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Design Driven NYC: #redesign, #usability, #consultancy, #rebranding

Posted on October 22nd, 2015


10/20/2015 @TheNewSchool, 66 West 12th Street, New York, NY

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Four speakers talked about the important of #UX design in product development:

In the first presentation, Scott Stein & Eamonn Bourke talked about the redesign of the #USAToday web site and mobile apps. Three years ago USA Today redesigned their pages while keeping their focus on the news with increased use of user-generated content.

They wanted to retain design components they thought were successful such as the headline stack on upper right and have similar functionality to what already existed in 2012. They also felt that native apps were the best way to deliver different types of content for each platform. The responsive design would concentrate on the home page. Despite this, they wanted to create a common look across platforms. One example is a live logo in the upper left which is changed daily to summarize the big topic for the day. The design was also done with a goal of making a common look for all Gannett publications, both large and small.

The first page has a newspaper layout. Following pages have visual breakouts so users are reminded where they are in the app/site. Tablet apps snap from page to page while phone apps scroll. They wanted to naturally include in-line galleries and in-line video. Social media is imbedded within articles. The navigation conventions were adjusted to be consistent with the device, so Android users see the usual Android navigation conventions, while Ios users have Ios navigation tools.

Their usability tests have guided their design

  1. Users scan headlines with images being of secondary import
  2. Users graze off the front page. They don’t swipe from story to story
  3. Instead they go back to the front page to go to the next story
  4. Users want a sense of hierarchy indicating the top stories
  5. Despite the ability to create immersive, full-canvas ads, most advertisers found it more cost effective to say with more traditional ad placements.
  6. Mobile users often prefer text to videos

In the second presentation, Rohan Golkar, Jake Lazaroff , and Jan Cantor talked about the consulting projects at NewsCred to increase customer interactions.

They call their concept “Customer centricity”  = what customers value most + what drives the most value for businesses. The approach involves

  1. Prioritize customer challenges, not features of the site: know what problem you are trying to solve. To do this give teams challenges and let them take ownership of scoping and validating a plan. Try to make things fit together. Set up Key Performance Indicators.
  2. Listen and observe your customers. Observations are especially important since users don’t always say what they really want. Conversation –> Observation –> Inspection. They talked about a calendar app in which they initially moved information from the display into a hovering tool tip. Despite the improvement in the look and feel of the app, they found that users were losing this information when they took screen shots to send to others who did not use the app. As a result information was lost in transmission. To remedy this, they added an export function. They also take engineers and designers to their training sessions so the engineers and designers develop empathy toward users.
  3. The minimum viable product should not be just your first release. It should be every release. Scope small, fail fast and iterate early and often. Shipping frequently feels great and makes customers happy. Requires a fast feedback loop.
  4. Measure and make measurement part of your DNA. Focus on metrics.
  5. Customer centricity is a team sport – trust and transparency are keys to success. In-app presentations should announce when new features are introduced.

Jules Ernhardt @ustwo then gave his view on the present and future of design.

Besides creating #MonumentValley game, ustwo has worked on a variety of projects including watch faces for Google and VR guidelines for Google cardboard developers.

Currently, Jules sees independent design studios acquired by larger firms which consider design an important part of product differentiation. He, however, sees challenges on maintaining the integrity of design within these larger shops. Eventually he sees a return to consultancy.

His larger picture of ustwo and other design firms is to develop the capabilities to develop products as well as pure design work. This requires multiple disciplines: engineering, branding, etc. One way to do this is to become a digital product studios working in the areas of

  1. Consultancy
  2. Venture work
  3. Own IP

When asked about the maximum size of such a studio Jules said that, 100 to 120 people would be a good size. (This is similar to the size anthropologists find in tribal groups as space and time limits our abilities to create strong social bonds to everyone in a larger group.) But studios can replicate the model in different cities. The balance is to generate enough money and profit to risk venture work.

In the last presentation, Talia Fisher and Ben Gelinas @JackThreads talked about the rebranding of the site. This involved moving away from a purely data-driven design to develop a brand using data-driven methods.

The move was initiated in response to the following changes

  1. The flash retail market was dying with fewer leftover things to sell
  2. New leadership
  3. Need to differentiate from other brands

The data driven design process included the following

  1. Daily and hourly goals
  2. Data -> insights -> design
  3. Myopia as a result of some findings: e.g. A/B tests indicates that heads of all models should not be shown when modeling product. The site looks crowded with an infinite scroll of objects at the bottom.

Efficiency can mean the inability to create a brand (in the extreme, all firms come to the same conclusions and all sites look identical)

  1. Too much and no visual hierarchy.
  2. Too tall so logo takes too much space
  3. Not distinct enough

As a result of the changing business environment, they decided to launch their own clothing line. This requires branding and requires them to cut down on the items they carry and create a better user experience.

They wanted a sense of quality that encourages discovery of a personal style. So they first concentrated on global navigation redesign to improve usability. They worked on the big pictures. So the redesign might affect conversion rates and bring down revenue per session, but branding in this case took precedence over metrics.

  1. The Home page redesign – less content, but more impactful.
  2. Move to highlight just one thing. Targeted shoppers could navigate to where they want to go.
  3. Use elastic scroll so users get from one page to the next with a short scroll.
  4. Data > insights > brand lens > design

Need to balance data with their design to create a brand

Cannot test brand loyalty with A/B testing in two weeks.

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