AMERICAN EXPRESS: OPEN FORUM
Redesign a curated content consumption experience for busy small business owners.
Redesigning a content discovery experience.
American Express started OPEN Forum with a goal to help small-business owners grow their business with insights and advice. During my time at Kettle, I’ve collaborated with visual designers, product strategists and developers to design new features, enhance existing ones while establishing and reinforcing consistent UX patterns across platforms. I’ve helped it grow into a platform for thousands of users to find insights and exchange advice every day.
In mid-2015, we redesigned the key touch points of the site to provide a better content consumption experience and to make the OPEN Forum ecosystem much simpler to use. Our ultimate goal is to drive leads and increase engagement on the site.
Getting to know our users
Before jumping into design, I took a step back and studied the goals of our design targets. We interviewed 10 SBOs to understand their needs and motives. Using the information we got, I created user personas to share across the team. Our primary design targets are small business owners that are more experienced. Unlike the ones that are just starting out, these business owners are figuring out ways to expand their businesses. They're sensitive to how they spend time, gravitating towards credible sources, and checking the validity of something before investing time.
After understanding our users' needs, I looked at other content websites out there. I compared competitors’ strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities and highlighted areas I wanted to draw attention to — and features I wanted to avoid. I realized we need to provide more focuses on our site so all these busy SBOs can find what they need much more efficiently. In summary,
Users generally browse on the home page; whereas users are looking for specific content on the topic pages.
THE DESIGN PHASE
Every page needs to help users achieve their goal.
Knowing that SBOs have limited amount of time, the site needs to provide values to our users as quickly as possible. Looking at the old home page, I noticed there was a lack of hierarchy and a lack of transparency of what OPEN Forum offers. I designed the home page with the goal to showcase what OPEN Forum offers and to guide users to what they need.
To tell a better story of OPEN Forum and anchor users into the experience, I added value props on the top of the page. For being a smaller content site, showing values to users is the key for conversions. I designed the homepage as an information center that gives SBOs at-a-glance information and allows users to search for specific content they need. We also worked on better nomenclature and infused personality into copy to make the site much more personable.
For topics pages, knowing these established business owners are more focused and pointed in growth planning, I wanted to design the page to be more specific and contextual. These topic pages will first curate the most relevant and must-know content. Towards the end of the page, it shows trending and additional content sorted by recency for the casual browsers. I added a short description for each topic to optimize SEO and clear CTAs to facilitate deeper content consumption across the site.
I defined clear structures for both the homepage and the topic page to make them more editorial and functional. The team brainstormed on page elements that will help tell the story, then prioritized and placed them on the page accordingly.
A better way of navigating.
After redesigning the homepage and the topic page, I moved on to redesigning the nav. In order for users to discover content easier, the nav needs to be much more functional. I conducted usability sessions with users that are not familiar with the site to find out what works and what doesn't. I guided our testers through specific tasks they needed to complete using the site's navigation and search functionality and asked them a series of questions during the process.
Using the findings from the testing sessions, I knew that the nav structure needed to be clearer. I pulled the primary topics out of the "Topics" drop-down to make them more visible and to boost SEO. Within each topic, I defined clearer hierarchy and highlighted second and third-tier topics to help users find more specific results. An "Editors' Picks" tab was introduced to better showcase premium content and special events OPEN Forum produces.
I then worked on the layout of the nav. I placed Editors' Picks as the first nav item to ensure it doesn't get lost with other topical nav items. I created a strong hierarchy within each drop-down to provide more guidance for our users.
We also refined the nomenclature and the topic structure — as our testers weren't sure about where to find certain items. With the new nav design, not only can users now find the content they need much faster, it also improved SEO and the overall engagement rate for the site.
THE FINAL DESIGNS
Refreshing the overall brand identity.
To create OPEN Forum's new identity, the visual designer worked on a brand new art direction and applies it to these major touchpoints on the site.
The new topic page launched in June 2015. With the new description text optimized for SEO, contextually related topics, and prompts to join/follow, the new topics page now has the highest conversion rate on site — 25x higher than the average on site. The curated experience also gets visitors to come back — we see 11% increase in weekly return visits; 8% increase in monthly return visits.