The Globe and Mail’s
mobile future

This is a Q&A, from March 2015, with Courtney Kan about some the ideas I will be speaking about at SND DC in April 2015. I’ve included a some background links here — you can read the published interview at the SND DC site.

Can you tell me some background about The Globe and Mail’s project to reimagine its mobile products?

When I joined the company in the fall of 2010, we kicked of a significant mobile expansion launching a dozen apps across all platforms in a little more than a year a half. By mid–2014, it was clear a refresh of the core apps was needed, and in the Canadian market, competition was heating up thanks to the launch of Montreal’s La Presse+.

Last summer we launched an Android tablet app to test out some of our new design ideas. By the fall, we knew we needed to push the ideas further on iOS. It didn’t hurt that we were getting strong signals that print advertisers were wanting to spend print dollars on a good news tablet app.

Can you share some details about your role Director of Digital Products at The Globe and Mail? How has your previous experience at, working on the debuts of some of their mobile apps, informed your current mobile projects at The Globe and Mail?

At The Globe and Mail, I lead a group of product managers and designers that in turn drives the work of the development teams. That combination of design plus development is critical feature for achieving any kind of success in the digital space, and my time at re-enforced that. I was lucky enough to work with a number of talented developers and designers (including fellow SND DC speaker, Martin McClellan) just as the iPhone and iPad debuted. Designing news experiences for a such massive audience with a smart, passionate team on completely green-field products is a rare privilege, and one that shapes everything else you’ll do.

Your timetable was cut in half for the project. How has the accelerated timetable affected your relaunch plans?

This is one of the few times I can genuinely say a reduced timeline will result in a better product in the long run. News organizations are strange beasts that like to discuss, debate, and procrastinate every little detail. Until the deadline comes. Then it’s all about getting it done. Sometimes the company can’t respond to that pressure. In this case it’s been extremely productive.

But the deadline change also brought three other major design projects into the scope of this one.

A big part of what I’ll be discussing is exactly how do you manage integrating a tablet (and smartphone) redesign with a print and web redesign that coincides with yet another brand new product build. At what point do you sacrifice the design and product features to ensure all the projects will be done at the same time?

What has been the biggest obstacle, outside of the timetable, in the redesign of your mobile products?

Another good question that I’ll be hitting on more at SND DC. While the advertising infrastructure (and those annoyingly resilient 300x250 box ads) has served as a significant constraint, the biggest challenge is translating the company’s idea of what print success looks like into a digital framework.

What input, if any, did you seek out from newsroom stakeholders when brainstorming and developing the new mobile products?

The Globe and Mail has long had a deeply digital newsroom. (The website’s first real editor became the newspaper’s editor-in-chief after his tenure online.)

This effort is being done side-by-side with the senior editors, and the mobile editor is actively working with the developers to assess workflow changes and define features. Our interactive editors are building new charting tools for the tablet and print redesign. And the newsroom, which runs a live news desk, will be adjusting its news meetings around the rhythm of the app.

I couldn’t imagine doing this without the newsrooms involvement.

How are you planning ahead for future mobile and digital opportunities?

Essentially, that is the entire mandate of the product design group.

Along with regular design and feature work, there are a number of parallel experiments running both on the site, and as semi-secret prototypes. The work we’re doing on this app is informed by design ideas we’ve been testing for 18 months. The designs we’re exploring now will lead to a new public features in the months ahead.

Personally, I’m also looking at how services like Uber and Airbnb — along with games like Minecraft — are changing how people behave. And I’m finding a lot of parallels to the late 1800s, in particular to the modern printed newspaper’s arrival, and the effect it had on how and what people considered news.

The conference, which runs April 9–11 in Washington, D.C., is sold-out but you can still join the waitlist or follow along on Twitter at #SNDDC. I’ll be speaking April 10, at 1:30pm.

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