How Bloomberg Media’s BHIVE team keeps users at the center

Following the news goes far beyond checking the box of staying informed

BHIVE, Bloomberg’s human-centered research and prototyping team launched last year with a simple goal in mind: Design, build and test digital solutions that meet people’s real-life needs.

Over the course of a dozen user studies and prototype tests, our team has had the unique opportunity to explore how emerging technologies (like AR, machine learning, audio/voice and text-to-speech) might improve the news experience. At the core of our research, we’ve kept a few key questions top of mind: What motivates people to consume the news? What are their practical news needs? And how might Bloomberg Media deliver experiences that better meet those needs?

It might seem obvious — design news services with people’s real needs in mind — but a day-in-the-life of a typical news user would point to a very different reality. Take for example, Catherine, 36, a book editor and self-described “news junkie” who shudders at the thought of filling her inbox with yet another newsletter. Or Briana, 28, a Brooklyn-based tech coordinator who turned off her news alerts after receiving a notification about Wimbledon (she couldn’t care less about tennis). Mined from more than 75 hours of user studies, these seemingly small day-in-the-life vignettes have been like gold to our team. They tell us valuable stories about the frictions people face in staying updated on what’s happening in the world. And, unlike quantitative data, which tells us how people behave when engaging with our products, qualitative stories reveal to us why people take certain actions.

One set of “why” insights particularly meaningful to our team has come to us thanks to a question that we ask of nearly everyone we interview: Why do you follow the news? In asking this we’ve learned that people’s desires to follow the news goes far beyond checking the box of staying informed. News shapes who we are. It helps us contextualize evolving political, economic and social events. It helps us connect to those around us. It’s a vital resource for helping people shape opinions.

To keep our product ideas centered on these user needs, we’ve developed a set of profiles — News Chasers, News Connectors and Opinion Seekers. This taxonomy distills our insights into a straightforward and (hopefully) memorable set of user-inspired attributes that help focus our research questions around the needs of our audience. And, perhaps more importantly, they’ve directly inspired designs, prototypes and how we test ideas.

News Chasers: “Make it easier for me to be the first to know.”

Likely to be among the first to know what’s breaking or trending, these users find deep satisfaction in chasing stories and staying on the pulse of what’s happening. The News Chaser’s motivations for staying on top of what’s happening can range from having a genuine interest in being an informed citizen to needing to stay on top of a news cycle for work or financial reasons.

What we learned about their needs:

  • A constant appetite for information — Rob, 24, in his own words: “When I wake up, I’m checking to see what happened over night. I’m reading newsletters, checking emails, Twitter — all of this is happening before I’ve even gotten out of bed.”
  • Content with less news, more often — Chasers would rather know the latest even if it means having just part of the story. “I’d rather hear from a news source what happened, as it unfolds,” said Caitlin, 25. “They could say, ‘ yes, this happened, but we can’t confirm it yet.’”
  • Staying ahead of what’s happening — there’s nothing like the thrill of being the first to know. News Chasers are thinking ahead to what’s next in a news cycle, even planning their day around catching live or breaking coverage.

News Connectors: “Help me find and share stories that allow me to connect with others.”

News connects people to communities — from dinner table debates to article links shared via tweet or text — it forges common ground for dialogue and conversation. Connectors look to personal networks and communities of interest in order to help make sense of the news around them. More often than most, they’re interested in learning the views of others. And they’re likelier to share content they find interesting and compelling.

What we learned about their needs:

  • Sharing via dark social — News Connectors are the people in our lives who constantly share content via text, chat, social and email. Raj, a 22-year old college senior, described a vast network of friends and former colleagues from internships that he keeps in touch with by sharing articles via Slack and Facebook: “It’s a lot of work, but I find communicating and connecting with people about issues to be really rewarding.”
  • News sparks IRL interactions — whether brushing up for family political debates or talking current events with colleagues at work, news fuels conversation in both personal and professional life. Stanley, 36, on his primary news motivation: “I like to stay informed. [The news] allows me to have dialogue and conversations with people on these issues — it’s constructive. Where I work it’s all about collaboration and open dialogue and talking about these issues is helpful to grow professionally and personally.”
  • Fear of not knowing — as Michael, 27, put it: “It’s so awkward [to be with people] when you don’t know what’s going on.” Being caught not knowing was a fear that many of our younger interviewees mentioned as a motivation for following the news.

Opinion Seekers: “Give me perspectives that allow me to understand what’s happening in the world.”

Opinion Seekers see the news as a valuable commodity for accessing thought leaders who dissect and help us to analyze the news. Opinion Seekers relate well to analysis, often coming from experts and curated content that provides context and reveals impact. They are more motivated by understanding why what’s happening in the world matters.

What we learned about their needs:

  • Understanding why the news matters — being the first to know is less important for these users. Instead, they’re looking to news information that will help shape or affirm the Opinion Seeker’s personal view on the story.
  • Perspective is often shaped by personalities — Opinion Seekers are likelier to seek content that elevates experts or personalities who offer insight on a subject. Caitlin, an international news junkie who looks to key personalities for insight and analysis, described it in her own words: “I don’t follow news outlets, I follow writers at news outlets and usually that’s based on whether or not I think they have an opinion or perspective on something I care about.”
  • Passion topics — One participant, Jessi, 31, described in great detail a personal interest in following news and opinion related to a hot button topic: tax reform. “I’m very interested in Trump’s tax plan, so I want to see that kind of news first.” Specialty subjects — like clean energy, education or equity in the workplace — motivate users like Jessi to seek out content that goes beyond the general news cycle.

Acting on Insights at Bloomberg: The Bulletin

Focusing on user profiles has inspired a wealth of ideas from our team. And while prototyping and experimentation are incredibly valuable and help us learn even through failure, bringing great ideas to market is the ultimate goal of our work.

In September, we launched The Bulletin, a new Bloomberg mobile feature that allows Bloomberg news readers to get a quick pulse on the most important stories of the moment — all without having to click away from the home feed. The Bulletin was inspired by the needs of our “News Chasers” and builds directly from what we learned from News Break, the experimental news summarization app developed by senior BHIVE engineer David Harding. Launched in September to 100% of our mobile app audience, The Bulletin directly responds to key findings from our user-focused research and prototyping process, including:

  • Keeping up with users in their “micro moments” — The Bulletin provides short story summaries that allow the user to get an overview of what’s important right now in a minute or less during those interstitial moments of the day, in between meetings, in line for lunch
  • Clearing the clutter — The Bulletin removes already old content from the mix, so users will never see the same story twice, saving them time and reducing the dreaded feeling of seeing old news
  • Mobile-first experience — an obvious choice for a frequent news user, optimizing our design and experience for mobile meant users could keep up with the news on-the-go, throughout the day.
  • Sense of completion — in quickly learning the latest, users are rewarded with a sense of “finishing” the news
  • Immediate satisfaction — for those who want even more, The Bulletin provides the active “News Chaser” the option to keep refreshing for new content, helping to fill the void when they’re looking for fresh stories

The BHIVE Approach

BHIVE is constantly toggling between quantitative and qualitative insights that allow us to ask smarter questions and find nuanced inspiration in the needs of our users.

Thanks to 50+ interviews and user tests, we’ve had the chance to dig beneath the surface of our data and to see our audience beyond the aggregate view of click throughs, page views and scroll depth charts. These studies — from in-lab tests to in-home ethnographies — give BHIVE a fuller picture of who our users are and how our products fit into their lives. Rather than just diving into the code once we identify a challenge, we work across teams to design and test solutions that keep users at the center.

What’s Next

Prioritizing audience needs is an essential part of the Bloomberg product experience. Just as The Bulletin was squarely inspired by our news profiles, BHIVE is continuing to leverage our people-centered approach to inform new ideas. The team — Ambika Nigam, David Harding, Amanda Lansman, Dylan Greif, Simon Ayzman and myself — is currently workshopping an MVP experience that should go live in the Spring.

Next up on our design research agenda:

  • Understanding the unique professional needs of our younger audience (lookin’ at you, Millenials)
  • Exploring how to improve the UX of “side door” social entry points to Bloomberg.com
  • Testing prototypes for a better TicToc mobile and social video experience

I’d love to hear how your teams are integrating user research to design more relevant product solutions. Ping me on Twitter or follow me on Medium to stay updated on what we’re learning.

BHIVE is Bloomberg Media’s human-centered research and prototyping group. We make meaningful experiences that define the future of media.

(Illustrations by Dylan Greif. 🙏)