I met a nice chappie the other day – I think he had something to do with this mob, before heading downunder to run a division of Citizen Murdoch’s online news labs here.

News Corporation’s Times Media division has relaunched Times Online, spending over £10m in revamping the design, editorial, marketing and technology powering timesonline.co.uk.

The new site has been completely redesigned and offers a greater variety of video and audio content, with both a UK and global edition accessible via the site’s homepage.

The publisher has also expanded its world news coverage on issues like the Middle East and US politics, as well as the site’s regular content.

The relaunch is being supported by an ad campaign comprising press, outdoor and digital, which will run until the end of March, developed by Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, with MindShare handling media buying.

“The new Times Online is a living site, and is much more heavily tailored to interactive technologies like blogging. Right now we’re taking advantage of everything the online medium can offer and closely incorporating the strong views of both our readers and journalists,” said Zach Leonard, digital media publisher of the Times Online.

What I do want to comment on is their travel section. You click on the ad you see on the top of this post (it’s about 1/2 way down on their main page) and it takes you to a clunky counterintuitive map. But thats a small problem. What I do find interesting is that they are driving user generated content on travel – a really easy thing to do -by offering a holiday as a competition incentive. The business model is that this section is brought to you by BMW. No, you are not bombarded with banners and popup ads – think more of product placement like in the movies. For example when you get to the travel page, you are in the ‘drivers seat’ of a BMW. So here you have sponsorship/revenue generation and a compelling argument (travel) for people to participate. It’s just a shame they went for a lock down ( you have to use their “email to a friend”, you can’t send a link) and an overly sophisticated, clunky user interface. Forget clicking and dragging the map and putting in tags and all the neat stuff you can do with google earth. Expect popup postcards for the comment sections.

The page you want to check out, probably, is the Times Relaunch: Ask the Designers which you will find here.

Why did Times Online need to be redesigned? What was wrong with it?

JON: The last core redesign of Times Online was back in 2000 and over the years, we have re-skinned the site various times, using the same basic skeleton. It became increasingly obvious over the last few years that this structure wasn’t able to handle the needs of us and our users and didn’t apply itself to the new formats of the web. It was time for a change, and there have also been big technical improvements behind the scenes about how the site is managed.

What did you do on the first day of the redesign process? What was your very first step?

JON: On the first day, we sat in a very large room in Docklands, with lots of creative types, and looked at the web. We discussed everything from YouTube to blogs to Amazon to the BBC to Google News. I’ve been working on the web for over 10 years, and it was one of the most informative, engaging, and tiring sessions I’ve ever been involved in.

TOMASO: The other job was trying to grasp the enormity of the task ahead of us! Newspaper sites are large beasts: our site carries content from two papers, each with a legacy of millions of stories. After much surfing, relentless dialogue and gallons of coffee, a strong and solid design brief emerged. (and so on)

I’ve facilitated a number of those “informative engaging and tiring sessions” and have adored every single last one of ’em.

The rest of the site looked pretty good. A comment option on EVERY page. *peers down at the AFR post* though for me it didn’t look finished – just some links to Newsfeeds and podcasts there. And in my firefox the font doesn’t display well meaning I am squinting at the almost unreadable text. But that’s probably just me. 😛