American Pigeon is a conservative online magazine.
Project Year: 2021
In 2020, I was contracted to create a website for the online magazine, American Pigeon. When they reached out again in 2021, I ran a Design Sprint to come up with some business solutions, along with some modifications to the website.
The brand identity and website I created previously in 2020.
While American Pigeon was getting decent engagement on their instagram page, growth was slow. The team was stumped with what to do next. Jacob, the founder, actually approached me with the intention of “sprucing up the website”. In response, I told him frankly: “If you don’t have a proper strategy to get people to your site, it doesn’t matter how good your site looks, it will be useless.”
Therefore, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to run a Design Sprint.
We began by interviewing each member of the team to find out what they felt the problems were.
As we listened, we took notes in the “How Might We?” format. We also collected a list of Long Term Goals, as well as “Can We” challenges.
At the end, we voted on what we should focus on, and places the challenges onto a user journey map.
With the team align on a common goal, we could now proceed with ideating on the same wavelength.
Long Term Goal:
Making good revenue, being a known name, HQ
Can we find other dedicated conservative writers/content creators to work for free?
Can we provide enough value to get people to give money?
Can we really make it out of the start-up stage?
How Might Wes:
How might we market ourselves and our personalities?
How might we get our user base to engage with the website itself?
How might we distinguish AP from other conservative outlets?
I tasked the team with scouring the internet for ideas we could take inspiration from. When we regrouped, each member of the team presented their “Lightning Demos” as we took notes on what could be applied to our project.
Some examples included:
Similar conservative startup page, Lone Conservative (Strategy)
Evie Magazine (Email List, Author pages)
National Review (Branding)
Harpers Review (Cartoons)
After drawing inspiration from these examples, I ran the team through a series of quick brainstorming exercises design to force out spontaneous ideas. Good thing we didn’t have to present those…
From those ideas, each member of the team created a 4-part concept sketch of their idea.
This was a long session.
Once the solution concepts were done, the team uploaded them anonymously to the board. (To prevent any bias) I then briefly went over the concepts and presented them according to my interpretation (the team was instructed to present the ideas in a way that was self-explanatory).
After which, the team voted on their favourite parts of the concepts, creating a sort of “heatmap”. From this, the Decider, Jacob, was able to make an educated decision on which concepts we might want to implement.
We ended up choosing one main overall concept, “Fake it till you make it”, a concept that focused heavily on presenting the brand as credible by implementing ideas from other credible pages.
This would be combined with another concept that involved utilising the “Pigeon” branding by giving the writers customised pigeon avatars.
From this, we dissected the best parts of the concepts and created a storyboard for our prototype that we would run by our test users.
We chose to combine A and B
A rough sketch of the prototype.
I did my best with my finger and an iPad.
With clickable posts, links, and Instagram story highlights.
My favourite part of the process.
We ran the prototype by 3 test users and took notes of their responses.
The interviews gave us plenty of valuable insights, and we got lots of fantastic ideas that we ended up implementing.
Some ideas included:
Doing a promotional giveaway
From our ideation process, we knew that we had to let people know what American Pigeon was all about. We also knew from our expert interviews that instagram was often the first touchpoint for many users.
A question that always came up during the interviews was “Why Pigeon?”
Hence, one of the tasks was to finally put up an explanation for that.
From our feedback, we also found that users were averse to big chunks of text, and less words would catch their attention better, especially in an image.
Therefore we changed the post format to exclude the caption from the image, and instead only have the headline in the image. Since we wanted all the important info to be inside the image, we made sure that the call to action (link in bio) was also included.
We also utilised the highlights to showcase the pigeon cartoons, as everyone loved those.
“Okay, why pigeon though?”
One of our main goals was to find a way to provide enough value for people to start giving some money. Clearly, American Pigeon was not at the level of other news outlets where readers loved the brand enough to part with their hard-earned money.
Therefore, we decided to try providing some sort of material benefit that was both cost-effective, but yet provided enough incentive for someone to make a donation.
We included this in our prototype, and our test users loved the idea.
In our ideation phase, we thought it would be a good idea to use clickbait to lead people to the donation page.
This was our attempt to focus on one of our main focus challenges which was to generate some revenue. However, upon user testing, we found that they were not impressed by the “scam” of the misleading headline.
We also found that most users scrolled past the call to action as they were busy reading the article anyway, though they did take notice of it. Hence, we added the CTA both in the middle, and at the end of the article.
“Waitttt so it’s NOT free!”
“Oh wait I thought it was like some sort of actual pigeon!”
Inspired by the donation portal presented in one of our lightning demos, from fellow conservative news site, “Lone Conservative”, we implemented our very own donation portal, that would allow readers to donate any amount they wanted, and choose a free pigeon.
Another minor detail that was important, as pointed out in our user interviews was the need to explain what the donations were for. An explanation was added that American Pigeon relies 100% on donations.
“I normally wouldn’t donate to stuff like that, but since there’s a free sticker and I can donate any amount, I probably would give it a chance if I like the content.”
in our expert interview (research) phase, we found that it would be effective to utilise the personalities behind the brand to forge a connection with our readers.
In our prototype, we added an Instagram highlight showcasing our contributors.
“Oh yeah I know Luke! Love his articles”
Context: Luke is a well-known writer in the space.
This confirmed our hypothesis that having human personalities behind the brand increased credibility and instantly created a connection with users. Makes sense why many organisations now have “Ambassador programmes”.
While this is standard practice for most online magazines, this was a further proof-of-concept that it would work for us as well. Hence, we added the author bio at the end of every article, that linked to an author page with all their content.
One thing we heavily neglected was the email newsletter. The current newsletter was simply a weekly summary of the new articles.
During one of the testing sessions, one of the test users brought up how she always clicks on Quora’s emails, because Quora knows what you are interested in, and the subject line of the email is always a question that they know you want the answer to.
To implement this strategy, a signup form was created to get the user’s interests in order to curate a newsletter that would truly speak to them more personally.
More overall UI improvements made to the 2020 version of the website
We wanted the home page to look just like how any credible news site would look, while still having sufficient information to distinguish us since the brand does not have the same awareness as bigger news outlets.
The top menu with the trending topics, as well as the featured articles with the category tags allow a user to get an idea of what kind of content they can expect upon a first glance.
This is followed by a large slogan that serves to tell a user what American Pigeon is about.
Going off the user feedback about too many stimuli occurring at once turning them off, the layout was tripped down to ensure that the initial view was simple enough, but containing enough information to draw a conclusion to what American Pigeon might be about.
At the beginning of this project in 2020, there was not as much content on the page, hence it was designed specifically to make up for the lack of content. Since that has changed since 2020, it was clear that the content infrastructure needed to be reorganised to accommodate the new content.
We simplified the article navigation by having category tabs at the top of every archive page.
Over time, the number of videos added with different title lengths were starting to look messy. A simple fix was to decrease the font size and add a displayed character limit to ensure the titles would not go beyond two lines.
This is a much cleaner and uniformed look that allows the user to focus more on the content rather trying to process the mess of a layout.
Publish posts from guest writers for credibility
Having learnt the importance of users feeling connected to the writers, we decided that it would be an effective way to grow by inviting guest writers to write for American Pigeon, allowing us to associate the brand with their name, and gaining some credibility with their audience.
Monitor newsletter performance
Though we now have a newsletter that is better curated to the user, only the data will tell us if it is actually connecting with them and leading to more website traffic. What type of email subjects lead to the most opens? Are they opening but not following through to the website? What email formats better facilitate that action?
These are all things the team will have to continue to monitor.
Post images with donors with their stickers
Once fans start making donations and get their stickers, it is important that the social proof is utilised by posting their photo submissions of their stickers on our social media pages.
Continue to get user feedback!
Of course, as a startup magazine, the journey has only just begun for the team at American Pigeon. Along with a growing fanbase, will come a larger pool of users to collect data from that will allow the organisation to grow even further.