Black Web 2.0
E Tu Essence?: An Exercise in Bad Site Design
Oct 29, 2009 Aug 20, 2013

As I write this, I feel like a gossipy girlfriend. You know, the one that's talking bad about you and your momma 'n them behind your back - the only difference is I have the balls to say it to your face as well.  I also feel betrayed by my hero and am in mourning for an era that seems to be slipping through the digital cracks. That's said, let's get to the issue at hand.

Essence.com just relaunched their site, and I can't say that I'm thrilled with what I saw. The site has been retooled to look more like a blog which I don't have a problem with per se.  It just looks like one of those blatant attempts to mimic the gritty, "I just got out of bed" look of citizen journalism and that's because it is. And I understand. The pared down homepage, the large photos with quick and snappy headlines and intro copy, it's all an attempt to reel in those readers that are rabid Bossip, Necole Bitchie, and Concrete Loop fans. But I don't want or need that kind of presentation from Essence.

When I think Essence, I think of sleek, elegant, and glossy, not a blah beige background color (which coincidentally matches the coloring from the current issue of Essence on newsstands, if that was the plan and the background color will change issue to issue, that's pretty boss.) which isn't doing anything for the blue, black, and grey content housed in the white template that's supposed to resemble a page being turned in a book. We get it by the way, this is an offshoot of the magazine. But here's the thing, the content that you have for your Essence Today section, isn't the sort of stuff I ever expect to see in any issue of Essence. There are three separate references to "The Real Housewives of Atlanta" on the homepage.

I come to Essence to escape the mindless drivel, to see articles like "How to Escape an Abusive Relationship" or "Two-Year Journey to Buying Her First Home". While I'm on the topic, maybe you can start putting Susan L. Taylor's old column on the site since it's been M.I.A. from print for awhile now. I miss her homespun and inspiring words. Not to take away from T.D. Jakes, but he's no Susan.

On the multimedia front, the site is  pretty solid. The videos are high quality and the slideshows while buggy are still entertaining and informative. If the slideshows could be updated in real time that would be awesome, especially if there were some breaking news. I'm also feeling the location of the social networking buttons, making it very easy to share and disseminate content with the world at large.

At the end of the day, I'm a fan of Essence. I grew up wanting to be that quintessential woman - powerful, confident, beautiful, ready to inflict a positive change on the world around her. That's why it's tough to call this site design a FAIL, but with a feature bar that sticks out like a hairy mole, I have to. I think the magazine is still trying to find its way in this digital frontier where so many of its counterparts have crashed and burned. They might want to check out Clutch or Honey magazines, which a lot of folks say remind them of a younger Essence.

This is about staying relevant and getting those all important revenue dollars. For Essence, it shouldn't be about an elder trying to learn a young woman's game. You helped invent the game, so people expect you to change the rules every once in awhile. There's a way for you to exude that high polish the print side is known for without resorting to the tactics of the competition. We the millions of readers don't need more gossip or jarring web design, we need and deserve more real woman stories presented in clean, discerning design. We need the essence of Essence.