CNN.com has been redesigned to better translate from desktop to tablet to smartphone.

According to CNN president Jeff Zucker and his team, the redesign cost around $15 million to overhaul the backend.

The color scheme is the most noticeable difference of the redesign. Instead of a two-tone red and white interface, CNN.com will soon use a "more mellow tone of colors: grays, blues, blacks."

But these colors are only temporary. As the stories on the homepage become more serious, the background colors will change, escalating to bright red for breaking news.

It’s part of what CNN.com senior vice president KC Estenson calls the site’s "mood ring."

Co.Design

CNN's Redesign Will Color Code News, Like A "Mood Ring"

CNN’s "breaking news" has never been more colorful.

If you were one of the millions of viewers who helplessly tuned into CNN for "breaking news" during the tragic Boston Marathon bombings, you likely learned that "breaking news" was rarely just that. In fact, the eye-catching headline rarely left the screen, as if the on-air and website graphics were stuck with the "BREAKING NEWS" banner on loop. "It [felt] like a machine that spit out breaking news," acknowledges CNN.com Senior Vice President KC Estenson. "People are often overwhelmed by our site."

On Wednesday, however, Estenson and CNN president Jeff Zucker unveiled a redesigned version of CNN.com that aims to alleviate such headaches on the website, which sees 1.6 billion average monthly page views. Zucker and his team say the overhaul cost $15 million on the backend; it features a cleaner look that highlights a smaller set of stories with splashier, high-res imagery, in a way that’s consistent across mobile devices. But perhaps it’s most compelling design feature is CNN’s new chameleon-esque color-coding system, which is designed to change to reflect its content.

Rather than have a consistent color scheme, CNN.com will soon evolve along with the day’s stories. "Think of it almost like a mood ring," Estenson says. "The site itself will morph based on the news of the day." That means when it comes to standard news, he explains, the site is likely to use a "more mellow tone of colors: grays, blues, blacks." But when "the news starts to become more serious and escalate, the colors will start to change." For example, during the Boston Marathon, as the digital team showed on Wednesday, the background of CNN.com would immediately become caked in bright red.

It’s a novel idea. In the age of 24/7, on-demand digital content, when most of us are desensitized to violence, let alone "breaking news" headlines, media outlets have struggled to come up with cleverer ways to grab our attention. Introducing subtle visual cues like this color coding system is one tool to help the website stand out. As Estenson says, "The design system will subconsciously speak to you…[when] we’re in full-breaking news [mode]."

The question now is how often CNN can take advantage of this color system—before we become desensitized by it, too—and for what purposes. If the screen becomes splashed in red at every hint of breaking news, the system is likely to become less effective. What’s more, the color coding, which the team says is automated with editorial input, could become synonymous with emotion. In other words, rather than the color red being equated with "urgent," it might become on par with "scary," the news color equivalent of the infamous Drudge Report siren—not the best strategy for an industry known for using fear as a strategy to attract readers and viewers.

Marisa Gallagher, executive creative director of CNN Digital, says the red color is "supposed to be [synonymous] with urgency." And she stresses that the company doesn’t plan to overuse it.

"Red is such an important brand color, [but] we’re over-saturating people with it today," she says. "What we want now is more of a calming influence most of the day, so when there is a breaking news event, you really feel it."

CNN is still testing its homepage redesign, and plans to introduce it to the public in the months ahead.

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12 Comments

  • FredInWenatchee

    $15M....I have a hard time charging $2K for a site. Maybe I'll move to Atlanta. :)

  • J_Lillz5

    Seriously -15 million?  

    And their genius concept was for it to change colors like a "mood ring" ??? 

    Gupta must have some pretty good sticky.

  • Ferdinand Senior

    hehe...I had to pause at that figure too...I respect the company that managed to get paid for that job. (which was well done by the way)

  • Mundstrom

    The first thing that springs to mind is, the influence of color on mood is well-documented in psychology. Despite having different results at a cultural level, there are certainly peaks in the data indicating a natural and widely agreed response to certain colors, especially the primes.

    Using colors in this way will undoubtably influence how the user feels about the news they are reading, or tell the user how they should feel about the news they are reading. 

    This goes against basic journalistic principles of unbiased, balanced reporting of the facts. Not that CNN has ever been unbiased, but this is just blatant manipulation of public opinion. Boo!

  • J_Lillz5

    I'm with you. It's starting to stretch the ethics of objective reporting. It's basically giving media control of "truth" 

  • J_Lillz5

    Who is in charge of that redesign proposal
    ? Did they forget that most of their readers want to read the news and make their own decisions on it? They are trying to directly INFLUENCE how people should feel about "current events" by using color psychology? How does their editorial staff feel about that? 

  • J_Lillz5

    whoops.... I realized you kind of mentioned what I talked about in my comment.... I just think it's the opposite of what a serious news source would be all about... that's blatant media manipulation. It reminds me of the story about the JFK and Nixon debate where TV viewers felt they related better to JFK's message because of the color of his tie/ he looked better on TV - but radio listeners thought Nixon won.
    Also... its pretty funny that you guys chose to use the screenshots of the "Gupta: I changed my mind about weed" story when talking about how the CNN redesign is like a "Mood Ring"  :)  and I quote:  "On Wednesday, however, Estenson and CNN president Jeff Zucker unveiled a redesigned version of CNN.com that aims to alleviate such headaches on the website,"        

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  • PBarlowDesign

    Which color will indicated when there is manufactured sensationalism? Can I also suggest a heat map feature, which highlights the amount of entertainment news vs actual news?

    On a serious note, I do think the cleaner, more open design to online editorial is a welcome approach. So many news sites (nytimes.com, huffingtonpost.comtheguardian.com, etc.) try to cram unbelievable amounts of information into poorly designed grids. While news sites do suffer from some unique problems, they still need to find ways to adapt to todays consumption habits. I think the Newsweek redesign was a step in the right direction, and the NYTimes prototype has me excited. Let's hope the new CNN.com can help push this medium (digital news delivery) in the right drection.

  • PBarlowDesign

    Which color will indicated when there is manufactured sensationalism? Can I also suggest a heat map feature, which highlights the amount of entertainment news vs actual news?

    On a serious note, I do think the cleaner, more open design to online editorial is a welcome approach. So many news sites (nytimes.com, huffingtonpost.comtheguardian.com, etc.) try to cram unbelievable amounts of information into poorly designed grids. While news sites do suffer from some unique problems, they still need to find ways to adapt to todays consumption habits. I think the Newsweek redesign was a step in the right direction, and the NYTimes prototype has me excited. Let's hope the new CNN.com can help push this medium (digital news delivery) in the right drection.