Anita Zielina, the chief editor at Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) in Zurich, Switzerland, shared her experience of implementing parts of the method in newsrooms on the first day of the INMA European Media Conference in Budapest, Hungary.

She recently did this in the newsroom of NZZ.

“To innovate a newsroom, we use a mixture of design thinking, lean methods, beta testing, and just plain creativity work,” she said.

Now 235 years old, NZZ is the oldest media brand still in existence in Switzerland. It goes through relentless innovation. Despite not being the biggest brand, it offers highly appreciated content and journalism.

Innovation at NZZ is achieved with new methods, new teams, and new products. It has launched eight new media products since 2013.

The most important question the company asks itself is the same one Jeff Bezos asks: Are we moving fast enough?

Zielina provided five tips for creating an effective innovation process:

  1. Create and encourage diverse teams that have different approaches and perspectives, allowing the teams to see problems from different angles. NZZ applied this in its product development. It created a triangle that is based on the editorial side but also includes people working in business and technology from the first moment of creating a product.

  2. Implement creative processes and methods. Tools needed for that include brainstorming, user feedback, use of whiteboards, and visual prototypes.

  3. Foster a culture of experimentation even though newsrooms are not necessarily places where experimentations and failures are rewarded. 

  4. Introduce agile development (not only on the tech side).

  5. Put the user first. And last. And also in the middle.  

These processes helped in the re-design of the NZZ homepage when the company moved from the typical newspaper point of view to a linear design. It took eight months and was supported not only with surveys but also with open-ended questions.

After every iteration, new feedback loops followed. This happened even after NZZ took a wrong path. The company continued to integrate users in the debate with A/B testing after every major incident. NZZ continually asked for feedback on every step of the development process.

That strategy was also repeated when re-designing NZZ’s e-paper app, when the publisher invited users to play with the app and get their feedback.

The daily News Briefing was the third and last case Zielina presented that used design thinking. News Briefing is a constantly updated stream of news, offering six to eight stories throughout the day. It was created after users articulated a need for quick orientation in a confined space.

Before NZZ built something to address this need, the company created a rough MVP (minimum viable product) and opened it for public use. It received about 2,500 pieces of feedback; 80% of users rated the usefulness of the prototype with four or five out of five points.

With that feedback, NZZ created another prototype that now attracts 60,000 users a day with 75% of them accessing it through mobile. At this moment, NZZ is in a constant loop feedback with the News Briefing feature.