I often say a key goal of any Web site redesign should be to make the next redesign easier. Given the rapid pace of redesign launches among newspaper.com sites in recent weeks, it appears some last-generation design work was aimed toward that goal.

The latest projects launched on the heels of Scripps' (my day job) own redesigns, reported here, here, here and here. We have four more Scripps newspaper.com sites on deck, and will launch all the rest before the end of the year. (Our user experience gurus call this “Project Asphalt” — the sites have a black top, get it? Huhuhuhuhuhhh.)

Meanwhile, we saw launches from:

  • Newsday.com: Speaking of black … well, OK, really dark blue.
  • ChicagoTribune.com: Larger nameplate in the newspaper's style, not a distinct Web logo. Thinking like a marketer, I'm not sure that last part is a good idea. But thinking like a typical newspaper marketer, meaning I would have a budget so small it's only a rumor, maybe a little leverage from the century-old brand can't hurt.
  • LATimes.com: What's black, white and … uhh, just black and white all over? To me, the ink splotches in the header and footer (sure hope that's what they are; otherwise, better get my laptop display checked) are rather “meta.” They say, “We know our reputation as ink-stained wretches in a well-soiled industry, but we on the Web staff are so cool, so far from all that, we're going to turn it into a deconstructionist, ironic design element.”

Below the headers, those last two redesigns, both Tribune Co. properties, share similar structures, much as our own Asphalt designs do. You could argue that such similarities represent a return to the hated old days of cookie-cutter Web sites from newspaper chains, a la the Knight-Ridder designs of several years back, in which even the site logos were cut from the same font.

I'd even cop to that, to an extent, in the Scripps project. Some design elements (body text, ad positions, links, image display, video controls) should just look and work mostly the same across content sites. Choices of theme colors, graphic “furniture,” and content (naturally) should retain some local distinctions from site to site. Designers can spot the similarities between the Chicago and L.A. sites, or among Scripps' new sites, but people in general just want to get what they came for, do what they came to do, on any site they visit.

Update (10:20 a.m. EDT, 8/13/09): My fearless design leader at Scripps, Herb Himes, just weighed in on the LATimes.com redesign: “Very traditional, but well done. Pages visually better than the Trib, although their title bars do not anchor scan points as well. Navigation improvements from where they were.” The only other thing I would add, regarding all three of the cited redesigns, is I wish they had paid as much attention to article page readability (default text size, column width and line height, especially) as they apparently did to index page layout. A text size changer tool makes a poor substitute for good decisions on the defaults.