The Chicago Tribune Website Redesign

Project Overview

For my fourth project at General Assembly, I worked with teammates to redesign the online presence of the Chicago Tribune. We applied the design process to develop a user-centered solution that can bring the newspaper back into realm of relevant media consumption.

  • Team: Reed Henning, Lyann Pimentel, Nic Lombardi
  • Duration: Two Weeks
  • Deliverable: High fidelity clickable prototype

The Challenge

Our first objective was to understand the current state of the Chicago Tribune, and discover why the newspaper was selling so poorly. We also sought to uncover what was “relevant” in today’s world of news media, what methods of delivery were successful, and why.

In an increasingly always-on digital age, the demand for instant and free news has severely disrupted the standard print newspaper model. This is particularly pronounced for older, more traditional media offerings that are struggling to compete with fresh mobile-first or innovative web news platforms. Historically reputable publications such as the Chicago Tribune are seeing their readership and ad revenue decline steeply.

Our challenge was to investigate this trend further, and find a way to bring the Chicago Tribune’s content back into the hands of millions of Chicagoans by making their content delivery more relevant in the new digital age.

Research

We began by investigating the current landscape of news media delivery, and diving deeper into the thoughts, feelings, behaviors and lives of the users that we would be designing for. We sought to understand…

  1. What is “relevant”?
  2. What are the current behaviors of users, and what drives them?
  3. How does the Chicago Tribune fit into this picture, and the lives of users?

I. Ethnography

In order to gain an understanding of what the conditions were currently with print newspapers (The Chicago Tribune’s original asset), we visited newsstands in the city of Chicago, and the suburbs. We talked with shop owners, and some readers about their experience with print news.

  • Hinsdale News Agency: Lyann visited this news outpost near the Metra, where a mostly older demographic purchases print newspapers. The store owner reported selling around 50 papers a day, and that foot traffic in the store peaked during morning and afternoon rush hour.
Hinsdale News Agency
  • Ogilvie Transportation Center - Hudson News: I took a trip to OTC to talk with the manager of the Hudson news store, Livia. She reported that Tribune sales were half of what they were last year (100 less copies). Since all of the newspapers raised their prices to $2.00 and above, all sales dropped dramatically. Now, people almost exclusively only purchased the Sun Times, solely because they have kept their price at $1.00.
Hudson News
  • Main takeaway: People are no longer willing to pay for news. Even though the Chicago Tribune is considered more reliable and comprehensive than other papers like the Sun Times, users are not willing to pay the higher cost, but will willingly sacrifice on content quality.

II. Survey

We posted a survey on our social media networks, reddit, and craigslist to gather more information on the current habits and behaviors of users concerning news and media consumption.

Some of the questions we asked in the survey
  • Response Trends: Users reported consuming nearly all of their news online, all from free sources. They also expressed an overwhelming discontent with the amount of bias that they perceived from major news outlets.
Some responses to a survey question asking about user’s least favorite attribute of the news that they consume.

III. User Interviews

We interviewed 7 survey participants who provided their contact information. We chose interviewees based on their level of engagement with the news, the types of media they consumed, and variety of habits. Our intention was to get a more in depth view into the lives, thoughts, feelings, and actions of users, and to uncover some of their root causes for action.

In our interviews, we asked open ended questions in order to spark fluid conversation, and get the participants to comfortably start telling stories.

IV. Audit

In order to understand how the Chicago Tribune was currently addressing the needs of users, we looked into the usability, functionality, and relevance of their current digital media delivery platforms. We asked users from our interviews who were Tribune consumers to show us how they used these offerings.

We found a few key problems:

  • The article limit: The Chicago Tribune only lets users read 5 articles a month for free, before locking them out completely. This tactic was not enticing users to purchase, but rather just driving them away to the multitude of free online sources.
  • Pop up ads: Its hard to read the newspaper when the content provider is surprising you with at least two whole page, pop-up advertisements per article. Due to massively declining sales, the Tribune has had to rely more heavily on advertisements, but this method was not well thought out, and potentially damaging to the user experience.

They are doing some things well

  • A responsive web design, with tablet and mobile applications (available to subscribers): If you subscribe to the digital access, your account includes access to the news via a fully responsive website, and downloadable tablet and mobile applications. This makes consuming content anywhere easy and convenient for the user.

However, the applications were clunky, and the interaction design was not intuitive or fluid. Even the most experienced users found using them annoying and unpleasant.

  • Reliable, comprehensive journalism, including local coverage: One of The Chicago Tribune’s main selling points is that it has maintained journalistic integrity in an age when news providers are constantly looking to cut corners, save money, and pander to their audience. More importantly, as we uncovered in our survey and interviews, users acknowledge this fact.

Synthesis

After gathering as much information as we could about the current landscape, and the users themselves, we organized what we learned into insights, personas, and a design direction to inform our solution decisions.

I. Insight

  • Users want to be able to form their own ideas. They are tired of major news sources because of heavy bias and sensationalism.
  • Users are primarily consuming news for the social aspect; to be in the know. They seek basic understanding more often than in depth knowledge.
  • Users value convenience; media that fits seamlessly into their lifestyle, low cost, and mobility. They will always choose sources that provide these over ones who don’t, even if they offer more comprehensive coverage.

II. Personas

We broke the user base down into three personas: The News Hound, the Casual News reader, and the Stumbler.

Stacy, The News Hound, represents a very small portion of the user demographic.
Brad, The Casual News Reader, represents the largest portion of our user demographic
Stacy, The News Stumbler, along with Brad, represents a huge opportunity for engagement with the Chicago Tribune.
Persona Comparison

Moving into our ideation phase, we focused most of our attention on our largest user segments; Brad and Tina. Stacy is already bought into the Chicago Tribune, and does not need to be engaged further. However, we acknowledged that her experience could be improved upon.

III. Design Direction

The design should allow users to receive news and media content in a way that is effortless, so that they, themselves can stay relevant and knowledgeable in their social culture and lives.

Prototype

We held a few design studio sessions and rapidly ideated and iterated feature and function possibilities that would fit into the lives of our personas and satisfy our design direction. After many variations, we arrived at our final concept: A dynamic, personalized layout that adapted to user’s preferences and the time of day. The solution features three depth levels to read in and an internal source comparison tool that enables users to compare the Tribune’s content with other major news sources.

Morning, Afternoon, and Night interface layouts: In order to make the Chicago Tribune more relevant and effortless to users current behaviors, we designed a dynamic display that changes to accommodate the different ways users consume media at different points in the day.

Morning, afternoon, and night interfaces.
  • Morning: An idea we integrated into the morning layout was a “Brief” edition of the morning news, which features short summaries of the main articles of that day. The morning interface also displays a comprehensive weather report. This accommodates users tendency to look at the news quickly in the morning, to get an update and possibly read more on a topic of interest.
  • Afternoon: The afternoon interface is designed for browsing and exploration of news topics, and more entertainment or special interest media. Users reported that they use online news as a way to “kill time” during the day, whether in transit or down time at work.
  • Night: The night interface is very similar to the morning, as it features a “brief” edition that shows short summaries of the major events and breaking news that occurred during the day. This helps users stay up to date and relevant on information that they might have not seen during their busy day.

Media Filter: In order to cater to users specific interests in the same way that popular news aggregators do, we designed a filter option so that they can more quickly be given information that is relevant to them, and their interests.

Media filter

Bias & Sourcing: To address user’s desire to form their own opinions, and disdain for overly biased media, we included articles from other news sources in the design. Users are already going to check other sources if they worry about bias, so we make this easy for them in order to put the Tribune first as the easiest to compare, and instill confidence that they are not just pushing their own agenda.

Providing users articles from other sources to compare

Providing Different Levels of Depth: The majority of users are reading at a shallow depth, in order to maintain social relevance. We included different depth levels to read at in our design, that empower users to quickly stay up to date, or read in depth on a topic or specific article.

  • Topic Pages: Users can follow specific topics of interest, read more on a topic subject, and gain access to articles on a given topic.
Topic Page: Donald Trump
  • Article Abstract: For users that may not have the time for or interest in reading a full article, but still wish to stay relevant on the topic, we introduced an article abstract at the beginning of each article to summarize the main points.
Article abstract at the beginning of text
  • Search: The search bar remains the most prominent feature on every interface, because most users are discovering news through search features and providers. We made this as easy and clear as possible for them.
Prominent search bar

Future Exploration

As we move on to our next project, we hope to come back to this to explore some ideas:

  1. An update of the mobile and tablet application designs, including better interaction design and information architecture.
  2. Integrating the Chicago Tribune into social media and messaging applications/websites in order to increase convenience and meet users where they spend the majority of their time.
  3. Design a weekend edition interface.
  4. A saved article feature in the profile, where users can collect and share information.