A look into how and why Aljazeera.com embarked on a redesign

Al Jazeera needed a refresh; but not the superficial type of refresh that would only focus on the look and feel of the website. We needed to take a deep dive into how we curate and promote content, while revisiting our earlier assumptions about what we offer our users as a digital media network. Yeah, content strategy-light.

First things first: Today we launched a newly redesigned homepage and topic pages for aljazeera.com. Take a look and give us your feedback.

Website redesigns are always scary. It’s the type of release that keep me up at night wondering if our earlier UI/UX premises, new content discovery ideas, and analytics data confirm our improvement theories. It’s been 3 years since Al Jazeera English had a major redesign, and to be honest… the site was getting stale. On all metrics, the site was stagnating. We needed to do a reset on the following:

  1. What UI/UX problems are we trying to solve?
  2. What does Al Jazeera have to offer as premium content?
  3. What workflow improvements can we make on the content curation side?

So rather than starting with design, we started with content and the editorial team. We went to Imad Musa, head of Online at Al Jazeera English, and asked him two simple questions:

  1. Why do you want people to come to your website?
  2. What is your premium content?

Keeping those two questions in mind, we put together a small team of editorial leads, product people, and platform engineers to solve this problem. Three words: Discovery Scrum Board. Our stealth project was called the Hunt for Red November. In line with the 20th anniversary of the launch of Al Jazeera Media Network, we wanted to launch the site on the 1st of November. And yeah, we did it!

The goal was simple. Get unfiltered opinions of how we should re-orient our content. We started with the greatest ideation tool of all time…the Post-it note:

We even got each workshop member to sketch their own vision on how they wanted to organize content on the homepage with marker drawn wireframes. Eventually we compared each wireframe and dotted what we liked on each concept.

Our scrum and Idea board:

We focused our new design on the following:

What is Al Jazeera good at?

Al Jazeera produces high-quality content from a perspective that focuses on the humans at the heart of the story. We have a regional strength in the Middle East, Africa, and the “Global South” in general. Honest and fair reporting with compelling documentary films and long-form content.

However, looking at our old site, this wasn’t clear to our audience. We placed far too many stories on the homepage. As time went on, the homepage became a dumping ground of sorts. With the new design, we tried to ensure that we presented only our best daily & timely content on the homepage. The result is a clearer and far more focused experience for our users.

The old:

The new:

Being a TV channel as well meant that — for many of our users — video was the sole reason they visited our website. But our video experience was slow, glitchy and users quickly moved away from our website and onto YouTube.

So we created an in-play video module that curates the best of our broadcast and web-only content. Look Ma, less clicks! Our users can now watch a video whilst browsing through the diverse range of news, short-form, talk shows, and exclusive documentary content.

Content Discoverability

We had huge content discoverability issues on both desktop & mobile. Getting to good content was a huge undertaking for many of our users. It was almost impossible to distinguish different types of content from each other. With the new design, we tried to tackle this by making sure that unique content types also had unique designs. In other words: Make a video look like a video!

How we used to show a video:

How we show a video now:

Developing stories now also have a new look:

Almost every content type now has a design unique to it.

Premium Content

Al Jazeera does a lot of things, but we needed to focus on our premium content. Some of our premium content would be our deep investigative work, Middle East/North Africa coverage, our long-form documentaries and shows. Give the editors more content control over the homepage. Just lead with good content outside of news. It’s okay, you can lead with an awesome ______________ (plug in non-news content of choice on the top of the page).

This was a big change for us.

Now our editors can choose between different modes, each with their own unique design, to reflect what they think are the most important stories of the day.

An example of this is our new topic card. Editors can choose to include this on the homepage when they feel we are covering a topic particularly well:

What page and/or content experiences are top priority?

With limited time and resources, you can’t tackle every page experience. You can iterate on a couple of select pages, which can then inform other planned pages for design via analytics and event tracking.

For this release we focused on our Homepage, Sections/Topics and Summary pages. These are some are most high-traffic pages. In April 2016, we redesigned our article detail page. We have another planned release for our article detail page with a bit of A/B testing of different modules — in the hope of giving our users a better content experience with better related content.

Conclusion:

Today marks the start of a new chapter for Al Jazeera. And like any new beginning, it brings with it a mixture of excitement and nervousness.

The design of our website will always be an iterative process. As we learn more from our audience, we’ll tweak the design to ensure that we’re giving them the best possible experience.

We hope you like what we’ve done. Have a look and let us know what you think.

Written by Dwayne Oxford, Product Manager for AJE and Praveen Chadalavada, Design Lead