The year for guerrilla user research

“Creating valuable products first requires news organizations to understand the people for whom they are designing. We need to commit to learning what their goals and motivations are, and what they are trying to accomplish when they sign up for a newsletter, download our app, or visit our site.”

Media organizations are increasingly expressing interest in offering paid products or direct commerce to diversify their business models. That might make 2018 the year that news outlets really commit to adding user research to their design process and product strategy.

Creating valuable products first requires news organizations to understand the people for whom they are designing. We need to commit to learning what their goals and motivations are, and what they are trying to accomplish when they sign up for a newsletter, download our app, or visit our site. Then, we need to build the tools they need, and deliver these tools in a way that fits their routines and behaviors. User research accomplishes both of these goals, and can help outlets focus on designing products that have clear value.

But research can only be valuable if it is incorporated by media organizations into their daily workflows. 2018 will be the year we push ourselves to streamline research and turn it into a tool for as many people in our companies as possible.

Here are some simple research strategies media organizations could start trying in 2018:

  • Strengthen the feedback loop. You probably already receive a lot of feedback through your contact and support emails. A lot of it might not be useful— but not all of it is just trolling. Make sure interesting feedback is reaching the right reporter, product manager, or designer.
  • Create time to have conversations with your readers. Even if it is just a weekly conversation with a few people, those insights will add up and you will start to hear about recurring frustrations sooner than you imagine.
  • Before you launch something new, invite a few readers to try it out with you. Watch them as they try to navigate your site, click through that special project, or read your newsletter. Again, patterns will emerge very quickly.

Ultimately, news publications need to find a way to systematically learn about their readers. What does she really care about? Why does she read our newsletter? Why does she trust us? These are the questions that will give us true insight and a vision for our product strategy, which should ultimately be guided by the question: How can we help her?

Feli Sanchez is a user advocate at Quartz.

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