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Use of Design Sprints in Media Product Creation

By Nick Epson on August 4, 2021

Creating digital products for media brands is a unique experience – while the same can be said for just about every flavor of app, driving content down various channels and working alongside other platforms like social media present specific challenges and opportunities. To get it “right,” we lean heavily on the Design Sprint process that allows us to move the ball down the court in the shortest amount of time possible. Here, we’re going to walk through the Design Sprint process as it applies to media product creation to both demonstrate the flexibility of the process as well as provide some additional insight to this particular type of app.

A look at the Bloomberg app

Like most true digital product agencies, we have a variety of ways we can interface with everyone from the digital startup to the established enterprise. Just as other “made-to-fit” or “needs-based” models, we assimilate to whatever degree we’re needed whether that’s total agency support or just filling in the gaps such as with our Design Sprint work for both Bloomberg and TIME to help their flagship mobile apps.

Thanks in part to its ongoing digital transformation efforts over the past several decades, both Bloomberg and TIME were prepared to make changes that would embrace modern design and technology. Further, the business side for each is already well-developed which means that our strategy had to center on delivering the best possible experience through design.

With these truths in mind, our strategy could focus on how to best deliver their news articles as well as content from other divisions like Bloomberg TV (BTV) and Bloomberg Radio in one cohesive app.

Though the bar for what constitutes an effective MVP for Bloomberg is a bit higher than a majority of projects because it’s an established brand that serves a massive audience with high expectations, we go into the Design Sprint with many questions already answered. As such, we can better focus on our specific deliverables in design by digging deeper into UX during each day of the sprint.

Using Design Sprints to build a media product

When it comes to media product creation of an established brand like Bloomberg or iHeartRadio’s chart-topping show, Coast to Coast AM, the Design Sprint doesn’t fundamentally change; rather, it adapts because we don’t have to spend as much time profiling their audience. With a well-understood core audience, we can build around their needs and also play with ideas that should expand viewership, both by simply reaching more of the same “kind” of user and attempting to appeal to new segments without rattling the existing audience.

Day 1: Understanding the audience

For the established outlets we previously mentioned, we already know quite a bit about their audience. We don’t have to spend as much time figuring out “who” they are and how to target them but instead how they respond to other products on the market. 

If the general sentiment toward the majority of media apps on the market were that “everything sucks,” we’d likely need to explore an objectively novel approach to delivering content. However, this – not surprisingly – wasn’t the case. 

Every media app will have user gripes about certain aspects but overall, most products you’ll find offer value simply by showing us what works. Right now, there is a certain formula and “look” that users respond well to which tells us we’re better off not going down a rabbit hole in an attempt to usher in a new age of media delivery. 

The day will probably come when we’ll need to build a unique system that users interact with like Tony Stark interfacing with Jarvis’s holographic UI but that day is not today. In fact, our research showed that right now deviating too far from the “formula” users expect in an app would likely alienate more users than it would attract. As such, we decided that to maximize the reception for each app, we’d need to focus on creating familiarity and most importantly, making sure the core offering of each business (i.e. the content) was front and center.

This is also the point where we would explore pricing as part of developing a strategy for the app’s revenue model. You can build the slickest media app on the market but getting users to willingly pay is another, especially for legacy media brands considering there are excellent solutions on the market like Apple News which offers a free tier.

Day 2: Diverge, sketch possible interfaces, and conduct “lightning demos”

The first day sets the stage for the primary task at hand on the second. Knowing what we hopefully confirmed on the day prior, we narrow down our focus to design around existing, well-received platforms.

In plain English, we have everybody sketch interfaces using existing apps as inspiration. Creativity is encouraged, so long as mostly fits within the confines of “media product familiarity” we identified as a central design paradigm on the previous day.

There’s a couple of different ways users can be effective but we feel the best method is for participants to work with an app or two they personally like and customize from there. Otherwise, some people will tend to try and come up with something that they feel will please the masses which is a bit trickier as you inherently build on assumptions – if you have a room full of ”Rusts” from True Detective, that’s one thing, but most of us lack that savant level of pattern recognition. It’s also much easier for people who are horrendous at art as this gives a better foundation to at least attempt to express an important thought through their concept which is vital for the second half of the day.

Next are lightning demos which are where a user demonstrates how their sketches will be used where their sketches serve as a kind of prop. While theatrics and comedy are appreciated, the most important element is that there’s thought to UX which is crucial for the remaining days of the sprint. During the lightning demos, we look at all the features and design elements team members produce and discuss elements we feel would bring value to the user for the focus product.

Day 3: Decide on the best-of-the-best

This is where a unique set of team detective skills come into play which parallels the process of analyzing evidence to solve a crime. We need to be able to understand things at face value but also be able to identify other underlying concepts like motivation which is often more subtle. However, don’t have a whole TV season to solve a crime, we have about four hours which is why we explicitly discuss the “why” factor in the designs we collectively review.

Discussion allows us to quickly figure which elements we feel will best align with the project goals which we carry over to the next phase. Though we can come up with multiple spins from just a handful of concept sketches, we either use just one participant’s idea or more commonly, we aggregate the best-of-the-best from each individual’s sketch to build what we feel is the ideal prototype. During the second half of the day, we storyboard using what we know into roughly 8 or 9 screens that will come to life in the prototype.

Day 4: Building the prototype

The prototype we build is intended to showcase how the product will function without any actual code. To get this process done in a day, the team is divided up and assigned different roles that will rely heavily on a specific set of mockup and wireframing tools as well as supplemental platforms like Miro that we use to whiteboard throughout the Design Sprint week. By the end of the day, the prototype will be functional enough to gather valuable feedback from test users on the final day.

Day 5: Validate the prototype

Everything leading up to the final day converges in what is essentially the crux of the whole Design Sprint: user testing of the prototype. There is a lot that goes into user testing so visit the previous link for a more in-depth look at what all is involved from user selection to how you analyze their behavior.

For media products, what we’re mainly looking for is how well the user’s intuition manifests in their ability to navigate the app and interact with the app, at least to the extent we’re able to build into the prototype. While this is important for all apps, a media product has to be able to “just go” – you should be able to give a user a generic task like “find and bookmark the article the usage of Japanese video game music at the 2021 Olympics” or “change settings to auto-play only when connected to WiFi.”

By both seeing how users organically flow through the app and, quite literally, talk through whatever process is requested (we watch and record them as part of the deal), we’re able to see how well the app is received. We adapt what users definitely “like” about the app into the next version of the app which is further tested during the beta phase leading up to the launch of the MVP. We also learn what users don’t like and with media, usually try to unearth perspective on how to do it better (e.g. “I’d like it better if the layout here were more like Apple News.”)

Finally, there is a chance that the prototype is so poorly received that we need to go back to the drawing board entirely – though uncommon, it happens. With that said, by building around and leveraging what we know works for this particular day and age, Design Sprints for media product creation tend to produce workable prototypes and ultimately deliver a great product to the market.

Want to use the  Design Sprint process to build or update your media digital product?

Maybe you’re thinking about building a media product or perhaps something else entirely. In any case, Blue Label Labs and other successful agencies stand by the Design Sprint process because it’s flexible enough to accommodate the size and scope of virtually any project from anywhere in the world. Most importantly, it works.

Get in touch with us today to learn more about our process or to discuss your idea for a digital product.