Inside Story

New name, look for online news

More than 2 million people visit every month. Never been? Better hurry.

On Thursday, the Observer's Web site converts to a completely new format. The new site will be faster, easier to use and more responsive to all that you need to live well in our region.

If I may say so, it's also a visual knockout – a cleaner design, more logical format, bigger type, crisper graphics, larger photos and a fuller screen for video.

I know some of you are saying, “It's about time.” While we have dramatically improved the site's features and content over the years, its basic look and feel have changed only slightly since the birth of in 1996.

These days, our newspaper is as much a digital experience as it is newsprint. Our site, in fact, is the No. 1 Web site in North Carolina for local news and information.

Our new site will offer more breaking news updates, video and reader-comment features that aren't possible in print.

To underscore our evolving nature, we are also giving a new name:

For now, either address will get you to our digital Observer. At a future date, we plan to relaunch as a distinctively separate site with an exciting mission all its own. More on that as it develops.

For the big leap forward Thursday, we enlisted the help of Navigation Arts, one of the nation's premier Web design firms. Based in Washington, D.C., it has designed Web sites for brand names as diverse as National Geographic, Marriott, PBS, the American Red Cross, Discovery Channel and The Washington Post.

Navigation Arts CEO Leo Mullen likes to say that his firm's approach centers on “an almost pathological focus on the needs of the site's users.”

In other words, it only works well if it works for you.

Mullen and his staff spent time getting to know the Charlotte region, its residents and the Observer. They analyzed user traffic to understand how you use the existing site. They reviewed future plans for content and services to make sure that the site will keep meeting your needs.

Through it all, this team gained new respect for the enduring qualities of the Observer brand, now more than 120 years old.

“Ultimately, the design was not about trying to change the look and feel of The Charlotte Observer,” Mullen said, “but to allow the real essence of the Observer to shine through in as clean and unfiltered a way as possible.”

One way you do that is by designing a site that quickly loads onto your computer. will load in one-fourth to one-third the time it takes to load our current site.

That's just one of many advantages. A list of new features (at right) was compiled by Jason Silverstein, director of the Observer's Interactive Division.

“The new site was built from the ground up,” said Silverstein, whose teams customized and reconstructed the site based on the new design. “At first, visitors will notice the big changes like colors and layout. In the long run, it's the little things that will add up to make the largest impact.”

Dave Enna is on the team of online editors and producers that has been putting the site through its test runs for the past month. Enna has been with throughout its 12 years.

Will longtime users of the present site like the new one?

It might be a bit of a jolt at first, simply because it is quite different, Enna said. “But for readers, the site is an improvement in every way. I predict readers will love it. This is an exciting change.”