By Taylor Skelton
Driven by a desire to deliver smart news efficiently, the team at Axios relied on the ideal of subtraction, according to its chief design officer, Alexis Lloyd, who spoke at SNDNYC about developing the product from the ground up.
The goal was to design a product that would serve readers and allow them to be easily informed. Through experimental design, they tackled questions readers might ask themselves. Do I care enough to click? Do I care enough to read? The design team’s challenge was to figure out how to simplify the reader experience while gaining maximum engagement.
When designing for efficient access and comprehension, the team considered what readers actually do rather than what they wanted them to do. They found that users generally skim, for example. So, to support this behavior, the team designed a format that breaks up stories into neatly-packaged segments, making it easy for the skimmer to find the most valuable information.
From research, they concluded that Axios has three core types of users, the first being the reader who primarily engages only with newsletters. These are the people, Lloyd said, who generally “live in their email” and prefer to have their news pushed directly to them. The second type of readers come directly to the site to skim a variety of stories and consistently refresh for updates. The last group they found are the incidental readers, who come more randomly to the site, such as from social networks.
The value proposition used for designing—smart brevity via subtraction—is the same applied to its writing style. Lloyd referred to the notion that most of their readers want to read less rather than more, describing long stories as the fancy Sunday dinners of news. But at Axios, she said, the goal is to make sure that readers are fed every day. So, in most cases, stories are shorter than 200 words, which she estimates takes an average reader roughly 27 seconds to read.
Pointing out that success is tied to a strategic alliance between design and technology, Lloyd said, “You need to design compelling products that work for your readers but continue to innovate.”