The New York Times

Description

Researching psychological concepts to distill design principles and provocations for a bulletin module in the “For You” personalized space.

Role

Product Designer

Timeline

July - August 2019 (5 weeks)

Tools

Figma

Design Question

DESIGN QUESTION

How might we create a space for recurring content that bring value to the user every day?

Clarifying the Problem

Exisiting For You Space

The New York Times has an existing space for personalization, but it's rudimentary in function: an endless feed of suggested articles. Users can select a few of their interests, and the Times will suggest articles within those topics that they might enjoy.

Users can fine tune their interests to inform the algorithm.
Opportunities for signaling new interests throughout the For You feed.
Understanding the Problem

The Times focuses on readers' jobs to be done, or the most important priorities for the Times’ app in terms of promoting reader engagement and driving subscription growth. My team saw an opportunity where three value propositions that weren't being strongly demonstrated by the product and the "For You" space could potentially fill that gap. I was asked to figure out how to fill that gap.

Show that the NYT is worth paying for
Create products that readers can evangelize by established thingness
Provide daily value
Content that is relevant, informative, current, educational, and helps readers make decisions
Be a good fit for me personally
Relevant content, easy to access and navigate, relatable, shared values

Leaning on user research, we identified the most important type of user to bring these value propositions to. Level Me Up users are users that don't keep up with the news and aren't sure what kind of value they can get from it. Not only are they the largest segment, but there is also the greatest opportunity to make them a long-term reader. I recognized, however, that the only way to make this conversion happen was to give these readers a simple way to create a habit out of our rich library of recurring content.

PROBLEM DEFINITION

New readers of the New York Times don't have the familiarity with our content to tell us their favorites, creating the need for an entry-level experience that introduces them to what we offer while giving them consistent value.

Competitive Audit

While other news technology is rapidly evolving, looking at other news organizations did not inspire innovative approaches to engaging the Level Me Up user. Rather, I had to expand my search and find where the best refined context experiences were.

Competitive Audit

To serve as the foundation of our product explorations, we looked towards other applications of habitual content suggestions across different spaces.

Medium frames their habit block in terms of a “Daily Read” that challenges readers to accomplish something
Google News emphasizes personalization by including the user’s name while attemtping to surface the top five most important articles to the user
Calm restricts their content suggestions while focusing on the concept of a “Daily Calm” that gets people used to meditating consistently

Driving Habit

Initial Feedback

With the target user being someone who does not recognize the value of the Times yet, I realized the need to showcase the richness of Times recurring content. The Times wants to make the user feel like they can find value in their subscription every day, thus increasing retention and attachment to specific columns.

To accomplish this, I leaned on learnings from Nir Eyal's book, Hooked, to guide the creation of a habit-forming module.

Group of students helping refugee children paint a housing shelter
A roommate's friend going through an exercise with the Figma prototype

In the framing of Eyal’s book, the trigger is both internal and external. Internally, users feel the need to be informed about events that their peers talk about. Externally, the Times sends a push notification informing the reader that their Bulletin has been refreshed. Acting on that trigger, users open the Times app and read the content in the module. Since the recurring content in that module is some of the best that the Times has to offer, the reader will experience variable rewards as the information makes them feel accomplished and competent. Finally, the more that the reader stays consistent with their daily Bulletin, the more they invest in their personal reputation for being an informed individual.

Recognizing Constraints

In order to start visualizing the Bulletin, I audited the Times' library of recurring content. I wanted to understand how recurring content is distributed across topics as well as its consistency in order to turn this concept into a feasible product.

Audit Insights

The audit revealed some very important insights about the constraints of the Bulletin.

  1. At the moment, there aren't enough columns to cover every topic. This means that we shouldn't frame the block as a space for you to find all the things you like, because we won't meet expectations.
  2. Some content recurs weekly, while some recurs monthly. We need a way to balance this fact with the needs for the module to provide value daily.
  3. There will be some times when we can't guarantee personalized and quality content.

MVP

Acknowledging Constraints

Given these constraints, I designed the Daily Bulletin to start out by suggesting only our top 25 most popular recurring content modules, which readers can customize based on their preferences. In an ideal world, we could address users’ interests and intelligently suggest columns based on reading history. However, this was not within the scope of engineering and thus a simplified Daily Bulletin functioned as a minimum viable product (MVP) that would teach us about the efficacy of this strategy.

Convenient

Users find their daily bulletin at the top of the page. By default, the bulletin contains the most popular Times content, as well as a relatively new product, Spelling Bee, to direct users towards lesser known products.

Customization

By customizing their daily bulletin, users can select their favorite recurring content from a collection of the most consistently valuable content offerings we offer.

Seek Feedback

While we identify new opportunities to deliver valuable recurring content from the rest of our content catalogue, users can suggest new additions at the buttom of the customization screen.

Other Facets of the Daily Bulletin

As I thought about the future of the Daily Bulletin, I understood the need to think about a richer experience with a more diverse collection of recurring content offerings. Within this ideal experience, it’s necessary that users be properly introduced and that the module can properly adapt when content offerings are low.

Introduction

As a newer reader of the Times who does not yet have an attachment to the content of the Times, I decided it was important to include an introduction to the Bulletin.

For a lighter introduction experience, we offer samples of the types of content that we offer and invite them into a more in-depth collection of rich content offerings.Users can fine tune their interests to inform the algorithm.
Opportunities for signaling new interests throughout the For You feed.
Low Content

Sometimes content offerings based on user interests will be low, and we’ll need a way to still provide value to the reader without providing a list of recommended readings. Here are a few ways that I proposed we accomplish this:

Make users feel a part of a larger community by introducting social insights to past readings they completed.
Excite the user about their habit by previewing content arriving the next day.
Offer random snippits of value while introducing users to new recurring content forms they may have looked over prior.

Lessons Learned

Adapt your communication—every audience values something different.

I did many design presentations throughout my internship, and I got a lot of experience talking in front of people I didn't know. In the beginning of my internship, I found that sometimes my presentations didn't resonate as strongly with people. I slowly realized that everyone in the company was coming from a different background and had different priorities. Over the summer, I began structuring my presentations differently based on who was in the room.

Seek feedback every day, and make it pointed.

One amazing component of my internship was a close relationship between me and my manager, as well as me and my mentor. I regularly shared my work with them and talked through my process. While I asked for feedback each time, I realized that asking a general question can sometimes lead to getting feedback in the wrong places. The best feedback comes from contextualizing your request so  the other person understands what would be helpful.

Make things happen by seeking information yourself.

Some managers hold your hand, some don't. Often times, it's the latter. During my internship, I learned that designers are never given all the information they need. The missing puzzle piece could be found in a totally different department or deep in the Google Drive of someone who used to work on your team. As an intern, it's important to build the confidence to reach out to people who don't know you to ask questions that are essential to answering the right question.

Other Work

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Photo of Lyft Logo
USC Health Center Redesign
SUMMER 2020 • RESPONSIVE WEB
Led end-to-end product design on an incentives feature aimed at promoting rider growth.
CONTACT
spencegblood@gmail.com
CONNECT
MANTRA
Keep it simple, but significant