughts since I helped create the new daypart scheme. Joshua is right above in that the content modules change as much as the design.

Yes, there are some design changes in each daypart. Things basically progress more and more away from our "standard" edition as the day goes on. The 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. updates were actually built off of our old "4 O'Clock News" update page (which was basically a daypart that you had to click to in order to see). We've just simply replaced our home page with it (with a few tweaks).

On the other hand, the page still is very similar to the standard edition. The left nav is the same, the top nav is the same, we still have a main content area with a right-hand column. And our trusty globe still sits atop each page.

One reason we went with such a radically different look at night is because traffic to news sites pretty much sucks at night, as Wilson noted above. We hope that trying something different will attract a new audience (mostly people at home, also a younger demographic) that doesn't usually spend much time on a news site.

We had found that by having and promoting the old 4 O'clock News, people became trained to come back to the site at 4. Now, we hope those people will come back at 1, 4 AND 7.

Huphtur, we are slowly getting towards using "web standards" for the page. The new pages aren't there yet, but they are closer than the existing home page. I'll probably start slowly moving more stuff over as time permits (I only had 3 weeks to go from Photoshop mockups to final HTML, including building the databases and tools needed to build these 3 new dayparts).

27 Jan 2004 | JF said...

Thanks for chiming in, Mike.

29 Jan 2004 | Darrel said...

I only had 3 weeks to go from Photoshop mockups to final HTML

...yuch. Nothing hinders web standards like going from Photoshop to HTML.

Not that you are alone in doing this, as 90% of all projects have taken this route. I just don't find it a process that makes the project receptive to concerns outside of the aesthetics.

Great work, though. I like it!

29 Jan 2004 | JF said...

I only had 3 weeks to go from Photoshop mockups to final HTML...yuch. Nothing hinders web standards like going from Photoshop to HTML. Not that you are alone in doing this, as 90% of all projects have taken this route. I just don't find it a process that makes the project receptive to concerns outside of the aesthetics.

Amen. That's why when we develop concepts and show early designs to clients we always show them in HTML. We actually prototype faster in HTML than we do in Photoshop. Plus, it's much more realistic.

02 Feb 2004 | dave said...

The problem with the afternoon and evening versions is that it's much harder to find the NEWS. The great thing about the morning version is that all the headlines are really easy to follow.

I normally check the entire paper, opening new windows for each article I want to read. With the afternoon and evening versions, I am only able to view the first couple of articles and then a bunch of fluf.

It's a good concept, and maybe I surf differently than others, but it's not a good user experience for delivering news content.

03 Feb 2004 | Brachinus said...

If it was really a good design, they wouldn't have needed to create a page telling people how to use it.

06 Feb 2004 | jazer said...

So true.

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