We made NEWS reading experience more personalized and much more interactive!

Saiteja Kudligi
15 min readJul 2, 2021

Hola, Hope you’re doing great.

I’m back with another case study. But this one’s a quite different one!

It has tonnes of memories, Lots of surprises, A gang of 5, 48 hours straight, two sleepless nights, one problem statement and finally infinite Thrill 🔥

Confused??

It’s a HACKATHON!!!

I’ve recently participated in a UX design Hackathon. We’re a troop of 5. We’ve to select one problem statement, and have to design a solution within 48 hrs !!!

We started the hackathon with a general Hi, How’re you stuff and jumped straight into picking the problem statement. There are 8 problem statements in total. We had a discussion and picked the one that would challenge us and make us push to our limits.

Duration

48 Hours

Industry

Productivity

Our Troop

Saiteja Kudligi (me), Nishi Diwan, Anwito Das, Sandeep Prabhu, Hariharan.

-Team Night Breakers

Problem Statement

There are multiple news sharing apps used by a single user and are often spammed with notifications which cause users to miss important events across the Globe. A news sharing app wants to help users find relevant and important news easily every day.

Plan of Action

Next, we devised an action plan to roughly define our design process. We listed down all the steps that we thought could be useful in this particular scenario as below:

  • Assumptions & Hypothesis
  • Desk Research ( Competitor Analysis, Statistical & Behavioral Analysis )
  • Primary Research ( 1vs1 interviews, Surveys )
  • Research Analysis (Empathy Maps, Personas )
  • Ideation & Brainstorming (HMW method/Crazy 8 Technique)
  • Wireframing
  • UI & Prototypes
  • presentation (Video + Report)

As we have just48 hours to complete the entire project, we allotted roles while keeping in mind how we can best use all our team members based on individual strengths and set some rough timelines to keep ourselves in check and make sure things are done in an orderly manner.

My role

I was curious to take part in each and every part of the research…

So I stretched myself a bit more and extended my contribution in all sections.

  1. Desk Research
  2. Primary Research
  3. Ideation & Brainstorming
  4. Wireframing
  5. UI Design & Prototyping
  6. Video Presentation

Assumptions

The first thing we did after understanding the problem statement was to put all our minds together and start jotting down everything that we thought could be true about users and the product. This would help us explore our problem statement in different aspects and give us a baseline understanding of how we might tackle the problems.

The assumption about users :

Before jumping directly into solving the problem, We drafted some assumptions based on our previous experience (of using NEWS apps) and we jotted down how users might feel while using NEWS apps based on our assumptions!

  • Users might be getting overwhelmed by seeing a lot of notifications
  • They may end up clearing all notifications instead of going through them. Or they may end up turning off all notifications or even uninstalling the app
  • Users might not be app-specific i.e., they can switch to other platforms if they are not satisfied as there are a bunch of options available providing the same news
  • The increased number of ads and videos in the middle of news might cause distractions which may stop the user from using it
  • Too many categories could be overwhelming for users to browse through what they actually want and they might want some customization to their feed.
  • Users might want to be updated about what going’s around them i.e., mainly focussed on local news or regional news.
  • Apart from adults, these days teenagers and young adults might also be equally interested in using news app to stay updated about the world happenings as they like to be aware
  • The behaviour of the user while using the app and category of news might depend on different age groups. All age groups might use news app but their viewing criteria would be significantly different.
  • Users might prefer push notifications of only important news based on their preference instead of getting random alerts

The assumption about Product or Business:

  • With the introduction of features that mimic social media (like reels, etc.) (popular among 18–24) they have lost the main motive of the news apps where users only want to be updated about genuine news.
  • Nowadays, news apps are spamming notifications with a lot of irrelevant news.
  • News apps are providing the TOP STORIES section to help the users to know about the top news.
  • The news apps have started to give different news from different newspapers and news channels.
  • The product would want more users for the app by making it more interactive.
  • News apps have started to show more Ads on their content to generate revenue.

Hypothesis:

After brainstorming over our assumptions for some time, we came up with a few hypothesis statements that listed possible solutions to the problems we could derive from our assumptions. We would, however, need to validate these later in our secondary and primary research.

  • Users would be interested in getting a feature like “Thunder headlines” where they get a custom feed of a quick 2 min overview of the news based on their interests and preferences.
  • Assuming that different age groups would have different interests, apps can collate content with respect to different age groups or especially have age-identified sections for the younger audience who might not be interested in politics, business.
  • Most of the users have a packed schedule throughout the day, so we assumed we can introduce a built-in voice assistant for users wanting to use the app on the go while walking, jogging, or even visually impaired, etc. This way users won’t have to specifically take out time for reading.
  • Since the product would want more interaction to their app, they can introduce a feature where users can connect with other folks over the globe to share their views, etc
  • Based on our assumptions, we think users might be getting more annoyed by the constant ads while reading the news. We are yet to find more info for solving this.
  • As per our assumption, the product would want more users for the app by making it more interactive and we are yet to find more info for solving this.
  • Users might be getting overwhelmed by seeing a lot of notifications and we think we can somehow limit the number of notifications or control who-gets-what

Secondary Research

We split the work among team members and went over the available resources on the internet, books, research papers, etc. to validate our hypotheses and find out if we were going in the right direction before reaching out to the users.

Three of our team members opted to go with desk research and the remaining two with Competitive analysis.

Inferences from Desk Research

1. 52% of people feel that push notifications are an annoying distraction and 26% think it’s beneficial if they alert about things they are interested in while 20% think it’s productivity-enhancing.

2. The users are evidently annoyed by the ads, more than half say they would be willing to pay to get their content without ads.

3. A large 80% of the users feel distracted by advertisements and are willing to pay to remove ads

4. The users would tolerate notifications to an extent if they are personalized to their preferences. Bulk broadcast particularly loses their attention.

5. The most common age group using the news app was 35yrs+ and age group 24–34 (39% and 33% respectively)

We narrowed down all insights from desk research to the ones that validate/invalidate our hypothesis statements and made a note of the statements which could not be validated via desk research.

Competitor Analysis

Since none of us ( our troop ) was current primary users of any news app, we thought of doing a quick run-through of five apps available on the play store to familiarize ourselves with the experience. Sandeep and I opted to go with Competitive analysis.

My individual contribution

I’ve selected three trending news apps and jotted down the Pros and Cons of those apps.

This helped us to understand the apps and their features while before starting our primary research.

Here are the few inferences from competitive analysis

Primary Research

Once we had a better idea of the grounds we were covering, it was about time we reached out to the “real users”. To get the best insights, we scoped down our target users based on what we found from desk research as below:

Target audience

Next I, along with my teammates, gave our opinions on what we wanted to know from the interviews and prepared a session guide that would help us.

User Insights

We decided on who could find our target users and based on that, each of us interviewed 1–2 people.

My individual contribution

I’ve interviewed three hobby users of NEWS apps. They roughly use these apps 1 - 2 hrs a day.

User 1
User 2
User 3
Insights got from the User interviews done by my teammates

Inferences from Primary Research

  • Most users don’t receive a lot of spam notifications, they only get some notifications that are related to their reading trends and they are not bothered with these.
  • Many users complained of a complex UI and complicated categorization, which made it difficult to find what they were looking for.
  • Some users prefer discussions or interactions about the news they read with others or on the app itself.
  • Almost all users were unhappy about the unwanted advertisements and videos in the app. They could not focus on the main content.
  • The majority of our users were not willing to pay extra for a paid premium plan, even though they were distracted and annoyed by frequent advertisements.
  • The users who have a specific reading interest/category do not like the amount of content that is not relevant to them meanwhile the users who are casual readers like to explore each and every category and also clicking push notifications sent by the app.
  • Few users showed interest in listening to audio/video news instead of having to read the whole article while others did not feel very comfortable with the audio/video feature.

Hypothesis Validation

Final validation of our initial hypotheses after primary research

  • As per our assumptions and validation from desk research, we were sure that notifications are a negative point in this business since companies tend to overdo it which annoys the users, but it was only until the primary research when we found that a majority of users actually find these notifications helpful for as long as they are relevant to them.
  • The introduction of reel-like presentation of content which should have brought millennials closer to the news app was in fact making it difficult for users to find their way into the preferred section of news and instead, having to scroll until they could find something they want to read.
  • On the basis of our hypothesis about business, we assumed they would want more engagement on their app. While we weren’t able to validate/invalidate this during our desk research, some users voluntarily showed interest in wanting to have discussions or get more engaged with the apps.
  • In the initial hypothesis, we identified advertisements to be an issue, which was validated via desk research that users would rather pay than have to watch repetitive ads. But during our primary research, most of our users acknowledged getting distracted by advertisements but did not agree to pay for a paid premium plan.

Research Analysis

Once the final validations of our hypotheses were done, it was time to collate all our research data and scope down to the specifics of solutions. We were able to identify two major groups of users on the basis of primary research:

Empathy Maps

After defining the user sets, to visualize our raw data in a better way, we proceeded with making empathy maps for the two defined groups. We designed these empathy maps from all the insights we got in the previous stages. We collaborated over Figma and did some white-boarding and came up with two empathy maps for our two major groups ( Focussed reader & General reader )

This helped us identify and understand their emotions.

User Persona

After getting all these inputs from empathy mapping, I’ve designed a user persona to give a representation of our target audience.

It helped us to get a clear understanding of user behaviours and needs and define for whom we should provide the solution and what is necessary for them from a user-centred perspective.

For this project, we chose the Focused Reader group to proceed further for solving the problems as it would help in other user group’s problems also.

User persona for Focussed reader

Define Stage

How Might We Questions ( HMWs )

Using the persona, we listed the pain points, frustrations and goals of the user.

Creating a persona helped us clearly see the pain points that needed attention. We listed out all the possible micro-problem statements that we could form from these points using the technique “How Might We” (HMW) to rephrase the pain points and frustrations.

We’ve listed down some 18 - 20 HMWs, Here are the top 5. We’ve picked them based on team voting and the complexity of the issue.

  1. How Might We make sure that users don’t get unwanted ads, but also don’t have to pay for it (any premium/pro subscription)?
  2. How Might We solve users being spammed with unwanted notifications?
  3. How Might We let users customize their data in a manner they benefit from it and increase time spent on the app?
  4. How Might We provide a solution for the users to be able to interact more on the app with others?
  5. How Might We make sure that users won't get exaggerating news?

Ideation and Brainstorming

With the HMWs in hand, our team members had all hands on deck once again to move to the ideation and brainstorming session. All members tried to solve the HMW statements with their solutions and in the end, we voted for the most liked. Out of the top solutions, we had an extensive brainstorming session where we discussed the feasibility and impact of each solution on users and business

💡 Significant Features of our Product

  1. Personalization Page
    First-time users will get an option to answer a few questions based on which the app customizes the Feed of the user. The users can also edit their customization over the content whenever they want.
  2. Discussion Rooms
    Users will have an option to join category-based discussion rooms via Chat Room or Audio Room. So that they can participate and have a discussion or debate over a piece of certain news or a news category.
  3. Personalized Notifications
    * Users can set a timer on what time they want to receive the notifications from the app.
    * They can prioritize the notifications by choosing the categories.
    * They can also decide the number of notifications they want to receive per day.
  4. Paid Premium Plans
    For the users who want to stop the advertisements that come up while using the apps, they can upgrade to a Paid Premium Plan. However, if users are not willing to pay, they can also get upgraded if they :
    * Invite their friends onto the platform, or
    * Rate the product on the play store

Connecting Solutions to Insights

User Flows

User Flow, by definition, is the path taken by a user on a website or app to complete a task. User flow is important to get visualization of the bigger picture of the product.

Wireframes

Based on userflow, we’ve drawn pen & paper wireframes.

Iteration

After having the rough sketch of Wireframes, We had a group brainstorming and listed additional features and necessary Add-ons based on the remaining HMWs.

  1. Changed from Hamburger menu to bottom menu — to improve user experience
  2. Removed notifications on the top right - As it is not playing a key role, So we’ve shifted that to the profile section.
  3. Improved Personalisation page - Added a feature of prioritizing notification on the basis of the category. We’ve added an option so that users can select the Average number of notifications they want to receive in a day.
  4. Added a whole new feature of the discussions room to the navigation. Where users can join Category-specific Audio & Chat rooms. There, they can debate and discuss.

Visual design

After completion of Wireframing, As the clock is ticking, we’re running out of time. It’s 3 AM in the morning. All of us are sleepy 😴💤, As we already didn’t have sleep on 12th Jun night 🦉.

So, we split our team into two and worked on different sections, to speed up our process.

Nishi and Sandeep worked on Report drafting and adding Wow factor in the report. Anwito, Hari and I started designing UI screens.

Final Solution-Prototype

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FUTURE SCOPE

Language translation

Based on a few user insights, it was noted that some people prefer reading in regional languages only. To let users translate the native news into regional languages, we can add a translator feature to the product.

Extension of Discussion Rooms

We could not get into the comprehensive design of our discussion rooms since it was a side feature (and well, time obviously!). In future, we can do a dedicated extensive designing of the social-media-like discussion forums with added features like comments, polls, etc., consolidated in the news app.

Interactive Notifications

Since the product wants more user engagement, a way to achieve this could be interactive notifications in all kinds of ways. For e.g., giving users the option to perform some actions via the push notification itself, or revise notification content to attract users, etc.

As much as we are delighted to have completed the hackathon, we are equally mindblown at what timelines can make us do. We were able to complete a whole project within 48 hours and apply all our learnings while collaborating with others to get to the end result.

We learned about how we can manage time and take decisions based on what limited resources we have and also hack our ways through all blockers and Last-minute Surprises.

We were looking for a challenge at the beginning of this and the hackathon has surely done it justice!

We connected over Discord for 48 straight hrs, So many chit chats, sleepless nights, crazy moments, tonnes of memories and finally

From strangers to THE NIGHT BREAKERS !!!

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