Awari
Designing a platform to discover email newsletters on iOS







Background

I cofounded a startup in early 2014. Our goal was to change the way people consume email newsletters and our first step towards that goal was launching what was essentially a discovery platform — it was an iOS app for people to find out about new, curated email newsletters and subscribe to them. Our team grew to five people, and two of them — myself included — were responsible for designing that first product. This is the story of how that happened.


Challenge

Our challenge here was simple: To find a way to make high-quality email newsletter discovery finally easy, and to simplify the process of signing up for them. It was key to our strategy as a startup :  this would also work as a way to build partnerships with content creators and future costumers and to test many of our assumptions regarding that market. We were bootstrapped (As in, we were burning our own cash ) therefore we couldn’t spend months and months on this. It was also the first time anyone was trying to do this (Newsletter discovery) on mobile, so we really didn’t have where to look for inspiration and guidance.


Research

We began conducting User Research. It was important to get right who our target user was going to be, what his pain points and goals were. We were dealing with a very sensitive area — email— and making sure the user was at the center of our efforts was essential. 


User Interviews

After some discussions, we decided on who our target user was going to be. We were working only with high-quality email newsletters — ranging from literature to science — so that audience had to be interested in learning about new subjects and in reading in general.

It was a mobile app that dealt with email newsletters (Word recognition for this isn’t very high), so our audience also had to be familiar with tech. These two key characteristics helped us define more granular details such as age, average income etc.

After we had figured this out, we moved on to interviewing users from this target demographic. We wanted to first confirm our assumption that that very demographic was actually experiencing the difficulty we were (Not being able to find high-quality email newsletters). Then, gathering insights that would help us design the product.


Persona Development

The natural next step was to create a persona and translate what we learned in the User Interviews phase into something we could go back to during our design process — something to make it very clear who our user was, what his goals, motivations and aspirations were and to remind us that we were building stuff for someone to actually use it. 



Competitive Assessment

We then moved on to performing a Competitive Assessment. As I previously mentioned, we had no direct competitors — no one is doing newsletters discovery on mobile, even today. But we had competitors doing newsletters discovery on web — and even though they lacked features we wanted to have, we still wanted to understand what they were doing right and what they were doing wrong.


Concept Development

At this point we knew who our user was: What his motivations, goals and frustrations were. We knew what our competitors were doing both right and wrong, and we knew what we wanted to build and its foundations were pretty clear, so we moved on to creating it.


Sketches

With a single clear user flow in mind (Subscribing to a newsletter), we started sketching out different patterns. Extremely low fidelity sketches allowed us to collaborate on ideas quickly and critique our designs without focusing on granular details.




User Interface, Interaction Design

This is where things got really interesting: We were small (Just two) and were moving fast, the development team was involved (And giving feedback) with our decisions while we made them — so after settling on a set of sketches we decided to move on directly to Interface Design on PS. 

We translated our sketches into a UI, mocked up the [only] flow and started thinking about Interaction Design and the small interactions that would make the experience as frictionless as possible.




Visual Design

Lastly, we iterated on visual design. Our brand guidelines had been defined a while ago — we had, for example, a solid idea of what colors patterns we were going to use here, as well as the type and our branding. We translated them into the interfaces we designed previously, and arrived at the final results.




Outcome


We launched it, it was live for a couple months and we used it to gather user feedback and reach out to content creators. We didn’t promote it nor did any heavy marketing — our goal here was to validate our assumptions regarding whether people would like the idea of newsletters outside inboxes or not — and we did that. We pulled it from the App Store and started working on another, this time much bigger, product — for users to also consume those newsletters inside the app and stop them from cluttering their inboxes.

The problem was that we couldn’t figure out a business model for early revenue. We would end up relying on growing a user base and then monetizing it — and we weren’t comfortable doing that. We made the call that it was a better idea to treat it as a side project on our spare times. I am now sure it was the right decision, but it sadly meant the project is now in a sort of hiatus. 

Regarding the specifics of the design process, this was not the first collaboration with the design partner I worked with — so it was an amazing experience for us to work again together. But one major mistake we made I would try not to make again: We never tried to validate possible revenue models with this first product. We assumed we should first validate assumptions regarding the idea, market and users — which wasn’t wrong, but was lacking a core fundamental of every for-profit business: How to actually make money to pay the bills and profit off of it. The initial lust blinded us with the fold named “We can figure it out later”. However, a failure is always an opportunity for growth and the same holds true here. The lesson was learned, and we grew into more experienced professionals.




Soundtrack

I listened specifically, over and over, to one album: “Rolê: New Sounds of Brazil”. It’s an amazing work that combines 43 new or experimental artists. If you are not familiar with Brazilian music — or even if you are — you should most definitely give it a try. This is probably my favorite track: From Arnaldo Antunes, Ela é Tarja Preta, this is the full album and this is the Guardian’s review.



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