The challenge

A lot of eyes were on ausbiz - new kid on the business media block, the first of its kind in Australia, and prominent media personalities and veterans such as David Koch, Kylie Merritt and Nadine Blayney behind the venture.  Not only would ausbiz require a multiplatform brand that reflected its unique personality and positioning in an industry dominated by incumbent conservative media giants, but it would also require a digital customer experience to match that would plant its flag as a serious disruptive player in the finance news space.

our impact
  • Helped shape the product value proposition from passive viewing to active engagement with the content through personalisation, after conducting user research and testing.
  • Designed and developed both responsive web and iOS apps through rapid prototyping, iterative design, lean testing and agile development over just five sprints.
  • Successfully launched at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Continue to improve the experience through continuous development.
  • Maximised value of data through analytics into engagement & usage, paving the way for new revenue opportunities.

Hidden was approached in late 2019 by Kylie Merritt to initially help design a lean brand identity for what was to be Australia’s first digital-only business and finance news streaming service - ausbiz.  Since we are a boutique innovation studio, we choose the projects and clients we work with carefully and always assess the potential impact our work may have.  When working with startups, a determining factor in that is the quality of the team, and from the outset we knew that ausbiz had the goods to deliver on their vision - a founding team made of two passionate women whose success and experience in the finance media world ran deep - they knew what it took to run a business channel having previously done so at Sky and Nine, not to mention being genuine, easy-going people that we knew would trust us to deliver on their goals.

Fortunately, Hidden too had deep expertise and roots in the media and television industry in the design of brands and digital experiences, for companies including SBS, Optus, ABC, Nine and Sky Racing. Anywhere we could lean on this experience and offer guidance and support to help ausbiz reach their goal of becoming market-ready as soon as possible, we would.

What developed from there is only what could only be described as a dream client on a project that could not have been more of an ideal fit for Hidden, and despite hitting and overcoming the hiccup of a global epidemic, the result was a successful launch and beginning of a long-lasting relationship with a fast-growing company. So, how did we get there?  Since our work across the ausbiz project touched on different aspects of brand and digital innovation, we’ve chaptered this case study into two parts in case you’d like to jump around (although for context, we recommend starting with the brand)

Have you asked yourself...

Does your venture have high uncertainty ? A lot more questions that answers?

Is it likely that your venture may need to pivot if you had validation feedback from the market?

Does your venture require some quick finding before significant funding can be committed?

Does your venture stand among your competitors?

The Brand

Designing a digital-first news brand for the new kid on the finance news block.

Long periods of research? A fantasy. Months of strategy before even picking up a pen? An illusion. No, a traditional branding approach wouldn’t cut it for a pre-funded startup. Instead, we needed to think lean - “how can we deliver tangible results as quickly and cheaply as possible, without sacrificing on quality?”

We decided that the Hidden Brand Sprint would be the best direction for ausbiz. What is the Brand Sprint?

  • 2-3 weeks of rapid research, inspiration, design and testing
  • Goals of quickly determining a clear direction for the brand, as well as foundational visual elements of the brand identity.
  • Ideal for developing lean brands for startups and internal corporate innovation propositions - they are often easily able to make decisions quickly with little bureaucracy, and get tangible results in a short period of time from seasoned professional designers and brand strategists.
  • Its speed and intensity is less suited to detailed organisation-wide corporate rebrands where longer periods of research and strategy are required, however it can be a good way to kick a project off and land on an initial direction before fleshing out the wider brand.

The Brand Sprint

outcomes

Over the course of the 3-week Brand Sprint, we:

  • Crystallised the goals and ambitions of the brand
  • Experimented and explored different creative routes
  • Settled on and refined a single creative direction
  • Wrapped the brand up into a Lean Brand Bible

And beyond the tangible outputs were the intangible benefits - ausbiz had seen what Hidden was able to produce in such little time, and over the course of that three weeks had built trust and rapport which led them to re-engage Hidden for the design and development of the digital platforms, as well as the design of ausbiz’s on-air broadcast package (that is - the motion graphics that make up a news broadcast).

1 - Immerse (2 days)

A brand is the distillation of many ideas, thoughts and feelings into a single consistent visual expression. Where a strong brand stands apart from a weak one is three key attributes:

  1. It elicits an emotional response in its target customer
  2. It creates a perception of the company to the world
  3. It embodies the culture and values of the people within the organisation from leadership to the front line - and is a key asset in attracting like-minded new talent.

Understanding the inner workings and culture of a company and taking the client on the journey is critical to a successful branding project. Unfortunately, many branding projects skip the crucial discovery phase directly to visual execution (logos, business cards, colours). Not only does this disenfranchise employees within the company, but it makes reaching alignment and consensus from all levels of an organisation (particularly when it comes to long-standing legacy rebrands) next to impossible.

Fortunately, being a startup with no baggage and a clean-slate meant the pressure was off for designing a brand that gelled with a legacy culture. However, the pressure was still very much there for creating a brand that would not only live up to the spotlight and appeal to its target audience, but also attract the top talent required to operate the channel.

To account for this, we kicked off with a short period of market analysis and empathy-building with ausbiz’s target audience - understanding their viewing habits and brands they align with over a short immersion ‘primer’. Completing this lean immersion helped us set the stage for shaping the brand strategy.

2 - Align (1 day)

Next was to run a Brand Jam - Hidden’s day-long workshop with key stakeholders with the aim of translating abstract ideas of the brand strategy - vision, personality, values and positioning - into visual artefacts that the team could align and agree upon. This would then form the foundation for visual exploration.

From the Brand Jam, the Hidden team had a strong understanding of the perception that ausbiz wished to create:

  • A digital-first brand that sat at the intersection of fintech and media, breaking the mould set by legacy broadcasters
  • An inclusive brand that catered to all finance professionals - from readers of AFR, through to TechCrunch.
  • Making finance news more engaging, approachable and accessible whilst still commanding legitimacy as a serious player in the finance media space.
  • Innovative and young with its finger on the pulse of the latest in startup, venture & tech news, but without alienating the audience of finance professionals and conventional organisations.
  • Being an aspirational, vibrant brand that conventional financial organisations wish to be aligned with.
3 - diverge (2 days)

With a clear understanding of the brand ambitions, we moved into a divergent period of visual exploration, beginning with inspiration - hunting all corners of the web (and primarily Pinterest) for inspiration, gathering in moodboards with multiple creative directions. Our designers then explored preliminary directions for a brand motif that would form the basis of the logo:

  • Progress - arrows
  • Data - squares, blips
  • Convergence - ribbons, lines
  • Finance - arrows, charts, graphs
  • Letter 'A'
💡What’s important in the Diverge stage (and key to maintaining cadence in the Brand Sprint) is to remain low-fidelity and involve the client closely in the design process.  There isn’t space for pixel-pushing here - what’s essential is to validate through early feedback to eliminate unnecessary work and avoid wasting time tunnelling too far down dead-end tracks.

From initial sketches and doodling, we landed on six directions that we wanted to explore further in higher fidelity.

4 - EXPLORE (3 days)

With a handful of creative routes established, it was time to move into higher fidelity. On top of the 5 key principles of good logo design - simple, versatile, memorable, appropriate and timeless - we ask further questions when designing brands that will exist primarily within moving image, including:

  • How will this brand behave in motion? Is the motion theory congruent with the brand personality?
  • What aspect of the logo could be extended upon to form other elements of the graphical package? (eg. a pie-chart piece might be used in charts, as well as transitional elements and set graphics)
💡 The goal in the Explore stage is to translate these initial sketches into a digital form and explore some real-world applications of the brand for context as quickly as possible.  Polish is not important at this stage, because most (if not all) of the work will be thrown out.

Luckily, our designers move fast!

5 - Iterate (3 days)

By this stage we had reached a point of consensus around the brand in little under two weeks - a process that can often take months via a traditional branding approach, creating along the way what Lean advocates would consider ‘waste’ - overdesigned presentation documents, refinement of a direction before testing and validation, and long strategy documents that often never see the light of day.

Over the next three days, we ran refinement iterations of design & test until we had confidently reached a point where the brand could be documented in a Lean Brand Bible.

6 - lean brand bible (3 days)

Given the time constraints, rather than crafting an in-depth brand guidelines document, our goal was to equip ausbiz with just enough design output and direction that they could use for communications - enter the Lean Brand Bible (or LBB). Essentially, the LBB is a short deck comprising a brief overview of:

  • The Why: brand vision, values & purpose
  • The What: logo, colours, typography, image treatment
  • The Where: applications of the brand in different scenarios, and some examples of what not to do.

Broadcast design

Although broadcast design is not a service Hidden offers independent of wider branding projects, in the case of ausbiz it was the brand’s primary application. Given Hidden’s past experience in the television and media space, we were again able to rapidly design a comprehensive broadcast package for ausbiz, as well as connecting them and collaborating with a technical broadcast studio to implement the graphics into a live broadcast environment, ensuring the channel would be ready for the ambitious launch date.

The Platform

Designing and building ausbiz's mobile, web and content management system.

With a unified brand across broadcast and print, the next step in ausbiz’s path to market was in its digital platform.  Hidden was engaged for the design and development of ausbiz’s:

  • externally-facing applications (web, mobile apps)
  • internal content management system

For the customer-facing apps, this would be ausbiz’s chance to break from the bounds of traditional broadcasting and create a unique viewing experience.  The only problem - time was again not on our side, and the launch date was little over 12 weeks away. Not only would that involve designing the applications, but also building, testing, QA and training internal staff in workflows - in other words, ambitious to say the least. As with the branding, a lean approach would again need to be taken.

Taking our modular Sprints, Jams & Missions approach, we put forward a plan:

  1. Proposition Accelerator - build insight through research and analysis, ideate around possibilities, before prototyping and testing to gauge customer desirability and validate our assumptions around high-value features. Finally, wrap up a proposition with an engaging sales tool for exciting sponsors & investors.
  2. Strategy Sprint - with the insights generated in the Proposition Accelerator, prioritise the features to make up ausbiz’s first release in the form of a Minimum Loveable Product, and then estimate the effort required to pull it off.
  3. Design & Development - design the user experience and interface in parallel with technical development
  4. Training & Launch - conduct training sessions for staff and support the public platform launch.

Proposition Accelerator

outcomes

Over the course of the Proposition Accelerator, we:

  • Gain an understanding of the business, brand, customer and market.
  • Define the unique value proposition of the product innovation - that is, discovering a compelling solution that customers will want to use
  • Mitigate value risk - that is, ensuring the business is not wasting time and money building features nobody wants or uses.
  • Articulate the vision and value of the offering into a communication tool for stakeholders and potential investors.
1 - discover

Having been on the journey with ausbiz in shaping their brand, we had an understanding of the goals and vision for the platform, as well as an understanding of the customer segments to inform the design of the brand.  What we needed, however, was a comprehensive bedrock of insights with which to inform ausbiz’s digital offering.

To start, we ran a Digital Explorer Jam - Hidden’s design-led workshop alternative to a kickoff meeting - to align on goals for the project and gain a high-level picture of the business and market.  During the 2-hour Explorer Jam, we conduct Expert Interviews and run Lightning Demos all while capturing assumptions made by the client that will require further validation.

👉 To support businesses through the digital shift caused by COVID-19, Hidden is currently offering a 2-hour obligation-free Digital Explorer Jam valued at $1600 to select businesses for free. Contact us to find out more.

With the context of the problem space and understanding of the clients’ mental models, the next step was to run a Value Proposition Jam to develop personas of the actors core to ausbiz’s business model - Users (Viewers), Customers and the Business. By mapping their Jobs-to-be-done, Pains and Gains, we were able to get in the heads of the different actors, as well as identify potential opportunities to add value and differentiate ausbiz’s digital offering.

Having worked in the finance media industry for years, ausbiz had a firm understanding of their target viewers, however the fact remained that the User and Customer personas were based on secondary information - they were assumptive personas. Without validation, relying on assumptive personas to guide product design decisions carries high value risk - that is, knowing with high confidence people people will choose to use it. To c th biases that often creep in, we needed some firmer qualitative and quantitative data to validate the assumptions made in the Explorer and Value Jams.

To start, we conducted customer interviews with the aim of firming-up our assumptive personas.  Given the speed that we were running at, we had time for only a small number of interviews. However what interviews we were able to conduct provided useful insight into the day-to-day lives of potential ausbiz Users, and how the offering might fit into their day.

With the findings from the interview, we were then able to formulate a survey to seek quantitative validation. The surveys returned overwhelmingly positive desire for the offering and for the need of some aspect of personalisation.

Building empathy for the target audience and gaining a closer understanding of their digital habits and behaviours, we quickly conducted desk research and basic competitive analysis to complete the picture.  Thinking in terms of jobs-to-be-done, this involved not only direct competitors, but also indirect competitors that competed on the job that the viewer was trying to achieve (eg. to feel more informed, or to feel in control of finances).

With a foundation of primary and secondary research, we were ready to move on to ideation and defining the value propositions for the different products.

2 - define

Any successful digital product depends on an exchange of value - the business wants users on its platform, but in return for that loyalty users need a reason to go there, and keep returning.  For a streaming service, quality content is absolutely core - without it nothing else really matters - not the brand, not the user experience - nada. In the case of ausbiz, the live video stream would be accessible not only via ausbiz’s own apps, but also via third-party partners like 7Plus - a strategically important business decision to increase awareness and viewership, but at the same time potentially keeping viewers from converting into ausbiz registered users.

Whilst the ausbiz team were hard at work ensuring a high quality content offering, it was Hidden’s role to make sure that:

  • Ausbiz’s viewer-facing platform had a unique product value proposition that would encourage users to convert into registered users and continue to return and stay active on the platform.
  • Ausbiz’s staff-facing content management system (CMS) was frictionless enough for busy producers to publish and manage content on the platform.

Understanding challenges like these during the Define stage is critical to developing a product strategy that provides the best outcomes for all parties. To identify these possible challenges, we held a How Might We workshop, where we translated challenges into design opportunities in the form of “How might we...” - segmented by Viewer (User), Customer and Business.

With these opportunity statements, and building off what we have learnt in Discovery, we began formulating solution hypotheses in the form of ‘We Believe That (WBT)’:

  • WBT to cater to the widest possible audience in the most cost effective way, we should build web and native iPhone applications - given iOS users represented an overwhelming majority of the audience from the survey results(81%), it would not be viable to build and maintain a custom Android application at such an early stage in the business.
  • WBT the mobile application should be focused around on-demand content and personalisation, whereas the browser-based web application should be focused around the live viewing experience. The decision to integrate personalisation into the web app could be planned into the roadmap in the future, if user adoption warranted the effort.
  • WBT content should be tagged based on the companies, people and shows they are associated with. This would allow users to follow the companies that matter to them (and their investments), as well as giving companies a central location to showcase all the content related to them. This would need to be integrated into the workflow of the producers’ publication of content to the platform.
  • WBT to better understand which content was being received well vs underperforming segments, analytics would need to be considered and designed into the solution. A powerful video player with live and on-demand engagement analytics would also be needed.

From our research we knew that the most successful digital offerings in the finance media space not only delivered quality, trusted content - but they were ingrained in the daily habits of their users.  Following the five key elements to habit-forming products from Nir Eyal’s Hooked framework - external and internal triggers, action, investment and variable reward - we ideated around what aspects of ausbiz might lead to it becoming part of finance professionals daily habits.

By increasing the user’s ability to personalise their ausbiz experience, its perceived value would increase over time, making the offering stickier. Our strategy was to integrate personalised notifications that fired when a company in the user's Follow list featured in an ausbiz content piece, creating an external trigger to the app.  Upon completing the action of watching the video, the user would receive a variable reward - in this case, extrinsic rewards like unique information with the potential of impacting their financial investments, and intrinsic rewards such as feeling informed and empowered. Over time, the ritual of following the external trigger through the loop would develop into a habit driven by internal motivations.

3 - visiontype

It was time to design a visiontype to be tested with users to validate our value proposition hypotheses. Unlike a prototype, a visiontype is used for:

  • Demonstrating high-level key concepts in a realistic way - not focused on small details of the user experience
  • Testing and validating high-level key concepts with users - not usability testing
  • Making a vision tangible so that it energises teams and potential investors

Considering the web app was to be a basic video streaming experience, the features were considered must-haves and not in need of validation. Where the risk lay was in the richer features of the iOS app - namely around Follow personalisation, podcast functionality and market data.  Given their complexity, these features would be costlier in time and effort and so validation would be needed to justify that expense.

To achieve the level of interactivity and rich media required, we opted to build the visiontype in FramerX, before testing it with finance professionals.  Fortunately, although the time we had for research and testing was lean, it had proved invaluable as our hypotheses around personalisation were validated - particularly the ability to Follow individual companies of interest, as a differentiating feature of the product that would add to its value.

💡Visiontypes provide excellent derisking tools in innovation, particularly in proving desirability of a value proposition. Moving into development of a value proposition founded on untested hunches is akin to gambling your company’s time and money building something that potentially offers no value to customers or the business.

Satisfied that we had mitigated value risk for the mobile application, the fianl step in the Proposition Accelerator would be to create a tool that would aid the business in communicating the proposition to investors.

5 - pitch deck

We closed out the Proposition Accelerator with a deck providing an overview of the value proposition, with high-fidelity designs of the visiontype to help crystallise the product vision and potential of the product in a tangible form for possible investors.  With this, the business was able to paint a picture of the application to investors and attract funding.
With value risk now mitigated, it was time to address feasibility risk - that is, can we build this on time and budget?

Strategy Sprint

With the work done and outcomes achieved in the Proposition Accelerator, the reality was that the product launch was looming and that we would need to prioritise the features for the initial release.

In a day and age where customer expectations are high and attention spans low, first impressions matter. A digital product may only get one chance at converting a potential user into an early adopter, and it is only when a product is truly solving a deep customer pain that they will tolerate a poor user experience. To counter this, at Hidden we prefer to work with Minimum Loveable Products with the first release goal being to attract a loyal tribe of early adopters that will fall in love with the product.  The key to a MLP is doing fewer things to an exceptional, memorable level, rather than an MVP which covers many features to a satisfactory level but does not exceed expectations.

1 - wireframe

Our first step was to rapidly wireframe out the ideal-state based on the insights we had gathered in the Proposition Accelerator.  Some may consider this step wasteful since the wireframe will be discarded after prioritisation and scoping. But as visual thinkers, we find this step to be invaluable in creating a visual reference of the big picture for the MLP, allowing our team, the client and any users we wish to involve to make more considered decisions when prioritising features.

💡It’s important to remember that these aren't UX wireframes. The aim of these wireframes are to map out all of the screens of the MLP for prioritisation and scoping - so it’s important to remain low-fidelity and fast.

When it comes to the debate of paper vs digital wireframing, we support whichever technique reaches the end result as quickly as possible - in this case our designers took a digital approach, taking advantage of reusable components.

2 - prioritise

Next - prioritise, prioritise, prioritise! This is never a simple task, particularly with founders who are closely attached to their solutions or feel the release would be lacking without the complete solution. In reality, products that try to appeal to everyone and include everything become bloated and end up appealing to noone due to their lack of focus and simplicity.  The best, loveable products fulfil a specific need for a specific group of people.

To identify the features that would deliver the highest impact, we ran a Feature Prioritisation Jam with ausbiz, using a combination of techniques:

  • MoSCow to identify the Must-have, should-have, could-haves and will-not-haves
  • Kano Model to identify Delighter features that would elevate the first release beyond functional and add to the products loveability.
3 - Technical Scoping & Architecture

With a set of features circled for the MLP and assigned a priority, our designers and strategists worked closely with our development team to translate the features into high-level product requirements.  With an understanding of what the product needed to achieve, our technical team mapped out the application architecture to ensure scalability, reliability and maintainability.

Design and Development

With scoping completed, we were ready to hit the ground running with the design and development of the platform which would be done in parallel streams (iOS, Web, CMS) to account for the aggressive timeline.

runway (sprint zero)

For projects where the development will be completed following an agile approach, design starts with a period of time known as the Runway (also referred to as Sprint Zero).  During the Runway period, designers work on laying high-level preparatory design foundations for the user experience including the interaction model, information architecture, screen flow and UI design system.  Developers work on any technical foundations that are non-design dependent.  After the Runway has ended and agile sprints commence, designers focus on dependencies for development’s upcoming sprint, as well as supporting development in the current Delivery Sprint.

Our designers quickly got to work rapidly detailing out the user experience of the customer-facing applications.

design system

After arriving at a framework for the UX, the next step was to establish a UI Design System for the applications. Our approach to UI design is much like the way our services at Hidden are modularly structured through Jams, Sprints and Missions - we start with the interface’s smallest components (for example, a button), which then combine to form larger components and eventually full screen designs. This methodology, known as Atomic Design, not only allows us to reuse components but ensures consistency and updatability - when one UI component is changed, the changes are reflected in all other components that reference it.

Our Product Designers would then focus on a particular feature/aspect of the UI during each Delivery Sprint and, once the UX had been worked through, assemble components from the design system into the screens. Compared to a traditional big-design-upfront waterfall approach, this approach allows the team to work collaboratively and adapt, rather than being locked into a design from the start.

content taxonomy

Concurrently, our team was addressing the inner workings of the application and the production workflows of staff. One challenge in particular was to tackle how content would be categorised.  Not only would this classification be crucial for users to find information, but it also impacted the personalisation functionality and navigation of the application. We accounted for this by implementing a tiered taxonomy of topics, where topics can have both parent and child topics.  If a user were to follow a parent topic, all content assigned to a child topic would also flow through to their content feed.
To make things even more complex, topics could also have related topics - but we won’t get into that ;)
To map out all the possible topics and how they related to one another, we held a Card Sort Jam with ausbiz. Card Sorting is a UX exercise for organising information into logical groupings, and can be open (groupings are created) or closed (groupings are predetermined, and cards are arranged into those categories).  In this case, we began the exercise with rudimentary group names, and added and refined the groupings until we had settled on a first taxonomy iteration for launch.

journey mapping

Newsrooms are fast-paced, high-stress environments and the last thing ausbiz’s producers needed was to learn and deal with a tangled web of new systems that kept them from focusing on their jobs. For us, that meant ensuring the CMS was as intuitive and low friction as possible. However, a producer’s role involves moving between many applications before interacting with the CMS - including live broadcast production and post-production systems.  Despite these other applications being out of our direct control, we felt the end-to-end experience of the producer needed to be strongly considered. Fortunately, being a startup, ausbiz was in the position of being able to reimagine the producer’s journey from scratch.

By facilitating a Journey Mapping Jam with ausbiz and the other technical providers, we helped visualise the entire day-to-day journey of a producer and the different touchpoints they would encounter from the live stream filmed in studio to an edited video clip published on the website, highlighting possible areas of friction and opportunities to elevate the experience for the producer. For us, it only allowed us to design the CMS in a way that was intuitive and made the barrier to entry for publishing very low. For the business, it was a way of using design strategically to align the different technical providers on roles and responsibilities in a collaborative, visual way - an excellent example of the design’s potential beyond graphical execution.

delivery sprints

Once the design foundation was established, it was time to move into Delivery. Over the course of just five Delivery Sprints our design and development team worked as a collaborative, unified unit to deliver a market-ready MLP for launch.

Summing up

This project not only showcases how Hidden's modular approach to product innovation can dramatically increase time to market, but the outcomes that can be achieved when a client and vendor have mutual trust and respect for one another. It must be said, that if ausbiz had not placed such trust and autonomy with Hidden to deliver on their goals, then we could not have helped them achieve what we did in such limited time - a true pleasure to work with, and a relationship that we hope will continue to evolve as the ausbiz offering matures.

And it's always nice when you hear this from a client:

"If you're an organisation that's feeling the pressure to improve your digital customer experience or launch a new digital offering, I strongly recommend a chat with the guys from Hidden Innovation. At ausbiz, we knew what we wanted to achieve but it was Hidden which really helped us pull it all together. From designing our brand and building our apps, and using design workshops to helping us clarify internal workflows, we simply could not have launched as quickly and seamlessly as we did without them."

kylie merritt - ceo & co-founder
ausbiz
outputs
  • Design of ausbiz brand in a 3 week Brand Sprint.
  • Design and Development of responsive web, native mobile and CMS apps over 12 weeks.
  • Ongoing platform support and maintenance.
  • Proposition Design and Product Strategy.
outcomes
  • Ausbiz successfully launched at the end of March (the start of COVID-19).
  • Platform user growth exceeded expectations 5x and continues to see positive week-on-week growth.
  • Engagement analytics to drive product and content decision-making.
  • Continue to improve the experience through continuous development.

Book a free workshop with a digital innovation expert.

Has your organisation been impacted by the shift to digital? Hidden is currently offering a 2-hour obligation-free Digital Explorer Jam workshop valued at $1600 to select businesses for free.

Contact us to find out more