Toronto Star digital editor John Ferri on the paper’s new web and mobile site design

Yesterday, the Toronto Star unveiled a vastly redesigned website and new mobile site, as you can see below.

Yesterday, the Toronto Star unveiled a vastly redesigned website and new mobile site, as you can see below.

Before After

As it does, Twitter reacted to the redesign, with users and journalists weighing in. I reached out to the Star's digital editor John Ferri via email to ask him a few questions about the new design, what content management system they're using and how they hope the new designs will improve user experience and journalists' workflows. 

J-Source: To put it mildly, The Toronto Star’s online home looks different today. Can you give us a quick rundown of some of the new features users will see on the site?

John Ferri:

  • The left-hand nav. The more traditional horizontal approach in our previous design wasn’t particularly effective so we’ve switched it up and uncluttered it. There is, for example, no Home button but very few readers seem to miss it.
  • “Shatner" boxes. The new design allows us to cluster related content in thematic boxes. They’re called Shatners because the prototype featured a photo of Capt. Kirk and the name stuck!
  • mystar. A tool that allows readers to personalize their experience. They can follow specific writers, bookmark stories for later and register to comment. (Slate, which uses the same CMS, has a similar feature.)


J-Source: The Star’s mobile website has been overhauled as well. What were the important things the team considered when designing the mobile site and what does it mean in terms of the Star’s emphasis on mobile reporting?

JF: Our goal here was simple. We wanted to create more consistency between our web and i-phone mobile apps. The new design is cleaner and easier to navigate, just a better user experience. We are obviously looking to increase our mobile readership and exploring further opportunities, including mobile as tool for crowdsourcing.


J-Source: The Star was running on the TOPS content management system prior to this, but I understand you’re on something new now. What are you using and how will this change or improve the newsroom workflow?

JF: Our new content management system is Adobe CQ5. It’s a considerable leap forward in terms of functionality and allows us to take a constantly iterative approach to web development, meaning we plan to introduce new components and features on an on-going basis. Workflow is smoother already. For instance, building an entire topic page now takes little time and effort by comparison.


J-Source: What does the website redesign mean in terms of the Star’s digital focus moving forward? What types of storytelling does the new site lend itself to?

JF: A big discussion as we move to a paid content model is how to approach story-telling in ways that are unique, distinctive and, most important, specific to the web. That means more moving parts: video, interactive graphics/data-visualization, crowd-sourcing, etc. It seems illogical to expect readers to pay for content they can get elsewhere.


J-Source: Finally: does all of this mean details on the much-alluded-to paywall are imminent? What can you tell us about that?

JF: The process that led to the new design started long before the Star considered seriously moving to paid content. Those discussions are underway and we’ll share the details once we work them all out.


For a further look at the Star's new site, I put together a super-short tour of the new site: