As Tim Brown of IDEO eloquently puts it, “Empathy is at the heart of design. Without the understanding of what others see, feel, and experience, design is a pointless task.” Having failed to apply design thinking at the outset of our online publishing journey, we as creators of experiences have built the mess we face now. Advertisers are so fixated on blasting through the noise and publishers are so desperate to monetize that they haven’t noticed just how bad this whole experience has become for the people who matter most — their audiences.
Over and over, newspaper companies who now try to call themselves media companies make it clear just how much they hate their customers. Their sites are slow, they’re resource hogs, they’re unattractive, there’s zero or profoundly depressing mobile integration. Pretty much all they’re good at is writing wanktastic editorials about being DIGITAL FIRST, editorials which are usually a laundry list of ways they’re shafting paying customers to get away with making job cuts. And they expect their audience to not only buy into this bullshit, but to thank them for it.
Design like you give a damn. I think it’s that simple for us, too. We’re turning off our audiences because we haven’t stopped for a second to truly consider what they see, feel, and experience. People don’t like to be tracked, interrupted, duped, slowed down. But we’re not listening to them, so why do we expect them to listen to us?
I don’t think your readers have to dictate your every move. But you do have to know — which means you have to research — who they are and what they want from you. Then you have to give it to them in such a way that they find it easy to love you.
Contrast that with putting up surveys that covers the most mediocre content (I’ll jump through some hoops, people gotta eat, but not for a badly written story about a committee meeting) or loud autoplay videos, or menus that don’t stick or make no damn sense, or search functions that are a joke, or Twitter feeds that never update, or headlines that are misleading (everything is a BREAKING EXCLUSIVE), or paywalls blocking stuff that’s found for free on other sites (Google exists, people). Those aren’t the actions of news organizations that want their stories read. Those are the desperate flails of the completely clueless, and all the editorials in the world about how it’s secretly good for you morons if only you’d come to Digital Paradigm Jesus are not going to convince people otherwise.
The saddest thing is that newspapers could have learned this from studying newspapers. Newspaper companies spent the late 1990s and early 2000s hemorrhaging customers because they couldn’t market themselves or distribute sensibly. Couldn’t get it on the porch, couldn’t fill boxes in places that were necessary and overfilled where it was pointless, staffed circulation with minimum-wagers who couldn’t breathe and think at the same time.
In other words, nobody knew about the paper, and if they somehow found out about it, they couldn’t find it. It was designed to be distributed without the audience in mind. Just like every newspaper web site ever.