2015 comes and with it comes a new CNN.com. As of January 1st, we see a website redesign focused on simplicity.
A very mobile-first update. It seems to take a lot of inspiration from recent Apple iOS updates by flattening the color scheme. Gone are the gradients, the subtle mix of greys and yellows. Now we have a very stark black, white, their signature red, and a medium grey mixed in. It actually reminds me quite a bit of the design we just launched for mathnasium.com, with it's color scheme and stark (non-gradient) colors.
The number one take from this is that mobile is the new king. It's not on it's way to being crowned, 2015 makes it official. Even desktop versions of websites look more mobile, and focus on the ease of getting where you want to go. Getting rid of fluff that takes up valuable real estate.
Surprisingly, the page is noticeably longer, more vertical scrolling, and video has been downgraded in two ways. First the "Watch Live" has been bumped down to below the latest headlines and an ad space. And, the video thumbnail section is now near the bottom of the page. Presumably to fit the larger thumbnails and give it more than a 300 pixel wide feature.
Video is widely seen as the primary method to digest media, so it is a notable change that it's been downgraded in such a way. It's quite possible that CNN has done some research that shows that reading is often quicker and more to the point than video (eg. better for users). You can ignore the ads easier by reading, and you can skim. Where as with video you are forced to wait 30-ish seconds before you get what you clicked for, and after that you may sit through another 20-ish seconds of fluff before they even start talking about the purpose behind the click.
I see this as a significant user improvement, and hope that CNN continues it's focus on user-first, mobile-first design. CNN isn't afraid to spend a lot on their website, and we've long looked to them as a cheaper way to get the latest focus group study results than to run them ourselves. When you are working on a budget that isn't in the high hundreds of thousands or even millions (their last major redesign was noted to cost $15 million), the best way to stay at the edge of user-experience is to let the major budgets tell you what they've found out. No need to reinvent the wheel everytime out, because user-experience is always the king, and user's love consistency so they don't have to re-learn where things are on every website they visit.