A Year of Living Better” is a package of Premium Guides for Times subscribers. Guides are part of the service journalism initiative of The New York Times with the goal of deepening the Times’s relationship with its readers. If The New York Times’s core mission is to help people understand the world, then a Guide’s job is to help its readers move through it — of navigating life’s problems big and small.

Role: Product Design Lead, Art Director
Objective: How might we increase retention among our subscriber base?
Platform: Web

The landing page for “A Year of Living Better,” a collection of aspirational premium guides. On the left is the version for logged in subsribers. The right shows the version of the page for nonsubscribed readers.

What is a Guide?

Guides are evergreen and actionable — they help people make choices and lead more fulfilling lives. Guides help fill in the gaps between desks in the newsroom from wellness to fashion, business and culture. They are reader-first, highly visual and utilitarian in nature.  

Guides are an integral part of The New York Times’s service journalism initiative — the first major expansion of the report since the creation of new feature sections in the 1970s. The product and editorial strategy is to break out of the traditional publishing formats in order to guide readers in tangible and personal ways.

Premium Guides

"A Year of Living Better" is a package of twelve premium guides released once a month over 2018 that are written to inspire and help our readers lead a better life. The “premium” series marks the first content type that The Times has offered exclusively to subscribers.

The goal of the project is to differentiate between the free and paid experience — by adding new value and exclusive benefits on a regular basis, we hypothesized an increase in retention and conversion of our reader base.

The year-long package is presented in a landing page designed much like an advent calendar, with a guide being “revealed” once a month. We created two versions of the page: one for subscribers, who have complete access once a guide publishes, and a version of the page for non-subscribers. Exclusive access to a guide was “windowed” meaning any given guide would be exclusive to subscribers for the first 3 months, then “unlocked” for non-subscribers after the exclusive time-frame. Given these conditions, designing the page presented some challenges:

  • A year-long program

    As a news organization, we are not accustomed to introducing readers to content that does not yet exist. This presented us with a challenge: how do we design for something that increases in value over time, how can we express this as something “premium” and worth coming back to?

  • Variable access

    The “windowed” access meant designing a page that can be adapted to different models of access.  

  • Balancing retention and conversion goals

    While the primary goal is retention, we must consider the experience for non-subscribers, that is, how we can introduce friction into the experience in order to make revenue gains while maintaining a good user experience.

Whiteboarding the experience for various audience segments with the team.

After whiteboarding, we simplified the user flow by eliminating variations between several audience segments.

Visual Explorations and Wireframing

After various explorations, the solution for subscribers was straightforward: the featured card would house the current month’s guide and would be deduped from 3-up grid below it.

The initial layouts proved challenging. At first, we wanted to clearly isolate the available guides from the locked and unpublished guides, which each of those laid out as their own sections (as shown in the first three screens below). This resulted in cards moving from one section of the page to another, breaking the foundational theme of a calendar. To simplify the experience, we chose to communicate the availability of a guide through the visual card state. We further emphasized the meaning of a locked guide with clear language on a hover state.

The first three wires show our initial direction: the layout is divided by state: available for you to read, locked to you, and yet to be published. The fourth wire shows the final direction: the cards are ordered chronologically and the state is communicated within the card type.

The mobile version of the experience. Left: the subscriber version of the page, middle: the non-subscriber version of the page. Right: demonstrating the interaction design on a locked card.

Guide Interaction Design

Case Study: Makeup Guide Art Direction

Guides are designed to be useful. The content within them complements the service-driven goal of informing the choices our readers make. For example, in the Guide to wearing everyday makeup, we opted for videos of models self-applying makeup to better reflect the instructions that accompany them. The models are situated in a familiar space rather than a studio.

The Activity Cards in the Guide serve as standalone package that aim to teach a skill. They feature a looping video demonstration accompanied by the list of written instructions pertaining to that technique.

Videos with superimposed text are also used as a reference in related articles and on social media.  

Video Art Direction

© Alessandra Villaamil 2018