3 UX lessons from NYT Now

A few weeks ago, The New York Times released version 2.0 of NYT Now, a mobile only news app. Here are a few UX lessons that I learned from working on v 1.0.

Don’t make people have to look for “discovery”.

The biggest change we made in the new version of NYT Now was to collapse our two streams into one.

In the first version the news was split into two tabs — one for the most important New York Times stories of the day, and one for editor’s picks (aggregated news + less newsy NYTimes stories). We found that people didn’t visit the second tab because they had no reason to. They opened NYT Now to catch up on the news and scrolling through the feed of news made them feel caught up. Nobody felt the urge to “discover” what else was happening because they got what they came for, the latest news.

Also, visiting the second tab broke a reader’s momentum. It required a change in direction, moving from a vertically scrolling feed to swiping/tapping horizontally to access the same type of content. As basic physics tells us, changing momentum is difficult.

From a user’s perspective, they came to our app to read news and had no desire to explicitly “discover”. Twitter faced the same challenge and recently retired their discovery tab. Similarly, Tumblr started sprinkling discovery throughout the home feed.

Lesson 1: Find a way to weave discovery into the main experience because people will not seek it out.

Left: Nav bar from v1, Right: Nav bar from v2

Identify specific moments where your product will be useful.

While building out the content strategy for the app we thought about specific news moments and tried to identify when people needed information. For example, in the morning a person might be looking for the weather, commuting schedules, and a broad overview of what happened while they were sleeping. Later in the day they might want to see updates on stories from earlier and get quick news bites in between meetings. In the evening when a person is winding down, they might enjoy a nice long read.

We put thought into architecting this app around these different pockets of time throughout a person’s day. Thinking about the content in this way helped us build better experiences for those specific moments.

Lesson 2: Think about people’s context while they’re using your product and deliver what they need for that moment.

The morning briefing provides an overview of the day ahead.

Tell people why they are looking at something.

In another news moment — a short afternoon pause before or after lunch — the editors added a long leisurely read for readers during that break. It was labeled with the topic of the piece, similar to the rest of the news. One day we changed the label to “Your Lunchtime Read” and the traffic shot up on our afternoon long reads, just like that.

By labeling it, we helped people identify the moment they were having and use it in the way we intended . The NYT Now editors were doing the difficult work in selecting the perfect piece, but we were missing out on the easy win, telling people what it was there for. Surfacing the editors’ intention for that story made it feel more valuable and personal.

Lesson 3: Framing content fundamentally changes the way people read and value the intended message.

Although seemingly obvious (like most things in hindsight), these simple but powerful lessons continue to inform the way I think about content strategy and UX.