- Strategy, UX, UI
Sourced by HuffPost was created off the back of HuffPost Pilot, an initiative created by Oath UK with the main goal of exploring sources of new audiences. In Q1 2017, a memo was sent out to all UK based staff encouraging them to submit proposals for a new content proposition based on a personal passion point or interest. Finalists were invited to pitch their idea to a judging panel with the top three turning into reality and their creator being appointed the Editor-in-Chief. Each winner would be given a budget, access to internal resources and creative freedom. The catch? Success measured against audience and revenue metrics needed to be shown within three months in order for the site to live on.
With the HuffPost brand doubling down on politics and news, it was important to not dilute the tone of the main HuffPost site. In order for the team to be daring without fear of brand damage or failure, each of the winning ideas would be housed on subdomains and on a new platform dubbed HuffPost Pilot.
With the pitching process in full swing, the Product team came together to develop a platform generic enough to take on most ideas but with enough visual customisation and features for each winning pitch to have its own identity.
The first of the winning pitches was ‘Sourced by HuffPost’ – a modern guide to sustainable living.
Role on project: Design & UX lead (Oath)
We believe that by creating HuffPost Pilot on a new, easily scalable and customisable platform, we will allow for ideas to go from concept to reality with minimal effort whilst still providing an engaging content experience with visual front-end differentiation for varying audiences. We will know this to be true when we see direct positive feedback, new sites developed within half a sprint and achieve 333k UVs within each pilots first three months.
Challenge and approach
In order for the platform to serve its purpose, it needed to house all the features expected of a content site, provide the same high quality and engaging experience of HuffPost, but be flexible for each idea to feel differentiated. From a back-end perspective, our modular CMS would give us the ability to create a streamlined editorial workflow for the purpose of the pilot. From a front-end perspective however, creating a site shell that allowed for differentiation but felt relevant to the site content and target audience, without knowing what and who this would be up front, was the real difficulty.
With three sprints available to deliver the first phase of the project, the team broke down the deliverables in order for core pages and features to be made available for launch, with secondary pages and features to subsequently follow. Additionally, in order for the editorial teams to begin their work and to allow time for design to make headway in developing the front-end systems, the back-end would be built first and not in tandem with the front-end. A hybrid lean approach was adopted.
It was also decided that as HuffPost Pilot at its core was about content experimentation, the same would be done with the product itself. The team hadn’t worked on Google AMP or Facebook Instant Articles at this point, had yet to trial new infinite scroll recirculation technology, were keen to trial new prototyping methods, and to test out new page layout concepts. This was the perfect opportunity.
Research and competitor analysis
The idea of creating niche sub brand audiences and later incorporating them into the parent site, wasn’t a new tactic in the world of publishing. The team were inspired by publishers like BuzzFeed and The Independent, which led to the initial business pitch for HuffPost Pilot.
Through our research it was interesting to note the varying levels as to which publishers used their brand power to elevate their sub brand. Publishers like Vice would avoid obvious references to itself and opt for subtle hints whilst The Independent made it as obvious as possible. As a rough rule of thumb it seemed that the larger the publisher, the more they removed association to the parent brand.
From a platform design perspective, through looking into the work of publishers like Mic who approached sub-brands as a one size fits all for their front-end, or Vice who go as far as to create entirely bespoke front-ends for sub-brands, we identified a common theme to creating visually differentiated site appearances. Allow for the use of large scale art directed imagery.
Prototyping and testing
With no identified target audience at this point, the team focused on creating a core pattern system that was easy to use independent of audience, and avoided deviating too much from convention. Templates were tested using live content through our content distribution platform from HuffPost, Engadget, AOL and Autoblog to not only ensure the design wouldn’t break when the subject changed, but also so that the team could test against the breadth of targeted audiences of those brands with the prototypes developed.
In order to do this, once the team was confident with the wireframes developed in Axure, we coded these within the browser to allow for content to be easily switched and for the team to begin focusing on micro-interactions. This method of prototyping being solely operated within the design team was a first.
With the first HuffPost Pilot winner selected and little time to create the brand identity from scratch, the team opted to speed up the process through a brand card sorting exercise. Each person gathered assets based on their interpretation of the pitch and the identified target audience. With the winner, cards were sorted until we had a style that represented and complimented the content subject matter.
The team then applied the brand to the framework already created. Naturally, once we knew our subject matter and audience, the site required minor tweaks. Following further development and user testing on the new HuffPost Pilot platform, Sourced by HuffPost was ready for launch!
In its first three months, Sourced by HuffPost surpassed its targeted goals for UVs and VVs, managaing to achieve just over 50% of the HuffPost Pilot projects overall target. Further testing once the platform was in use for its intended purpose, validated results from prior tests. Qualitative feedback saw an uplift with the brand applied whilst quantitative usability metrics were maintained.
Further sucesseses followed with the introduction of near zero lag infinite scroll (a first for Oath which increased PVs per UV by 19%), a sitewide sponsorship deal with Brita and international rollout of the platform for use by every brand within Oath.
Update: Whilst the site lived on beyond three months, the HuffPost Pilot scheme, unfortunately, came to an end following a change in leadership post the AOL and Yahoo! merger into Oath. Sourced by HuffPost will be decommissioned but the underlying platform will still be used and live on internationally.