News. An industry that was indisputably turned on its head by the arrival of the internet, smartphones and social media. The way that people consume news changed drastically and now every newspaper has its own website, app and social media accounts. We spoke to Digital Creative Director, Jan-Jan Tayson, about the inner workings of the design team at America’s 13th oldest and seventh most widely circulated newspaper, the New York Post.
Well known for its brilliantly bold headlines and its front pages, the New York Post is a weekly newspaper that was established way back in 1801. The tabloid paper is part of the Newscorp family and an umbrella company to several affiliates, namely Page Six, entertainment and celebrity news and Decider, a guide to the streaming platforms like Netflix. Each of these affiliates, known collectively as the Post Digital Network, has its own website and app which is overseen by Jan-Jan in the digital department.
So tell us a little about yourself, Jan-Jan...
Of course, so I am the Digital Creative Director at the New York Post; I’ve been here for just over two years and I love it. In the New York Post digital department, I oversee the design and UX of the affiliate sites, liaise with other departments and manage our designers. I studied design back in college, Packaging Design to be exact, which I loved but then a good friend introduced me to digital and I’ve never looked back.
What’s it like working at the New York Post?
It’s pretty fantastic. We’re a part of the Newscorp family and so we get to experience the benefits of working for a large corporation - such as a strong HR department and also a vast network of resources. However, my department is still quite new and small, which means it’s run a little like a Startup, mainly because there is not a lot of red tape to go through. At the same time, we’ve increased our unique users over 300% in the past three years, and nearly 200% since I began to lead the design team in June 2014.
What does your creative team look like?
My department is very lean but I like it this way. This may sound strange, but it means that I get to do a bit of everything - opportunities that a Digital Creative Director might not have on a larger team. I still get to be involved in the designs and interactions.
There is one in-house designer and myself who are full-time, members of the team. In addition, I have an extensive network of freelancers, one of which is the incomparable Tiffany Ahee, an incredible talent.
Tell us more about the way you work with Freelancers and how you find them.
"New York is an amazing place to live when you’re working in the design industry. There is a great community here."
I’ve accrued a large network of designers and the creative people here are just so welcoming. It makes it very easy to find freelance designers for projects.
Depending on the project, I either rotate freelancers I have used before or bring in new ones. Most recently, I asked a few designers in my network to come up with a new logo for Decider.com and to redraw the New York Post logo. My network never fails me!
What tools do you and your team use?
Alongside the three big tools, Photoshop, Illustrator and Sketch, we use Marvel to prototype and collaborate. It’s very useful when a lot of work is being done remotely. It’s also something we use for presentations as it’s great to convey as much of a finished prototype as you can to stakeholders.
"Static mocks just don’t do it anymore. People like to see things move."
What is your process behind prototyping and how does it benefit the business?
Usually, another department will rush to us with fresh ideas for the app or website and are keen to hear our insight on how to feature it all. After a good brainstorm, we’ll take to Marvel to build our ideas. Then it becomes quite clear just how beneficial prototyping is. More often than not, what you think is a really good idea in your head turns out to be quite the opposite when built in a prototype.
We use Marvel for everything! NYPost.com and PageSix.com! Both sites were made from Marvel and we’re also redesigning Decider.com using the tool. For each project we usually have to go through different departments before we can start. There are a bunch of editorial content considerations that you have to take into account and also ensure that you’re adhering to ad sales needs. That process can take awhile...in a perfect world, those choices are made before you start designing but that’s never the case! Remy Stern is our Chief Digital Officer, and his leadership makes this process run as smoothly as possible.
Is there any advice you would give to other Digital Creative Directors out there?
"Just be honest and don’t take things too seriously."
There are sayings that I have developed when giving feedback to designers that tie these two aspects together. For example, one thing I like to say when things are going overboard is, ‘you’re getting a little bit line happy’. That’s just particularly for designs which are getting an array of rainbow colours in them...or dots...or lines.
Sometimes as a creative person, I have to step back. Yes, design is subjective and exploring different paths is all good and well but design must also align to the brand. When you’re giving guidance to your designers you have to step back, give credit where it’s due and say ‘that’s cool but maybe you just got a little over excited.
What do you see as your biggest challenge working in digital product design?
Communication. My biggest challenge is definitely working across other departments who don’t necessarily understand UX and design. Although, this is also something I enjoy most. Working with these departments, learning their needs and understanding their goals is really interesting for me. This process guides us to a better UX experience.
"Design and UX go hand in hand but some people can’t put them together. Here is where Marvel comes in again as useful as we can take a fully built out prototype and take it to these departments, to show them a true user journey."
While this can be challenging, it’s working toward a bigger issue in the business and working to bridge a gap that needs to be filled. Yes it’s hard, but things like designing are easy for me now so working on the harder tasks is more challenging and coincidently, more exciting.
Finally, how do you stay inspired and keep up in this ever changing space?
I’m just like any other designer out there; I’m constantly on dribbble, Behance, and Adobe Portfolio. I find looking at other designers’ work very inspiring and motivational - there’s always something you want to recreate! Art galleries are another place I like to spend my time - as a hobby and to provoke a creative spark.
I always pay attention to ads in social feeds and what they’re doing with their designs, as that is something we have to brainstorm fairly often. I think above all email newsletters are the easiest way to absorb industry news it’s really the best way to get everything collated in one spot.
Jan-Jan’s passion for design was evident throughout our discussion and her enthusiasm to discuss the importance of prototyping in her process was untiring. It was refreshing to hear such a relaxed approach to managing one of the newer departments in a thriving publication. Showing that no business is transparent and no design function identical.