How We Built New York Times Parenting
A behind-the-scenes look into the research, design and iteration behind The New York Times’s Parenting site.
By Taylor Poulos, Youngna Park and Juliette Melton
“The Health of Children — A Seasonable Warning” reads the title of the childcare section of The Housekeeper’s Column that appeared in the pages of The New York Times on November 7, 1875. The temperature had been fluctuating that year, so the column advised readers to dress their children according to the weather and clothe “them comfortably, to cover the little legs, not only with stockings and gaiters, but with skirts which will hang as near to the ground as may be without impeding the little feet.” Though it might seem quaint today, the advice was one of the first instances of parenting coverage from The Times.
Over the last 144 years, both the job of parenting and The Times’s advice about parenting have changed dramatically. A few months ago we launched NYT Parenting, a stand-alone product that aims to provide trustworthy guidance to new and expectant parents, so they can make choices for their families with confidence. To get to this point, it took a cross-disciplinary team months of research, design and iteration. Here’s a little bit of what we learned along the way.
The Pain Points of Parenting
The first step in our product discovery process was to understand what real parents actually want and need. To do this, we did in-home interviews with a dozen parents representing a variety of family structures, parental roles and geographies; the families had different numbers of children, all of different ages.Through our conversations, we heard that those expecting children or with very young children often felt the most overwhelmed, reaching out to Google, family, friends and other resources for answers. When they did, they had a few common challenges they felt current parenting products didn’t adequately address.
Other parenting resources primarily focus on child needs and often ignore the needs of the parent.
Parenting isn’t just about child-rearing, it’s also about a transformation in relationships, bodies and identity.
Finding answers can be overwhelming.
There are lots of parenting resources on the internet, but many are unreliable, contradictory or judgemental. It’s hard to know who to trust.
The learning curve can be steep.
Especially with first-time parents, there’s a lot to learn and it can be difficult to know where to start.
From Opportunity to Ideation
Through our discovery process, we identified an opportunity to be a digital parenting destination that provides trustworthy guidance on the daily challenges of modern parenting. We developed an initial hypothesis: if we leveraged The Times’s rigorous reporting and editing standards — and our access to industry experts — we could build a product that offered this guidance is an accessible, synthesized and time-saving way.
Our ideation culminated in a clickable prototype, created with a hybrid of a custom-built CMS and an interface built in InVision.The prototype included drafts of content, written by Times editorial staff.
Working with The Times’s in-house research group, we recruited over 50 new and expecting parents into a diary study, which is a method of user research where participants self-report behaviors, emotions and preferences over a specified period of time. The participants in our study used our prototype over the course of a week, and responded to prompts that asked them to assess the usefulness and functionality of the prototype. We subsequently selected seven participants and conducted in-depth, one-on-one conversations with them to dig even deeper into their experience with the prototype.
In our conversations, we heard that we were hitting the right notes for topics, breadth and depth of content, but we could simplify the UX, clarify the hierarchy of information on the homescreen, and improve the design of the landing pages.
Helping Parents Find What They Need
In the concepts and prototypes that were part of our initial research, we segmented content by type, like guides, articles, essays and milestones. Separating each section by type made sense to our team: if each content type serves a different user need, they should be in different parts of the site, right?
Our users didn’t notice, or particularly care, that the content was presented in different formats. What they did care about, though, was the content itself, and the topics that were covered. We realized that we needed a better way to organize everything.
That realization brought us to our next phase of research. We first compiled a huge list of topics — including everything from how to choose baby names to mental health — that our product could potentially address. We knew that the next step was to develop a human-centered way to organize it all.
We wrote these topics on note cards and, using a research technique known as card sorting, asked several parents to classify them in whatever way made sense to them.
Our participants organized the information in remarkably consistent ways. For the most part, they sorted child-focused topics into relevant stages, like newborn, toddler and adolescent.
We included many topics — such as family life and relationships — that didn’t fit into stage-based categories, and participants tended to group these topics together. We asked them to name this batch, and they came up with a few labels, including “Love and Life” and “Adulting.” Their creative groupings helped us shape how we thought about this content, which we were betting would be a core differentiator for our product from what already existed in the market.
This insight — that information should be organized into either a child’s developmental stage or into the yet-unnamed “Adulting” category — helped us build a robust content taxonomy of over 50 topics and subtopics.
Building a Product That’s Worth Paying For
While establishing how to structure content and topics in the product, we also invested in developing the site’s visual language. We knew that we needed to build on The Times’s brand equity while making our product feel distinct and premium, much like Cooking and Crosswords We did this primarily through choices around color and type, as well as defining our own style for art direction.
We wanted a primary product color that could stand on its own, but also live as part of the Times family in the same way that NYT Cooking’s red does. We picked a shade of green for its warmth, associations with growth and gender neutrality, and then complemented it with an orange-red and shades of gray.
We also established our brand through type and drew from The Times’s broad custom type palette. We picked NYT Karnak Condensed for our headline font, complemented by Cheltenham, Imperial and Franklin. This mixture of typefaces gives us a large dynamic range to pull from, and visually aligns us with the rest of The Times’s core products.
Validating at Scale: The NYT Parenting Beta
In early May, we launched parenting.nytimes.com in beta. Our goals for this early version were to validate that our content was valuable to new and expectant parents, to gain a signal on people’s willingness to pay for this content, and to solicit feedback around what could make the site even more useful to our audience.
We’ve been live for four months and the initial feedback has been incredibly positive. Over this time, we have conducted multiple surveys of our beta audience and have begun analyzing how users behave on the Parenting site. We will continue to learn about how we can address our users’ greatest needs, and how we can evolve the product to make it even more valuable for parents and parents-to-be.
Cross-functional collaboration is vital.
Colleagues from Research, Editorial, Product, Design, Engineering, Marketing and Content Strategy were partners at every stage of moving the product from zero to one. The team arrived at the product vision together, and we’re constantly finding new ways to work more closely together.
Connect to the core product, but don’t be afraid to develop something new.
As a brand new group building something inside of an existing organization, we get so much value out of being a part of The New York Times, in our design, editorial process and tech stack. But to remain agile, sometimes it was necessary to create our own solutions.
Taylor Poulos is a digital product designer on Parenting at The New York Times.
Youngna Park is the executive product director for Parenting at The New York Times.
Juliette Melton is the director of design research for New Products and Ventures at The New York Times.
Source: New York Times