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More Layoffs at The Outline, Months After $5M Funding Round

John Bonazzo, reporting for The Observer:

A source told Observer that the cuts included two staff writers, two front-end developers, an executive assistant and a revenue associate.

The laid-off staffers were notified in a series of early morning meetings that were scheduled last night. The remaining revenue staff is also taking pay cuts.

The source also noted that The Outline plans to slash its freelance budget despite the dearth of staff writers. The site will likely move from its current Lower East Side office to an undisclosed WeWork location.

Needless to say, fewer staff writers and a reduced freelancer budget are a bad combination. There’s been some great work at The Outline, and I’m always disheartened to hear of good publications struggling financially. But I can’t help but wonder whether The Outline would be doing better if its design weren’t so reader-hostile. Their regular articles still use those squiggly animated horizontal and vertical rules. They feel like some sort of eye test or challenge — “Can you read this text next to an animated squiggle?”

And they have irregular articles that are just bizarrely designed. Casey Johnston — she of the MacBook Pro keyboard saga fame — is my favorite writer on The Outline staff. She recently wrote a story about two friends who were in a pool when it was struck by lightning. I found the story incredibly annoying to read — so much scrolling, so many blocks of all-caps text. Because it’s all done with shitty JavaScript, it doesn’t let you use the space bar to scroll. Think about that: the layout forces you to scroll frequently, but their implementation doesn’t let you scroll the easiest way. The only reason I stuck with the article was Johnston’s byline. If it had been a byline I didn’t recognize and admire I’d have closed the tab after 15 seconds or so.

Do I really think bad design is at the heart of The Outline’s financial struggles? No, I guess not. But good design surely wouldn’t hurt.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018