Beyond Print Toolkit: User experience

This section breaks down the fundamentals of user experience and the approaches you can apply to make your products appealing to your audiences.

By Shannan Bowen

June 27, 2024

Roman Samborskyi / Shutterstock

Think of your news products as if they were your house. If you were inviting thousands of people over to an event, you’d likely spend a lot of prep time ensuring your house was clean and orderly, that it’s easy to navigate once people enter, and that everyone has a pleasant experience. Think of your website or your mobile app or any other news product similarly. Providing a great experience when people visit your products will likely result in them being happier or more engaged, which means they’ll return frequently.

Technically, user experience or “UX” is a term used by designers, product leaders and others to refer to all aspects of your audience’s interactions with your products and services. It encompasses all of the design elements, the paths people take to explore your products, the way information is presented, and so much more. While UX is typically a discipline with specialized staff who oversee the design and experience of your products, applying a user experience mindset is something anyone can do, no matter their role. This guide breaks down the fundamentals of user experience and the approaches you can apply.

The essentials

Designing a great user experience begins with understanding the needs and behaviors of your audience. Abruptly changing your products — or even launching new ones — can be risky without data, insights, and input from your audiences to guide you on the right approach. That’s where user research comes in. Understanding user needs and creating a test plan help ensure you’re launching new products or making changes that not only are a product-market fit, but lead to less churn and more engagement.

These are a commonly used few approaches for user research, including both quantitative and qualitative methods. Both methods provide different types of insights — quantitative approaches, such as surveys, will provide data and trends, while qualitative information that results from personal interviews help you dive deeper into the reasons behind the trends.

  • Surveys: Gather information from a large number of people — often reaching them through your existing digital products — to understand trends and to collect contact information from people who will offer deeper insights. 
  • Community listening forums: Organizing an event focused on listening to people about their needs, challenges, and ideas is one way to gain many different perspectives in one setting through structured conversation.
  • Interviews: Conducting one-on-one interviews allows you to be more flexible with the topics discussed and to dive deeper with one person about their specific needs or ideas.
  • Focus groups: A focus group is facilitated to guide people to provide feedback and input on a specific subject. Sometimes, a focus group may be interactive and structured to provide real-time examples of how people might use your products.

Armed with data and research insights, you can design experiences that meet the needs of your audiences. While UX refers to the overall experience a person has with your product, you’ll need to focus specifically on the user interface, or UI, of your product. Put simply, “user interfaces are the access points where users interact with designs,” according to the Interaction Design Foundation. This means your homepage, your article page, your mobile app screen — any physical or digital place or product through which your audience comes into contact with your brand. UX and UI are commonly used terms in design, but the simplest way to distinguish the two is that UI is a subset of the overall user experience. According to Figma, an organization that offers tools and community engagement for design needs, “engaging UI lays the foundation for a positive overall user experience with a digital product or website.” They suggest considering four elements of UI design:

  • Page layout: How people navigate your site to find articles and useful information should feel intuitive, but the secret is in the way you design your pages and decide where to place your content.
  • Color scheme and font selection: Is your brand distinguishable by its colors and font? Choose colors that are accessible and consistent.
  • Interactive elements: This includes any button, menu, pop-up, interstitial, or any element that includes interactivity.
  • Wireframe and prototype fidelity: Wireframes and prototypes are either drawings or early representations of your product. Designers specializing in UX and UI create these components, guiding you toward your full vision for a product.

Two other aspects you’ll want to consider are usability and accessibility. Usability, essentially, is how easy it is for people to use your product. According to Nielsen Norman Group, usability should be a crucial part of any UX strategy. “There’s no such thing as a user reading a website manual or otherwise spending much time trying to figure out an interface. There are plenty of other websites available; leaving is the first line of defense when users encounter a difficulty,” they state.

Accessibility, on the other hand, refers to how well your product is designed so that people with disabilities can use it. Are people with low vision easily able to read the text on your site? Are your videos using subtitles for people who have hearing difficulties? Addressing accessibility through your design process will help you create a user experience that doesn’t exclude anyone. Plus, the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative states that there’s a strong business case for accessibility and that “accessible design improves overall user experience and satisfaction, especially in a variety of situations, across different devices, and for older users.” 

Tests: Applying human-centered design

You don’t have to be a designer to work toward an effective user experience strategy. Design thinking is one approach that can guide you toward solutions and experiences that are viable, feasible, and desirable, whether for an existing or a new product. This human-centered approach starts with empathy and a deep understanding of the challenges or problems that people experience in certain situations. The process then uses rapid brainstorming and prototyping to generate ideas that are validated by the target audiences. IDEO, an organization viewed as the founder of this technique, outlines the following steps you can take to apply a design thinking approach:

  • Frame a Question: Who are your audiences and what do they need?
  • Gather Inspiration: Observe people and learn more about their environments.
  • Generate Ideas: Brainstorm possibilities for meeting your audiences’ needs.
  • Make Ideas Tangible: Create early prototypes and learn which ideas will work.
  • Test to Learn: Gather feedback and keep testing as you iterate.
  • Share the Story: When you find the best solution, share your story and introduce it to gather input.

When executed according to these steps, design thinking helps you gain deep insight into the needs of people you’re trying to reach and provides a process through which you can explore meeting those needs. 


Though it is always recommended to address UX principles from the start — beginning with research to understand user needs — you should consider continuously improving the user experience of your website or news products to meet needs and behavior changes as you learn more about how people use your products. Here are some resources to guide you in implementing several of the aspects of user experience we’ve mentioned:

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