There has been a lot of talk lately about realigning high traffic homepages. MSN is currently testing a modified homepage design. There are some major differences then just a new look. The new homepage makes better use of screen space, primarily by changing the placement of several sections.
With the new design they have put more emphasis on their own properties. They moved the navigation from the left side to the top. They have added icons to their most popular destinations. This makes people want to click on one of those navigation options as well as makes it easier and quicker to find where you want to go. Before, with the old design you had scroll to see all the possible options.
They also give you the option of changing the color of the layout. They have chosen a lighter blue with more white space which makes the page easier on the eyes. Although it can be distracting, the new color options give the homepage a personal feel.
With the new design, more emphasis is put on the search box. The MSN search box is now closer to the left side of the page, most likely in an effort to increase the use of it. This should increase the number of people who use the search feature.
The new design is not a drastic change, but it is much simpler. It seems that Microsoft is learning from Yahoo and Google, by spending more time thinking about usability.
The MSN.com beta page is a definite step in the right direction, there are even some subtle additions, try out the new MSN.com beta, and see the difference for yourself.
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