Redesign

The end of the beginning

Philly.com full redesign
Today marks the launch of our fully responsive redesign for Philly.com. We’re calling it an “MVP” release — as in minimum viable product — but on a site as large and complex as Philly.com, even MVP is a pretty big lift.

So it would be easy to see today’s release as the final milestone in a months-long process, and while that’s technically true, it’s also not the whole story. Instead, it would be more accurate to call this the end of the beginning — the start of a continuous cycle of features and functionality enhancements based on user behavior and feedback. (Have an opinion? Share it here.)

Some people will no doubt see this change simply as the unnecessary end of a familiar experience they’ve grown used to. To those folks, we say: We hope you’ll give the new version a chance, and if there’s something we can do to ease the transition and help make the new Philly.com a habit for you, we’re all ears.

Others will like some of what they see but consider the new version lacking in one way or another. That’s feedback we urgently seek, too. Why? Because it’s better to get something in front of users now and hear loud and clear where we went wrong than to work an extra few weeks or months perfecting something only to find it’s something nobody uses.

We’ll be listening closely to understand where to spend our time and effort. So where we go next, in many ways, is up to you. We do have a few things on the docket already — improved photo galleries and author profile pages, for example — that we couldn’t squeeze into this release. Beyond that, we’re playing it by ear.

Behind the scenes

Sowing the seeds for the continuous redesign

We know that people come to Philly.com for the journalism, which represents the combined effort of the largest newsgathering organization in Pennsylvania. But we also know that if the experience doesn’t meet expectations, it doesn’t matter how good the journalism is: People will go elsewhere.

This was top of mind as we set out on a redesign effort for Philly.com.

The goals

We are looking to achieve a number of things in this redesign. A sampling:

  • Work well on all devices: We want to build a product that functions consistently on screens large and small and doesn’t shortchange mobile users.
  • Grow engagement: Our site is full of useful and interesting news and information, some of which doesn’t get the chance it deserves to reach a digital audience. We believe we can fix this.
  • Improve ad experience: We know we have some work to do to optimize ad impact and user experience on Philly.com, and we think we can do that in a way that adds value for advertisers and users alike.
  • Make money: At the same time, we urgently need to grow digital revenue in order to help sustain our company and the award-winning journalism it produces. This is our balancing act.

But we don’t want to be back here in two years thinking about our next big redesign and preparing to start the process all over again. So we’re setting up this project a little differently.

A phased approach

Think about the last time your favorite news site redesigned: Did it catch you by surprise? Did it feel different or take you longer to find things? Did it take a splash page to explain all the new features? Now consider products like Facebook or Gmail: Can you even remember the last time they were redesigned?

What I’m talking about is the difference between redesigns in the traditional sense — months- (or years-) long efforts with a big reveal (and a big leap of faith) at the end — and continuous, small changes that through testing and observation over time yield better results with less disruption to the user.

We’re looking to take some inspiration from what leading digital players have done by rolling out our redesign in stages and then continuing to evolve it after it’s launched.

But we have to start somewhere, so we’re going to tackle the article page first. Why? Because this is where visitors to our site spend the largest amount of time. It’s the destination, and we want it to shine.

From here the process looks something like this:

  • Article page beta: In the next couple of weeks we’ll be launching a public beta of the new article page. If you want to try it, you’ll need to opt in via a link we’ll post on this blog.
  • Mobile site relaunch: By the end of the year, you’ll see the new design replace the current mobile.philly.com site.
  • Full relaunch: In early 2016, we aim to roll out the redesign on Philly.com.
  • Continuous improvement: Relaunch is only the beginning of an ongoing cycle of listening and fine-tuning.

Always be redesigning

Throughout the process we’ll be seeking feedback and incorporating this feedback into the site. We know we’ll make mistakes, and we hope that introducing changes gradually and listening to users along the way will reduce the number and impact of these mistakes.

I tell colleagues that if we get this right, it could be the last redesign we do. That’s probably overly optimistic, but it’s definitely an aspiration.

Through this effort and our collaboration with two world-class locally-based design partners — Happy Cog and Superfriendly — we are building the necessary skills and product culture to begin a continuous design process that we hope will take us far.

We know that users’ expectations are not standing still, so neither can we.

News

We’re teaming up with Happy Cog + SuperFriendly

We aim to offer a great news experience wherever our users are — which, increasingly, is on mobile devices. That’s a key reason why we’re setting out to redesign Philly.com: We want the site to be as complete and full-featured on your smartphone as it is on your PC. (And we’re going to make it look and work better on all devices while we’re at it.)

Redesigning a website as complex as Philly.com in a legacy-media organization such as ours is no easy task. We knew we’d need some outside help for this heavy lift, and we wanted a partner we could learn a lot from in the process.

We spoke with a number of accomplished web design firms from across the country, but in the end we found the best fit right here in our backyard. We’ve chosen to collaborate with two Philadelphia-area companies over the coming months on the redesign of Philly.com: Happy Cog, a longstanding leader in digital design, and SuperFriendly, an innovative design studio led by Dan Mall.

I’m excited to see what these two groups bring to this effort, and I promise we’ll keep you posted on our progress and give you opportunities to share feedback here at beta.philly.com. (Meanwhile, feel free to take our survey and let us know what you think about Philly.com today. And if you want to join our digital product and technology teams and contribute from the inside, check out these newly posted jobs.)

More information on our collaboration with Happy Cog and SuperFriendly is available in this press release.

News

We’re looking for some tech stars

As part of our effort to build a better Philly.com, we’re recruiting for a few positions on our product and technology teams:

If you’re interested in helping to power the digital transformation of a storied Philadelphia institution*, and you meet the qualifications of one of these positions, please forward a résumé and cover letter to jobs@phillynews.com.

*Philly.com is the digital home of The Philadelphia Inquirer, with roots dating back to 1829, and the Philadelphia Daily News, founded in 1925.

Talk to us

Help us build a better Philly.com

Over the coming months, we’re setting out to build a better Philly.com. We’d like your help.

Take this short survey to tell us what you think of the site today. In return, you’ll have our gratitude and the good feeling of having helped a storied local media institution (with roots dating back to 1829) in its ongoing digital transition.

And stay tuned here for news on our digital products and how we’re working to evolve and improve them.

News

Find us at BarCamp

Welcome to beta.philly.com, where we will be talking about our ongoing efforts to improve Philly.com and seeking feedback from you. We hope you’ll let us know how we’re doing.

We’ll be at BarCamp NewsInnovation at Temple University’s School of Media and Communication on Saturday, May 2. Say hi in person, or follow us on Twitter at @phillydotcom!

Update: Thanks to all who shared ideas, insights and questions in my BarCamp session. Here are the slides I prepared. -EU

Talk to us

Open thread

Got a gripe? Suggestion? Maybe even a compliment? Let us know in the comments here. We’ll keep an eye on what’s said here as we work to prioritize improvements to Philly.com. If you have a question or comment about our editorial coverage or want to report a problem, please use our feedback page instead.