The goal of product interface design is to develop a product’s personality (the new Chartbeat Publishing is friendly, trustworthy, fast, modern), and tell a story (publishers can build and retain a loyal audience from our data). Everything about a product’s design relates back to its personality and story, including the visual style, the interaction design, and the language. This isn’t something we can get at the first go – it requires a lot of experimentation.
So at Chartbeat we have a process in place that allows us to rapidly try out ideas: not just at the design level, but at every stage of the project. We create a quick rough series of wireframes, and do the same for visual design sketches. Early on we prototype these designs in the browser (we love AngularJS over here), and even have a system that allows for quickly prototyping data in the backend (a custom LUA scriptable real-time backend). At every step of the way, we’re testing and tweaking to make sure that our choices support the personality and story we’re trying to portray.
In the middle of all this endless iterating, we reached a point where we’re ready for an initial stable release. While we will keep nurturing and iterating on this product, here are four major design improvements that are in the new Chartbeat Publishing today.
A major goal in rebuilding Chartbeat Publishing was to further reduce the burden of interpretation on our users, i.e., make the product – not our already very busy clients – do more of the heavy-lifting. That goal was realized by a couple of different approaches, especially figuring out ways to answer common client questions of “what does this number mean?” and “how well is my site doing right now compared to at other times?”.We expanded the product’s efficacy by using our technology not just to report numbers to you, but to interpret numbers for you, too. For instance, now when you mouse over your Engaged Time section in the dashboard, a tooltip tells you how strongly your site is performing as compared to the past month – are you “on par” or “over-performing” – along with your site’s monthly average Engaged Time and its maximum average Engaged Time. We go one step further by pointing out which articles are potentially responsible for either an over-performing or under-performing Engaged Time. And at all times we call out which articles should be regarded as “good for your site’s health.”I talk a little more about the subject of signaling and invisible design on my own site.
Next up: see how the product’s signaling starts even before you start processing your dashboard data – thanks to our strategic use of color.
Color isn’t just color
Color is now a fundamental signaling element in the dashboard – we’re moving away from color as a legend – allowing you to interpret what’s happening in the dashboard (and thus on your site), even more quickly than before. If you see green, your brain automatically picks up that something positive is happening, whereas anything red implies that something is underperforming or past its prime. By using these simple cues, paired with a baseline blue palette, users can navigate the product even more efficiently without having to refer to a legend.
Our first version of the new Chartbeat Publishing dashboard was powerful in many regards. But we noticed that some dashboard elements, particularly a few crucial features related to building your loyal audience, were hard to discover. This was definitely not the client’s fault – it’s up to Design and UX to figure out how to make these things easy for clients to find. In our case, this issue had more to do with the fact that we had learned even more about the industry after users started beta-testing our first version of the new product.
We decided to make it really easy to find all our different types of filter and sorts we made available. The UI for sorting on Engaged Time is now as prominent as we think it is useful. Filtering by something like your “new” visitors are reading is really easy to find in the new dashboard. So you’re doing less guessing and more getting right to it. This easier-to-navigate interface allows us to expose more advanced features.
Things are more flexible than ever before
One of those features is multi-pivoting, which lets you combine different filters. In the original Chartbeat Publishing dashboard, you could click into a story and drill down into a particular story’s data. The new dashboard lets you pivot and manipulate the dashboard to pull out almost any specific data you want – whether it’s the number of mobile readers you have in Spokane, Washington, or which stories are attracting your most loyal visitors right now – thus increasing the number of actions you can take. Being able to do more within the dashboard allows you to surface the insights you need to inform your decisions and processes.
All in all
Our mission is to keep improving what we hope is an accessible dashboard that presents actionable insights. Right now we’re looking at how people are using the new Chartbeat Publishing, and we’ll take those learnings, along with whatever major needs arise in the industry, to inform the next batch of updates.