So, I thought I might provide a few reasons that shaped the fairly unique design of headline card-over-image for the TNR site.

First, a brand consideration: The visual language for content sites has evolved to a point of homogeneity - beyond some subtle type and layout decisions, the article pages of most publishers look nearly indistinguishable. If you ask a user what site they're visiting while covering up the masthead, most couldn't tell. Couple that fact with increasing traffic coming in from social side doors (instead of a heavily branded homepage) and many publishers become anonymous in the eyes of their visitors. So our goal with the design of the TNR article page was to be intentionally unexpected and recognizable. This extends to ways images in-line are treated as well as signature type choices, but the headline area is obviously designed for maximum impact. We don't need to worry about countenance or click attraction in this instance, because you've already arrived.

To your point re: TNR's attitude, ("The design puts TNR’s own ideas and words between us and the subject."), this too was an intentional editorial decision. One of the guiding tenants of the rebirth of TNR under Mr. Hughes was a reverence for the written word, the cornerstone of the TNR brand. Through this lens, yes - the idea is more important than the image.

Finally, and perhaps most simply, a tactical decision: TNR did not traditionally have great photography to accompany its great writing. If you've been around long enough to remember the previous site, imagery tended to be small and generic. Sure, there has been a recommitment to great editorial photography since Mr. Hughes and Mr. Barnett have taken over (the POTUS cover story being a great example), but the increased metabolism of the site in general meant that many of the pieces would be relying on wire or stock imagery, which would lack the editorial punch the brand deserved. So our design solution allowed for less-than-stellar superfluous header images because the image became part of the article's texture and shape.

That last point is most critical: the images that run at the top of the article are intended to be superfluous to the user's understanding of the story. They are meant to be used in a cheeky, alluring, (intentionally) provocative way (This Rand Paul article being a perfect example). If an image is paramount to the story being told, it should appear in full within the body of the article.

Really enjoyed the post,
Ryan McManus,
Creative Director, Hard Candy Shell