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Web Design and Big-Time Hype: First Impressions of Grantland.com

Yesterday, June 8, was the big launch day for Grantland.com, a new sports and pop culture website that’s the brainchild of ESPN.com’s Bill Simmons, whom the New York Times recently called “the most prominent sportswriter in America.”The site launch was heavily hyped, not only by its creators, but also by fans ofthe writers involved and fans of online journalism in general. ESPN.com even had a down-to-the-second countdown clock running on its homepage leading up to the moment that Grantland went live.

Does the finished product live up to the hype? For one thing, the writing that’s been featured so far is excellent (in my opinion, though as a huge Bill Simmons fan I may be biased). But for the purposes of this post, let’s focus on the website design, an area of Walker Sands’ expertise. Countless new web designs and redesigns go live every day, but Grantland is different. How did the site’s designers respond to the pressure, knowing that millions of eyeballs would be watching from the very moment of the launch?

Well, it seems that rather than trying to match the hype with a fancy, modern look, the designers opted to go in a surprisingly restrained, minimal direction. Grantland is apparently striving to look like an old-school print publication, with serif fonts, classic-looking wraparound banners, and liberal use of white space. I, for one, appreciate the simple feel, which maintains a strong emphasis on the content and makes the experience of investing time on the site very easy on the eyes. This is a huge plus considering the fact that visitors are meant to stay awhile, to take the time to parse through long-form columns and articles.

The counterpoint to be made is that some users tend to equate “simple” and “minimal” with “unprofessional” and “slapdash.” They might not realize that the airy feel of the site was consciously decided upon, and think of the site as somewhat amateurish as a result. One comment online that I saw today even said that the site looked like something anyone with a Blogger account could have thrown together. Ouch. Finally, the homepage banner ads, which Grantland will rely upon heavily to generate revenue, may be an aesthetic problem, as they seem obtrusive without much other homepage imagery to counterbalance them.

Anyone out there have an opinion on the site design at Grantland.com? I’m definitely looking forward to following the site in the coming months and thinking about the role web design is playing in its success or failure.