Web critique: VG and the magic of chaos

December 8, 2008

A visit to VG online, Norway’s most read news site, is like exploring a fun fair with a hangover and a kaleidoscope.

With 2,7 million users each week the online version of Norway’s biggest- selling tabloid newspaper is by far the most visited news site in the country (Norway’s total population is just under 4,8 million).

It has been crowned as “the ugliest website in the world’, even by its editor-in-chief, and one innocent glance at vg.no should be enough to make web design guru Jakob Nielsen cry himself to sleep.

VG Online's previous editor-in-chief Torry Pedersen on champagne and frozen pizza

Torry Pedersen on champagne and frozen pizza. Photograph: Karoline Hjorth.

VG has the world’s ugliest website, but the great thing about it is that it lets you discover things you did not know you were interested in.

Other news sites divide their content in neatly defined sections, but we believe that people will drink champagne with frozen pizza if given the choice,” previous editor-in-chief Torry Pedersen told journalism.co.uk.

Chaos is the new order

VG (short for Verdens Gang) went online as early as 1995 and when scrolling down the incredibly long front page it seems like the interface designers never left the 90s.

Every colour of the rainbow fights for your attention as you enter the chaotic left- centered front page.

In contrast to other award- winning news cites like The New York Times or Guardian, vg.no leaves white space little mercy.

Jack-in-the-boxes adverts hide behind every pixel in a super tight grid- based layout with a wall of aggressive animations jumping out to get you as you aim for the screaming headlines.

Who said Scandinavian minimalism? Simplicity? User friendliness?

Browsing- not searching

Strategic prioritising and weighting of news are crucial traits of the site’s interface and provide clues to its incredibly lengthy front page.

Vg.no is designed for browsing – not searching, as only 10% of the users come through search engines, Pedersen told Forum4editors.

You are firmly directed to the most important stories as you enter the front door: Image- heavy multimedia pieces are supported by gigantic unclickable headlines in Times New Roman, with a font size that varies from word to word.

Unlike Jakob Nielsen’s consistency theory VG headlines do not link into stories, instead you have to follow the bright red links below.

eye strain seem to be vg.no's main design feature

Screenshot of vg.no: Eye strain seem to be VG's main design feature

Vg.no’s choice of navigation seems to be yet another feature to defy the dominating norm of web site design.

Instead of placing the primary navigation menu just below the header and above the content, vg.no uses the left sidebar for content category links.

Sharing the banner with two adverts, the header is so modest itself could be taken for an ad.

The navigation colour scheme is confusing and without any logic structure.

Crammed- in adverts in the navigation menu contain their own navigation, which adds to the confusion.

Several links lead to pages with a different structure and design from the front page, making the overall site inconsistent and hard to navigate.

S for success and Social media integration

It is debatable whether Vg.no’s success is achieved through, not despite of its aesthetic appearance.

It hosts some of the best tabloid online journalists in the country and serves immaculately crafted headlines for tabloid lovers 24/7.

Once you isolate the noise from the visual clutter, each story’s body text is highly scannable with clearly marked headlines, sub headers and paragraphs.

Internal page links with background material is spread throughout, with possibilities for reader involvement through debates, discussions and blogs.

And here lies the magic: VG Online has developed Norway’s second biggest social network and actively fronts  web 2.0 features such as blogging platforms, social networks, dating services and diet clubs.

With a staggering number of unique users, vg.no maintains its position as the most read and most profitable news site in Norway.


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