Jolt for TODAY Online • 2021

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UX | GRAPHIC DESIGN | BRANDING | MARKETING | RESEARCH

JOLT is a Telegram-based bot for TODAY Online that fetches summarised news daily from TODAY's database based on article categories users chose to read. 

 

JOLT had its hard launch on 6 October 2021.


Co-owners (JOLT for TODAY Online): Anthony Tan, Vincentius Stefan Santoso, and the TODAY team

Background

 

The Straits Times (ST), a Singapore newspaper, presented my team and I with a problem where they wanted to increase readership amongst university students as part of my module — CS9080: News Media Lab in Nanyang Technological University. For this module, I was the UX designer alongside a team of writers and developers.

 

Co-owners (JOLT for The Straits Times): Anthony Tan, Christy Yip, Kenneth Ng, Michael Hu, Theophilus Quek

 

Special Thanks: Jessica Tan (instructor, NTU), Joan Marie Kelly (instructor, NTU), Kate Beddoe (mentor, Google), Irene Jay Liu (mentor, Google)

 

This project was then picked up by TODAY Online, another news site, as a complementary product for their website. For this iteration of the project, I wore many hats including product designer, content creator, and copywriter.

Understanding the Problem

 

From the survey, we noticed that university students:

- Find reading news is a chore

- Only read news they want to read

- Think newsrooms in Singapore are government propaganda mouthpieces

 

From these findings, we identified three business goals:

1. We want users to get news that they want AND need to know

2. We want to get users more involved/their voices heard

3. We want users to have agency in the kinds of news they consume

 

We conducted market research on competitors to analyse the current products available and looked at some of the features we liked from them. From here, we carried out a 45-min sketching session to draw out what we envisioned the product to be.

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My solution sketch

Initial Prototype

Our first solution following the Sprint was a platform on ST’s website dedicated to students. Following the user journey we plotted, we assumed that most students accessed news through social media and decided to tackle the start of the journey.

 

The initial solution aimed to make the ST website more like a social media platform. We thought that what made social media so successful among users is that they were able to see what their friends were talking about and comment on it.

 

The premise was to deliver students with news trending amongst them, as well as news from topics they were interested in, without the noise of other content on social media. In order to obtain these data points, students would have to sign up and login via their school emails.

 

The articles can also be toggled between full and lightning mode, where the latter is a summarised version of the story. The lightning mode article can also be shared on social media so that others can access the news more readily. Students would be prompted to sign up when they click a lightning article, or when they visit ST's homepage.

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Sample screens from initial prototype

Reception

 

During our user testing, we noticed that most users were turned off by the need to sign up for an account. If they were not inclined to read news in the first place, they would simply search up the same article on other outlets. One user also pointed out that since social media is already so crowded, it is difficult to compete for user’s attention. Facebook’s algorithm also changes constantly and our reach would be limited by the platform. Multiple users mentioned during the testing that they would not be more inclined to read the news with the prototype.

Back to the Drawing Board

 

Based on the feedback, we determined the key features we want in the product:

- The product delivers summarised news to users via a news bulletin

- Users are able to set a schedule and choose the kinds of news topics they'll receive

- Promote discussion of news on a platform that users are already familiar with

- Build direct connection to readers, avoiding competition on social media

- Users can earn rewards in the form of promotions from brand partners after they read a certain amount of articles. (WIP with TODAY Online)

 

Instead of developing a new app or website, we've decided to use a platform that most users are already using — Telegram. Having JOLT as a bot on a familiar app they already have on their phone reduces the inertia for users to use JOLT as they don't have to download another app or learn how to navigate a new one.

 

I mocked up the prototype on Figma based on the following user journey before sending it to the developer. As our design is limited by Telegram's UI, the developer and I worked closely together to define bot commands and interactions so that the user journey will be a seamless one.

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User journey

JOLT for TODAY Online

 

With TODAY Online's iteration of JOLT, the target audience has expanded from university students to readers from the general public. With this shift, I changed the copy for the bot in order to be relatable to everyone, especially for those who might be using Telegram for the first time through the bot.

 

I designed and wrote the copy for JOLT's marketing campaign collaterals, from EDMs to social media posts. The copy and visuals were created to reduce the perception of the bot as another "government propaganda". The collaterals also have enticing CTAs to encourage audience to get on JOLT.

Results and Takeaways

 

The rewards system has yet to be implemented due to the resumption of COVID restrictions, which caused some of our brand partners to drop the partnership as they have to cease operations during those period. For future implementation, we might have to liaise with more brands that are resilient to COVID-related situations.

 

Some key takeaways from this project:

 

Collaboration leads to innovation: It was an eye-opening experience for me working with people with different and varied expertise, hearing them offering different perspectives. For example, the developers helped to anchor our product by pointing out our technical limitations, and one of our teammates mentioned about the over-saturation of apps, which leads us to create a product on an app users are already using.

 

Design thinking is necessary for an effective product: The SPRINT session we conducted helped to keep the team focussed and on track by breaking up tasks throughout the 3-days.

 

Be prepared for curveballs: We didn't expect further restrictions after Singapore's slowly opening up during the COVID pandemic. Even though this is an opportunity for us to get more readers as people will be more likely to be online with Work From Home and Home-Based Learning, it also means that some our brand partners for the rewards system had to drop out.

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