Feedback and Openness Shape the Guardian Redesign

When Pulitzer Prize winner the Guardian set out to redesign its website, it collaborated with the very people it wanted to reach: its readers. Bringing the work in-house, they used “a mix of agile and Scrum” according to Cecilia Dobbs, vp of products, Guardian US.

By releasing a beta with updates made frequently, the entire site redesign was a “very collaborative” process according to Dobbs. After months of research, user input, iteration, and collaboration, the new site went live today. User collaboration was especially important to the redesign, since our reading habits are different than they were 5-10 years ago. Moreover, we all read different things in different ways, whether we’re considered progressive or old-fashioned in the way we locate and read our news.

Guardian‘s new homepage

During a day and age when people get news from any number of sources, including but not limited to Facebook, Twitter, Google News or even email, it might be easy to dismiss a news media organization’s home page, or the news media site altogether. But according to Wolfgang Blau, director of digital strategy, Guardian News & Media, “We are a strong destination. 31% of all visits include a view of homepage. We want users to come visit us more often. We want to create a destination, provide a place to go to.” But there’s a chance not everyone will want to, even though the Guardian‘s newly designed site looks beautiful on mobile phone, tablet, and desktop browsers. Increasingly, our news destination or destinations are not news home pages. Blau appreciates that, “[A] vast amount of users get their news from somewhere else,” saying, “We want to increase the frequency of visits [to].”

Guardian Redesign: User testing “How We Read”

Alex Breuer, creative director, Guardian News & Media, insists that the new site is a result of taking information about how people read, using additional feedback and applying it to the redesign. The Guardian‘s open approach to journalism spurred the process used for the redesign process. When Alan Rusbridger said, “Journalists are not the only experts in the world,” at the Guardian‘s open journalism media portal, he was suggesting that the relationship between readers and journalists should be collaborative.

In the spirit of that openness, and in conjunction with technology experts, editors and designers, readers could follow the redesign progress and process online, at their blog and also github, weighing in with comments, critiques and other feedback. As blog posts from Guardian staff went live, comments would come in, and if you wanted to offer more information, you could complete a SurveyMonkey form.

That open spirit of collaboration was and is evident in the work done by Wolfgang Blau, his colleagues at The Guardian News & Media as well as the many readers and users who contributed the 26,000 pieces (and counting) of feedback about the redesign. According to Blau, they’ve used a lot of the feedback, but they would “always like to use more.”

Early wireframe by Katrina Stubbings, source: Guardian

Guardian Redesign: Addressing Content

Some of the early feedback, according to Alex Breuer, suggested that there was not enough content, and this made people work harder. On a type-only version, such as the one seen on mobile platforms, things looked too cluttered. And while they experimented with the size and quantity of photography, Breuer is quick to point out that they never plastered images on the site for mere filler, but rather they used “images with merit.” The horizontal rows, known as containers, were also changed based on feedback.

Unlike some mobile news sites, that just have headlines, subheads and lead-ins, with row after row of similar looking sections, Guardian‘s mobile site has varied containers from one row to another, making me want to keep scrolling down to see something new.

Various container models, source: Guardian

Design nuances like layout, type density, imagery (or lack of imagery), and color all make an impact, whether you’re viewing a site on a phone, tablet, or desktop. And Guardian wants to give you a positive reading experience, one where you may take a moment to appreciate those nuances, or simply get lost going down the rabbit hole, clicking on one article after another, amassing more and more news in the process. But that’s my reading experience, and my browser preference also plays a role in how I read online. For example, clicking a link to an article at that appears on my Facebook feed opens that link in Facebook’s browser. But rather than reading it there, I’ll open it in mobile Safari, so I can either bookmark it for later, add it to my reading list, or in some cases, turn on Safari’s Reader option and have it as text-only.

Although that’s a reading experience that I adhere to, it may be different from yours. Personally, I prefer that experience over reading in Facebook’s or Twitter’s browser, and I’ve grown accustomed to working that way to see, read, and digest the news. It’s second nature, perhaps because it gives me comfort. Medium is an example of another place where I find comfort. The typography is elegant, I can bookmark stories for later, and if I want to read articles in a browser or app, I can make that choice on my own. Breuer sees Medium as a direct competitor in that sense “…because of their great reading experience. Maybe we can simplify our own reading experience.”

Yes, the Guardian wants you to visit their homepage more frequently, as well as their entire site, but the Guardian‘s redesign has as much to do with offering a positive reading experience for its readers as it does with learning about you, and your own reading habits. Having accumulated a wealth of feedback from users, the Guardian has been able to get your opinion about what works or doesn’t, and Blau is looking forward to phase 2: “custom delivery for each reader” and being “able to see how somebody got here via social media, such as Facebook.”

For this reader, getting to via Facebook will ultimately mean opening the page in any browser but Facebook’s. Call me old fashioned.

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