Implementing User Research

This case study is about driving change in user research and design thinking at Stratfor Worldview, a consumer subscription product that publishes daily articles on geopolitics. I’ve worked at Stratfor for over five years, working my way up from Junior Designer to Creative Director. Design within the company has also been on a journey, from the ’make it pretty’ stage, to increasingly driving decision-making.

Identifying Usability Problems

A complete product and branding overhaul had been completed in 2017, but usability tests we had conducted clearly demonstrated users' difficulty in navigating the new site. Primarily because the navigation had built around custom themes that reflected Stratfor’s internal analytic thinking but were not intuitive for users.

Talking to Users to Find a Solution

To understand how our users would like to navigate our content we conducted surveys and user interviews. From these it was clear that our users thought of their interests in terms of region (Middle East, Europe) or broad topic (economics, security). We also gained additional feedback on issues such as the readability of the article pages.

To consolidate these findings, the Product Manager and I did a mini sprint over two days to redesign Stratfor's navigation and articles pages.

Mini Sprint Results

Information Architecture
We changed the navigation to prioritize regions and broad topics, and reduced the detailed topics to an internal taxonomy instead of an external method of navigation. From user testing it was clear that these two paths (regions/broad topics) were how out users categorized their interests and therefore wanted to navigate by.

UI and Typography
Another key issue was the lack of readability, especially on mobile. Changes included:

• Removing the title overlay on the image to increase readability

• Upped the contrast between the background and the text

• Adjusted the bullet style and added a big cap for a more elegant style

• Adjusted the header styles to clear differentiators

Implementation and Developing Design Thinking

Implementing the design changes derived from the user research has been a bumpy road. We were able to adjust the navigation of forecast pages and the layout of the article pages, but lack of resources has constrained further changes.

If anything, the biggest development from this experience has been cultural — we were able to initiate a slow but steady march to turn the user into our North Star. This has taken a lot of reflection, conversations and collaboration between departments, as well lobbying of key stakeholders and with data.

This process of getting key stakeholders onboard, accessing resources, and solidifying a design thinking, user-focused framework is not complete but we have made considerable progress and changes are afoot!