Trove's Stream UI

In November and December 2012, I began working with our Chief Strategist and Mobile Engineering Lead to define the core user experiences for Trove. We intended to relaunch the Washington Post Social Reader as a more intentional personalized news product. The new effort focused on social curation, envisioning that influential points-of-view could stand alongside venerable news sources as equivalent signals to our users.

For example, two early user stories that reflect this shifting balance were:

  • As a reader, I discover news my friends have recommended across multiple topics.
  • As a curator, I broadcast my enthusiasm for a specific topic, surfacing the best stories for my followers.

I began my design process by dividing the over-arching experience goals of the product into Reader, Social and Curation requirements to convey — to myself, my design team, our mobile client and platform engineers, and product and business teams — that these three elements must be tangibly intertwined in the mind of our users at all times. But the goals of each would differ, the balance of behaviors would vary between users, and for a given user between topics of interest.

By way of written experience requirements, term definitions and very simple wireframes, I documented the major user-facing components of the iPad so that our mobile development team could begin standing-up a first prototype. Once defined in the broadest terms, experience sketching jumped into the process of working out main components such as suggestions and search in wireframed flows.

Numerous social-discovery applications use a stream framework to surface content from a variety of sources. We were looking to do much the same, with some special constraints, most notably:

News content in Trove is a mix of syndicated and aggregated articles, but we only host articles form syndicated partners. We are committed to ensuring an agnostic editorial point-of-view so that the best material for each user finds them regardless of our relationship with its publisher. As a result, the stream serves as Trove’s core interface, rather than the “article page” where so many publishers focus.

We set out to give dedicated curators — power-users who fuel the system for the entire community — a sense of ownership over their topical “homesteads.” Highlighting voice and personality via collection and commentary is our unique offering.

Sketching led to more precise UI designs that focused on building out interactions and functional patterns in real space, and beginning to define a straw-man visual brand (these represent the pre-iOS7 pivot).

After focusing deeply on the stream interface, specifically displaying article meta-data and social activity across networks, and empowering curators to express their own points-of-view through these items,
I shifted to designing an item-level interaction: the “peek.”

This element was conceived as detail view on an article item that appeared in-stream, as opposed to a stacked on top of it. It was designed to allow users to move through a single stream, and across multiple streams by fluidly expanding and contracting items of interest while remaining in our core interface.

Separating “peeking” from our reading experience allows users to access the discovery and wayfinding interactions that our social interest graph affords even before reaching full article content. This is particularly desirable in our system, where much of the content is aggregated from unsyndicated sources and rendered in an in-app browser. This approach to a detail view allowed our app to deep link via notifications to an item of content, in its curated stream context.

Email me for a more thorough case study.

[Design director, 2012–2013]