Improving Medium’s reading list: a UX case study
A concept to better organize & utilize your reading list.
As an avid Medium user, I can’t remember how much articles I have read, saved, and given claps to. I open Medium to improve my skills, discover new things, and simply to write something.
However, my habit of browsing Medium in my spare time has made my Reading List a mess.
I have 100 unread articles saved in my Reading List, because I needed them for future reference, or, I wanted to read them when I have time to do so. But alas, I have been hoarding too much articles that I even forgot they exist.
I mainly read about design, tech, writing, freelancing, productivity, self improvement, health, creativity, psychology, relationship, and entrepreneurship — 8 categories in total. Now, I want to sort them out, but I don’t have time to read them one by one. What do I do now?
Well, I think it’s time to create a solution to my nuisance.
I began with some problem assumptions about the current reading list. These assumptions were made based on my initial encounter with the problems and some further exploration.
- Saved articles are forgotten. I often save a lot of articles to read later, but ended up forgetting about it.
- Articles are saved in the same Reading List, even though they don’t belong together. E.g a design/technology article will be mixed with some articles about poetry, as well as health-related articles.
Based on some online research and some discussions with my colleagues, I found 4 types of Medium user:
- Full time writer/blogger
- Knowledge specific user
- Company representatives (i.e someone who writes for her company’s product team)
I decided to focus on designing for “Knowledge Specific User” because all of the participants I will interview seem to fall in that type of Persona. Generally, this kind of user uses Medium to read/write about some specific knowledge — design, technology, self improvements, health, etc.
I created two scenarios where user would interact with the Reading List
1. Searching for an Article
2. Saving Articles
To validate the problem, I did some interviews with some colleagues and friends. We talked about their behavior in using Medium. The purpose is to understand their goals, needs, pains, and gains.
To my surprise, out of 12 participants, 4 people prefer to bookmark articles on their browser (specifically Safari, Chrome, & Mozilla browsers). The main reason they prefer to bookmark on a browser is because they often save articles from different sources, and organize them by their categories.
They often save articles from different sources, and organize them by their categories.
Here are some key takeaways collected from the user interview:
- Reasons they open Medium: They want to feel better about themselves. They want to find articles that would be useful for their work, and articles that they think would improve their quality of life. They don’t have to read it right away — saving/bookmarking the articles works too. The main objective is to feel “productive”.
- Reading time: Most read when they are in their commute, in the middle of office hours, in the toilet while doing number 2, and before they sleep at night.
- Saving an article: 8 participants use Medium’s Reading List, while the other 4 prefer using browser’s bookmark.
- Why save an article: For future references & to read later. Articles are also saved because they don’t have the time to read it at the moment — usually when they are in their commute. However, most of them admitted they rarely remember to read an article they have saved earlier.
- Categories they read: All of them read more than 5 categories. Mostly includes design, technology, entrepreneurship, creativity, and productivity.
- Reading platform: On mobile, 9 read using Medium app, the other 3 use mobile browser.
I did some usability tests with just one tasks to do. The task is to search for a particular article on their Reading List. The result:
- User can’t search for articles (in your Reading List) in Medium iOS app. There are no search function, so they need to scroll manually.
- All of them felt that there should be a sort/filter setting. After they failed to find a search button/bar, the participants were looking for a sort/filter function.
- There is something weird with the dates shown in the Reading List. The dates shown in the list is different to the one shown in the article itself. Those definitely are not the date when we saved the article, because it is not shown chronologically.
After doing the research, I feel confident that the problems are now validated. I also discovered new insights from the participants
Pain Points #1: Saved Articles Are Forgotten
- Saved articles are meant to be read later / for future references.
- However, user often forget to read the articles they saved. By the time they scrolled through the Reading List, these articles might not be relevant anymore.
- These forgotten articles would be stacked and buried down under. There is no way a user can see them without scrolling
Pain Points #2: Searching for a Saved Article
- No search function on mobile app for both Android and iOS. User has to scroll down and manually read the title one by one to find a specific article.
- There is no way that the user can sort or filter the articles by saved date, author, publication, etc.
Pain Points #3: Organization of Reading List
- When user saved an article, it will be placed on top of the reading list. There are no indication about how the reading list is sorted.
- The dates shown in the reading list are not helpful. It adds confusion to some user.
- Organization of reading list would be really helpful for articles that is cut in parts. For example, the Framer Cheatsheets by Tess Gadd.
I use concept modelling to find ideas about the solution to the pain points, and to have an understanding of how these solutions could work in a higher level.
I find this method really helpful & essential to my design process, especially when I get into the ideating/designing phase.
Lo-fi Wireframes a.k.a Paper Sketches
Exploring ideas and flows using paper sketches.
Here are some wireframes I made based on the concept model & paper sketches.
When creating the UI I realized that I have missed a couple of stuff, like how to search and sort articles. I added the missing puzzle pieces in the UI phase, created the prototype, and moved on to the iteration phase.
- Flow 1: How to set a reminder to read an article you saved and how to save an article to a Playlist.
- Flow 2: How to search & sort articles in your reading list and Playlist page.
In the UI design process, I also try to reuse the components of the current Medium app. Here are some examples of the components I reused:
5. Result & Validation
Solution #1: Reading Reminder
- Pain points addressed: Forgotten to read a saved article.
- A reminder feature where user can set a future date and time to read an article. Hopefully this way, articles will have a better chance not to be forgotten.
- To set a Reading Reminder, just tap on the timer icon which is placed alongside the share and bookmark icon. Then you can set the date and time to get a reminder to read the article.
- The default setting is set to the same day, 30 minutes later. The reason is because most participants I interviewed said that they save articles mostly when they are on the commute.
- The previous dates are disabled, because people couldn’t travel back in time. Yet.
Solution #2: Search and Sort Functionality
- Pain points addressed: Searching for a Saved Article.
- Search and sorting capabilities in the Reading List.
- This will be really helpful when users are trying to search for an article. No more scrolling, no need to read the titles one by one.
Solution #3: Reading Playlist
- Pain points addressed: No Organization of the Reading List
- Users can save articles in a playlist. Group them based on their topic, context, series, anything. The playlist tab will be shown in the reading list.
- The main idea is to organize articles in groups, where you can easily look for related articles for future references.
- To save an article to a playlist, simply tap on the bookmark icon, and select a playlist to save to. An article can also be saved to multiple playlists.
To validate the design changes, I conducted some usability tests with 5 participants. There are the tasks that they need to do.
- Search for an article
- Save an article to a playlist
- Set a reminder for an article
To cut it short, all of the participants did the tasks easily and had only experienced some minor problems when they were doing the task:
- Some participants didn’t understand that the “Timer” icon means to set a reminder.
- It’s not quite clear how to switch between the date and time when setting a reminder. The inactive text color looks as if it is disabled / un-tappable.
- Saving an article to a reading list is not as easy as it used to be.
- To go to the playlist detail page, users need to scroll to the end of the carousel. Some participants thought it was a waste of time. Why not put the “see all” button up front?
Medium is a great product. It has helped me (and probably lots of other people) to create a positive habit of reading everyday. A small but meaningful improvements such as adding a sort & filter functionality to the reading list would enhance the experience of using the app.
Grouping articles in a playlist was an idea I got while I was saving some music videos in a YouTube playlist. And come to think of it, similar grouping concepts are used in some other products like Spotify (playlist) & Pinterest (boards).
I believe people are familiar with this kind of concept, and it would add a value to Medium if they decided to add this feature. An exclusive feature for Medium members, maybe?
Overall, I think the concept still lacks some research and needed some more iteration before it can actually solve the current problems. For example, I just realized I haven’t really thought about some unexpected scenarios for the reminder feature such as:
- What if the user sets 100 reading reminders for the exact same date & time?
- Will there be 100 push notifications? Should there be a “Reminder list” page? What will happen?
- Where can users see articles with a reminder set for them?
Lastly, for the research part — I believe with real user data, some experiments, and maybe some behavioral user research, the problem and the proposed solution can be validated more accurately.
Disclaimer: I don’t work for Medium or have any affiliation with Medium at all. The purpose of this case study is to improve my skills & to make me a better designer.