Based on the content from this post, Redesigning TechCrunch: We Picked This Logo Just to Piss You Off by Dave Feldman, this redesign was largely dictated by AOL's office of consumer experience. Really.
Check out a couple of these quotes from his post:
TechCrunch is bold. It’s raw. It’s fast-paced.
I’ve seen a lot of comparisons to the recent Gawker redesign — mostly fear that we’d follow their lead. I think we’re all too hard on Gawker: they saw shortcomings in the traditional blog format and decided to try something new, something app-like. They got a lot of things wrong. But the core idea is an intriguing one, and I applaud them for taking the risk. That said, the Gawker approach wasn’t right for TechCrunch. If they ran away from the blog format we doubled down, addressing those same shortcomings by refining and extending it.
The overall look & feel reflects the bold, sometimes irreverent nature of TechCrunch. It doesn’t hold tea parties in the backyard or hang out with the black turtleneck crowd at the hippest art galleries. It’s a design that breaks more news than its competitors, that loves the code junkies working 22-hour days to build world-changing products.It's a good thing he sold me on the lifestyle connection to the look and feel, otherwise I might have just gone with my gut reaction that it sucks. Instead we get an Arty Fufkin / Social Network mash-up explanation of how craptacular design is the new black -- or something.