The New Humanitarian provide quality, independent journalism that reflects on the stories of the millions of people affected by humanitarian strife around the world. Since 2015 Bliss have worked with them to develop their platform, delivering essential news from the heart of crises.
In 2015 IRIN News, now The New Humanitarian, approached Bliss to build their new content delivery platform. I led a creative effort that spanned nearly 4 months. This commenced with a thorough overhaul of the information architecture of their pre-existing 80,000+ reports.
I studied user patterns, thematic similarities, and the distribution of articles across categories, in order to greatly simplify content hierarchy and taxonomic relationships. Wireframing and high fidelity design phases followed, working closely with a highly engaged and responsive client team.
In 2019, IRIN became The New Humanitarian. With a brand overhaul came a rapid website redesign project. Although designed by a third-party agency, I was part of the development team that built the new theme. Following the launch, I oversaw a programme of insight-led experience and usability improvements.
IRIN News boasted a loyal readership but were poised to grow. Their existing website was slow, difficult to manage, and wasn’t optimised for smaller screens. In 2015, 35% of their readership visited on mobile devices. In 2019, that percentage is closer to 60%. Coupled with the knowledge that many visitors were in areas of poor connectivity (eg. rural Africa), performance and readability became our top priorities.
We had to account for various user journeys, informed by surveys and personas. Readers may casually browse, or work within a particular region, like North West Africa, or theme, such as Migration or the Environment.
Content administration was also a huge consideration. Many journalists contribute to the website, and media include galleries, video, interactive infographics, and more, alongside long-form content. How do you design a dynamic system that allows for creative control, whilst maintaining usability and consistency across thousands of articles?
Most of the original design process focused on wireframing. The goal was to establish clear content hierarchy, taking cues from print journalism, eye tracking and heat mapping studies, and following established usability heuristics.
I also worked to design layouts that would lend themselves to comfortably responding to different devices, and make the most of imagery and media without relying too heavily on them. This involved designing fallbacks for all eventualities: reports without imagery, or a high ratio of imagery to copy. I also had to consider multiple languages. For example, would blockquote or introduction blocks work as effectively when translated into French or an RTL language like Arabic?
In some cases we built wireframes with real content first, before leading with style tiles to establish the correct look and feel which led into the HiFi design phase.
Despite the amount of research and planning that went into the IRIN News redesign, we knew it wouldn’t be perfect. Yet it was a leap forward that gave us a foundation to continue testing and adapting to new insights. In late 2019 I led a UX audit of thenewhumanitarian.org and implemented a slew of changes built on this foundation of insight.
Working with The New Humanitarian is challenging, but extremely rewarding. Budgets impose the necessity of focusing on low cost, high gain improvements, and the stakes can be high. Compared to much of my other commercial experience, the goal is not to drive conversions and increase revenue: The New Humanitarian’s reporting from conflict and disaster zones informs prevention and response. It saves lives.
“The website BLISS delivered is faster, simpler, easier to search, and looks great on mobiles and tablets. It allows us to deliver more dynamic and visual content, on a range of platforms, as we continue to develop our storytelling.” Ben Parker, Editor-in-Chief, The New Humanitarian, 2016