Business Strategy

How thousands of readers shaped the Guardian’s redesign, and what your company can learn from it

How thousands of readers shaped the Guardian’s redesign, and what your company can learn from it

One of the most visited news websites in the world has a new look, and thousands of its readers had a hand in the redesign.

Last month, the Guardian unveiled a fresh, updated website, theguardian.com, for its US readers. The new site has the hallmarks of a typical relaunch: more white space, more readable font and bigger photos. What’s even more remarkable, however, is the very open process by which the respected news giant approached the refresh.

Wolfgang Blau, the Guardian’s Director of Digital Strategy, revealed to Fast Company that the new design was driven by 26,000 pieces of feedback it received from readers. “We actually launched the beta version of the new site back in February, eventually moving over a full 5% of our global audience to the new site as it evolved,” he explains.

At a time when media companies are struggling to build and keep their audience, more media brands are relying on customer intelligence for competitive advantage. The Guardian’s redesign offers some important lessons on how to work with your customers and harness insight that drives business results. (Our upcoming webinar with Allure will explore a similar topic: how companies can engage the empowered customer.)

Here are 4 critical customer engagement lessons you can learn from the Guardian’s redesign process:

  1. Involve your customers early.

Whether they’re co-creating new products or asking for feedback on ads, many companies tend to engage customers in the latter part of the process. That was not the approach that the Guardian took. While the final design was rolled out in October, customers have been involved since February, when the news outlet released the first draft.

“We got feedback from readers that there was just too much white space,” says creative director Alex Breuer about the first version of the redesign, “It took a lot of [customer] feedback to find the right balance of density, discoverability, and speed.”

By talking to its users, the Guardian also discovered that site speed needed to be a higher priority for the design team. Of 17 potential issues with the Guardian website, load time was the second most important to readers, according to a survey. With that information in mind, the Guardian made website speed a higher priority for the project.

If you’re serious about treating your customers as partners in your business, make it a point to involve them as early as possible. As the Guardian demonstrates, getting customer feedback in the beginning can help you balance the various needs of your customers—and it can reveal insight that is fundamentally critical to your project.

tweet-this_0If you’re serious about treating your customers as partners, involve them as early as possible. (CLICK TO TWEET)

  1. Manage customer expectations.

Asking for input in public comes with some obstacles, particularly when customers are not familiar with the design process. Blau talked to Digiday about the challenges of designing in the open:

Users and colleagues take a beta version of the site at face value — if something’s wrong, they think it’ll be like that forever. We’ve had 25,000 comments, and sometimes we’ve had to reassure them it’s not the final version. But overall, the benefits far outweighed the risks — such as revealing too much to competitors.

One of the benefits of having a secured and private online community is that it allows you to work iteratively with your customers. Since you’re working with engaged customers , you can better manage expectations and explain what you’re trying to do, without the risk of showing competitors what you’re up to. If you decide to take on a more public approach—for instance, through crowdsourcing or by getting the general public involved (as the Guardian did)—it’s even more critical to communicate frequently and clearly to increase the quality of responses you get.

  1. Reveal what you’re doing with people’s feedback.

Instead of simply collecting feedback, companies today need to embrace transparency and share what they’re doing with people’s input. That’s exactly what the Guardian did, opening a blog where the team regularly updated readers about the project. The blog became a critical communication tool where the Guardian’s team solicited feedback, shared progress reports and explained the team’s design process.

The Guardian’s development team even published a lot of its work on GitHub, a website where software developers can share code with friends, co-workers and the general public.

Your customers today are more empowered than before, so taking a transparent approach to customer intelligence is smart. Don’t just ask for input—let your customers know that their input has made a tangible impact to your business.

  1. Remember your company’s own business goals.

The Guardian’s new look isn’t just about its readers. A critical aspect of the redesign was streamlining the process for journalists so the news outlet can be more nimble.

From Fast Company:

Guardian writers are no longer hamstrung in the ways they can present multimedia: the new backend allows them to embed video, music, or other multimedia content into a story easily. That used to be a giant headache. This same backend also allows Guardian writers to collaborate with each other and their editors, making it easier to get breaking news through the pipeline while it’s still timely. That affords them the luxury of being more bloggy when it’s called for: the new Guardian backend makes it a lot easy to curate content from across the web.

According to Blau, the new site also allows the Guardian to offer advertisers more attractive and timely products:

The ad industry is moving toward time-based metrics, so the new site gives us the ability to offer that. The modular page design also allows us to insert more high-impact, full-screen ad formats across the site. Previously, we’d only been able to show these formats above or below an article, or on the homepage.

While it’s important to get your customers’ insight, don’t lose sight of your internal processes and your own business goals. In fact, customer intelligence should begin with a business objective in mind. Only by having a clear goal in mind could you see maximum ROI from your customer-engagement efforts.

tweet-this_0Customer intelligence should begin with a business objective in mind. (CLICK TO TWEET)

With 27 million unique visitors, the Guardian is a media behemoth. Its new US site will allow it to take advantage of native advertising and other revenue streams. And by engaging its readers, theguardian.com finally looks like it’s from this decade. More importantly, the redesign meets the usability and performance requirements that a growing media company should have in place for its readers.

Want to learn more about customer engagement? Join our webinar featuring Allure and see how the award-winning beauty magazine engages today’s empowered customers.

Photo: Screenshot taken from theguardian.com, November 12, 2014

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  • Bluto

    And now I suggest you read all the comments by readers of the new design to get a completely different view of the reader feedback.
    http://www.theguardian.com/help/insideguardian/2015/jan/28/welcome-to-the-new-guardian-website

    Hardly any of those commenting like the design, to put it politely. The Guardian have been told the same for over a year but have just ignored the comments about poor readability, etc.

    So The Guardian now has a design it wants not a design the readers want.

    It will be interesting to see the impact on the number of hits the new site has but, given the difficulty of navigating the site…….

  • Redski

    I would really love it if The Guardian “embraced transparency” and revealed the feedback from readers during the development process. I suspect it was all pretty much ignored.

  • Vaceron

    The Guardian has been hawking this site for quite a time now and the production version barely looks any different from the original beta so I’m not sure who they’ve been listening to.

    For a newspaper, the design is pretty bad: the front page has lost the short summary text for articles so it’s much less clear what you’re clicking on; the fonts are inconsistent and badly sized on the desktop (I always have to click down at least one size when viewing the article, but then up two sizes when viewing the comments); on a tablet the text stretches across the width of the page and leaves uncomfortably small margins.

    When I gave feedback on this some months ago I described it as looking like it was designed by an untidy teenager with bad eyesight and nothing has changed since then.

    At least up to a few days ago, they let you opt back to the classic site (although more and more articles only had the new look which led to a very jarring experience) but this option has totally gone now. This is a great shame as the Guardian has been my newspaper of choice for many years and I made a point of buying the hard copy daily to support the site. That’s over now: the Guardian is dead to me and I’m using other news sites.

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