NPR One is an audio experience that connects you to a continuous stream of public radio news stories, curated just for you. It was the result of a design sprint focused on creating an entirely new kind of NPR listening experience.
By early 2013, NPR recognized their need to invest in experiences to ensure NPR would remain relevant as listeners shifted away from radio and toward digital experiences. I was lucky enough to be part of the team of 7 charged with the hypothetical design challenge: If given $10M, how might we create an experience that could significantly disrupt the public radio economy?
We began by enumerating the shortcomings of our current technology underpinnings, via a “why can't we...?” brainstorming exercise. Many of these shortcomings came directly from extensive customer research, conducted by NPR’s Audience Insight & Research team. Investing in these underpinnings would become essential to supporting a great listening experience.
Next, we turned to two of our most successful on-air products – the news magazine shows Morning Edition and All Things Considered. These two shows are arguably the highest quality, most hand-crafted products NPR produces on a daily basis. While they’re amazing products, their production cycles have more in common with a newspaper than most digital news. Like a newspaper, each show is crafted with a heavy editorial influence curating the best stories to represent that day’s news. Also like a newspaper, this high quality means that distribution is limited to once-per-day. Newspapers solve for this by distributing to always-on 24/7 sites and apps, pushing the stories live when they’re ready. At this point, NPR could only offer a hermetically sealed audio stream – one that didn’t reduce to individual segments, offer the ability to skip or share.
This insight led us to think about how we might translate the segments of audio into an experience that offered the freshest content, but present it in a way that was familiar (variety, intros, music beds) that embraced its digital nature (segmented, ranked, customized).
The result was an always-on flow of NPR’s best stories and newscasts, personalized for each listener. We began to use the information we had about each segment to lend a more hand-crafted touch to the experience.
This flow became the backbone of the original open-and-go iOS prototype. The experience was designed to feel closer to a traditional radio experience, drastically simplifying a listener’s decisions: turn it on and hear the best stuff we have right now. The simplified design was a significant contrast to the NPR News iOS app.
The prototype was released to a closed group of listeners who provided feedback on the experience and filed more than a few bugs. The team continued to iterate on frequent releases over the next year before a broader release.
The core audio experience is now truly cross-platform, delivering NPR to iOS, Android, smart speakers and even connected car platforms.
It was an incredible privilege to be work on this project alongside that early team of Joanne Garlow, Jeremy Pennycook, Max Pfennighaus, Stephanie Slobodian, and Jen Tuohy. Later design iterations of the app were carefully sheperded by Benjamin Dauer. Quite a crew.