I’m a UX professional, so my personal opinion is intertwined with my professional one, but personally I love the new forums and the site layout. It solves some common problems I have with the current system. For context, I am on a desktop with a 32" monitor, browsing at about 125%. I almost never browse CC on mobile, but I did check out the experience on mobile.
One of my complaints about the current forums is how difficult it is to find them, as they are nested under large categories and you have to essentially already know where they are housed in order to find them. With the new layout, it is far easier to see all of the forums that are offered, which may drive traffic to some of the quieter ones (and also help people figure out which forum is the best for their query). I also very much like the presentation of the forum organization on the left and the latest posts on the right - I feel like prior systems prioritized one or the other, but this one allows you to browse in both ways.
Yes, the list of colleges is very long, but it’s also at the bottom of the page. (However, I would consider whether there’s some way to collapse and expand the list, perhaps in alphabetical sections like A-C, D-F, etc.)
I also really like the navigation once you click into a forum; the streamlined look allows more discussions/topics to be listed at once, so I can look at a glance and see what’s risen to the top. I also like the drop down box at the top left that allows you to change what forum you’re in, which makes navigation through the forums easy (especially if you’re like me and you like to context switch a lot).
One thing I will say is that there’s no label over the second column - the one that has the avatars of 5 users displayed - so I have no idea what that column is. Are those the most popular users in the forum, or the most recent ones? A column label will help there. Also, a minor thing, but it would be nice if the New Topic button followed you as you scrolled down the page, as the topic listing can be quite long and we encourage people to look for similar topics before posting a new one. (Alternatively, you could have a “back to top” button that follows users as they scroll. Actually, that might be better, as the forum navigation drop down is also up there).
I love that there’s a cute banner announcing someone’s first post. That’s super helpful, especially as a moderator, as I always check whether a person is new to the community.
My favorite part by far, though, is the in-topic experience. I love the progress bar on the right side that shows how many replies you’ve read vs. how many there are left to read. The different elements (who posted, the date posted, text) are all clearly separated from each other. I will miss the variety of reactions at the bottom of each comment (to not just “like” but also say you agree, that it’s helpful, etc.) but to me that’s a small price to pay for this functionality. The reply button also follows you throughout so you can reply at any time. I also love that the notifications bell chases you as well so you can decide what notifications you want as you reply.
And oh, the posting experience! A rich text editor! An automatic preview to the right that I can show or hide as I please! The ability to still see the thread, and scroll through it, as I am composing a message!
I have poor eyesight, so I usually browse at 125% or 145%. I agree that there is a lot of unused white space in the experience that could be used to stretch the forums out, reducing the number of lines in each reply and potentially increasing readability, without affecting text scaling (at least superficially). However, white space is also useful in helping people organize information and thought, so some should definitely remain. Also, as noted, the white space is required to make this render properly on mobile phones.
I briefly tested the site on my phone (a Galaxy Note 10+). It looks fine, and would be fine if I just wanted to scroll/read or do some basic stuff, but I certainly wouldn’t want to do extended browsing that way. I think that just depends on what your design intent is for mobile use.
Overall, I like the new system. I’ll check back in with other feedback if I have any.