Elliott Malkin

Seasoned UX designer, product strategist, and manager of design teams.

The New York Times

As Mobile Product Design Director, I led a team to transform our apps from static feed readers into experiences purpose-built for mobile.

When I took on the role in 2011, story selection and layouts were determined by editors on the desktop website, then fed downstream to the mobile apps.

There was little to no variation across elements. Sentences were cut off. Headlines and images were uniform.

In time, we got better at interpreting those feeds. It seems trivial now, but in 2012 we were able to assemble articles into groupings and vary the weight of headlines according to importance.

We added banner headlines and span photos.

This was before Android released Lollipop, so there was still considerably more control over presentation on iOS.

While we made these incremental improvements, we also launched a mobile subscription model.

The key to its success was a metered approach that acquired paid subscribers while allowing non-subscribers to continue viewing a limited number of articles. It was a huge moment in publishing that was emulated across the industry.

We also began providing native feeds to third party apps like Flipboard, and were able to exert some control over the presentation of our brand in those contexts.

In 2014, I advocated for a major investment to break the downstream dependence from our desktop website.

With this illustration I demonstrated how the investment would open up a new generation of editorial styles.

It all came to fruition in 2015.

We now had a set of apps written, designed, and edited expressly for Android, iOS, and mobile web.

Case Study: Discovery

Readers flock to The New York Times for its curated selection of news from editors rather than algorithms. But The Times produces a firehose of great content every day, and only a small portion of it is Top News. How do you surface the remainder?

When we embarked on an iPad app redesign, we transformed another feed reader with few visual templates into a stylized experience that amplified the voice and art direction of every section.

The prior app was paginated. It had strict boundaries between sections and little variation in density, texture or style. In short, it was a lot like a newspaper.

I restructured the app so that a broad swathe of content appears on the front page, not just Top News. This had the effect of distributing readership across the app in an unprecedented way. Viewership of the magazine, for instance, increased three-fold.

I also pushed to incorporate full covers from the print magazine for the first time. This required a new feed and additional workflow. A small victory that brought a steady dose of visual intelligence to the top of the app every week.

But we still faced the issue of readers feeling like they missed the best material from across The Times.

So I proposed a sort of Tinder for news that would rely on a strong recommendation engine then under development.

I created this prototype of the interaction in Framer.

When the recommendation engine didn’t perform as expected, I suggested we pivot to a simpler solution. It made use of two basic pieces of information: an aggregate notion of the most popular non-news stories, and which of those stories a user has seen.

The result was In Case You Missed It, an automated list of trending stories appended to every article. It soundly outperformed the previous list of articles in that same position.