The New York Times is no stranger to news overwhelm. One might argue that the newspaper—which publishes around 160 stories per day—is itself one of the causes of reader overwhelm with the news cycle. To address this concern, the NY Times undertook an initiative for regular news consumers to easily keep up with the stories that are most relevant to them.
As the first step in this direction, they created a new space within the NY Times iOS app called “Your Feed,” where readers can choose from 24 channels to follow, giving them more control over their experience with The Times.
How does this help to reduce overwhelm? Norel Hassan, Lead Product Designer at The New York Times, believes this change makes the news app experience more like skimming through a newspaper.
“Reading a printed paper is a customizable experience. When you hand someone a paper, they have access to all the stories; they pick out the sections they want and read stories of interest,” she explained. “Maybe while they’re thumbing through, they find a story or section that they didn’t realize they wanted to read! Chances are, different readers will select different sections and stories.”
It’s been my job as a product designer at The New York Times to take this idea and translate it to your phone.
Reason for redesign? Readers’ choice
While the product design team was exploring options to make the NY Times digital experience more enjoyable and less overwhelming, they ran some experiments to determine what resonated most with the readers.
In the research conducted, they presented participants with four hypothetical customized features: “Archive,” “Follow,” “News you can use” and a “Queue.” By presenting different ways of surfacing customized content, the team had a breakthrough.
“The biggest ‘ah-ha!’ moment came from in-person research we did to explore what a customized space within our digital experience could look like. Our initial hypothesis was that readers wanted a better way to save content, but in the end, we discovered that the ability to follow different types of content was the greater user need,” explains the publication.
Through our research, we also learned that users were interested in having a space separate from the home page that delivered a customized feed of content.
Limit the number of stories: A counterintuitive solution
“With previous messaging experiments, we learned to limit the number of stories we delivered to readers,” Norel explained. “Too many new stories resulted in users ignoring the feature. Readers said it was too close to their real email inboxes and it made them feel like they were working through a to-do list, instead of catching up on their interests in an enjoyable way.”
Interview after interview, users discussed how they feel overwhelmed and want solutions for navigating a nonstop news cycle.
The app experience within “Your Feed” takes into account this pain point and strives to strike the right balance with channel topics. There are just enough channels to satisfy a range of interests, but not so many options that it would overwhelm the users.
The New York Times also took a call not to draw content algorithmically, because it could inundate users’ feeds, since there may be dozens of stories published on a particular topic in a given week. So the topic-based channels (Climate Change, Health & Fitness, Space) are curated by New York Times editors who ensure the feed delivers a diverse selection of stories.
Over the next several months Norel and her team will be adjusting the channels on offer, expanding how readers can follow channels and adding new features to “Your Feed”.
“We’ll be watching and listening closely to how readers are engaging with the channels,” she said. “We’ll also continue to explore what a customized space within The New York Times means by testing new features that will help us determine the future of Your Feed.”
To check out the NY Times “Your Feed,” download The New York Times iOS app here.