Hi, I’m Priya Ganapati. I am the executive product director at Vox Media.
Can you explain your career thus far and how your journey has led you to Vox Media?
So, I studied engineering in undergraduate school, but fell into journalism about midway, through an internship. I loved journalism so much that I decided to become a reporter. I went to journalism school and did a lot of technology reporting. After that, I worked with places like Wired, TheStreet.com, Red Herring, a magazine largely covering technology in Silicon Valley. After a while … when I was a reporter, I was also covering the introduction of the iPhones, the Android operating system, which sort of sparked my interest in mobile technology. I then moved to the Wall Street Journal, where I started focusing on mobile products. I came at it initially from the journalism side.
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How do we write content? How do we create articles for a mobile audience that will be reading our content through phones or apps? I soon transitioned to be a product manager on the Wall Street Journal’s iOS and Android apps.
From there, I went to Quartz, where I worked on sort of bringing products to new audiences and working with the rise of platforms like Facebook, Apple News, Google, AMP. All of that meant that journalism had to adapt itself to reach these audiences and also those content formats. I worked on that, and then I moved to Vox, where I now focus on new consumer products.
What is Vox Media? And what is your role within the company?
Vox Media is a network of eight sites at this point. We have a portfolio of brands. We have SBNATION, which is very focused on sports and covers teams across the country. We have Eater, which covers food and food related news, a lot of dining out. We have technology sites, like The Verge and Recode, both of which are focuses on bringing both technology news to us, as well as how technology is affecting our lives, from products, from gadgets to upcoming areas of interest. We have Curbed, which is a site focuses on spaces, interiors, as well as exteriors. And we have Vox.com, which is a star in our portfolio, which is a lot about making sense of the world around us, whether it’s through politics, culture, or just everyday life stuff, questions that we have.
What does the design process look like at Vox Media? How long does it take something to grow from an idea, to a fully implemented feature?
I would say … and it’s a little bit of a cop-out, but it depends on the feature to a large extent, and depends on the product. When for instance, earlier this year, we set up a new consumer products theme which is what I now work on … This is very much about bringing entirely new ideas to market. Each of the brands in our portfolio has something unique about them, and they’re very interesting and built to be about the brand. What we want to do is take that and develop new product lines. When we’re doing that, it’s a much longer process, but what we start with is trying to form a product hypothesis. What is the problem that we are trying to solve? What is the solve that we are theoretically offering?
From there, we do a bit of user research, either through audience surveys or one-on-one interviews, where we ask people how they are trying to solve the problem right now and what kind of tools are the using presently? What’s their sort of internal approach to it? We take the results from our user research and try and do some sort of internal brainstorming and sketching to kind of solution the problem.
From there on, it goes to a more formal design process where not everything we discussed in the brainstorm makes it into that design process. We bring structure to it and say, “Here’s our first wide frame that synthesizes everything that we have learned from our user research, our product hypothesis, the pain points that we are trying to solve, and this is the first representation of it.”
Once stakeholders within the company agree, and once we feel comfortable with that wide frame direction, we develop a bit further to get to into higher fidelity visual designs.
Okay. Do you practice the same approach with all of your subsidiary companies? Or does each individual brand have an effect on the chosen strategy for how you go about this process?
Product, at Vox Media, works for all brands. So, the same process applies whether we would be developing something for say, SBNATION, versus Vox.com, versus Verge. The process is the same. The solutions are different.
How essential is collaboration between the product manager, development team, and designers, to the success of a branded chatbot or mobile application?
I think, when we’re talking about chatbots, it’s a completely different world. The playbook for that is not the same as what it would be for a web application or even a native mobile app. With chatbots, we found that the design team, the product team, and the development team, have to be very tightly integrated, sometimes playing each of those roles. Unlike with a web application, or with a native mobile application, there is no handoff of designs from one team to another. Design doesn’t do the whole unit. When it comes to bots, it’s not designers working together, coming up here with some sort of mock up and giving it to development.
Designers and engineers pair up together, and very often, and say, “All right, I have an idea of how I think this feature should work in chat, how can we support it? What do you need to do from the design end, and what to do I need to from the engineering end?”
A lot of it is understanding the platform equally among both parts. Product can’t just write up a bunch of documents and present to design. A lot of it is prototyping in real time, because you got to see how it reads, or hear how it sounds. So, it’s design and product, them pairing together to develop prototypes, and then go to engineering where then say, “Alright, this is what we think, conceptually, it should be like. It’s not … ”
So, the entire sort of workflow … or how we work together, has changed far, when it comes to chatbots.
How can larger brands, much like Vox Media, begin the transition into a new medium?
I think a lot of it is just getting down and doing it. We found that what helped us was great prototyping tools, you know? We had the ideas in our head. We just had trouble communicating it earlier through static designs and user flows, and customer journey flows, but getting together and prototyping it, helped develop interest among not just the team members but larger stakeholders.
Everybody’s super excited when they hear something about a voice-bot or what the idea for a voice-bot could look like. Everybody’s super excited when they see what a potential chatbot could look like. Otherwise, people are coming to the table, either with preconceived notions, or they just don’t know what to expect, which is worse, because you just don’t know what you’re walking into.
Prototypes have solved a lot of those problems for us. They have made the process interactive. Stakeholders are able to visualize or see what the interaction is going to be like, and they are able to offer meaningful feedback and along the way get super excited about something.
There are significant limitations to chat and voice platforms today, but prototypes help work through some of those limitations when you’re conveying your ideas to others.
What type of conversational interfaces are you working with? Chatbot, voice? Or a hybrid of them both?
The conversational interfaces that we’re working with are a hybrid of both at this point. We are working on voice … we are working on a voice-bot, but they’re also working on chatbot. The way they are approaching it internally is to think about it as a single architecture that can feed multiple platforms with adaptation for each platform. But, we’re looking at the entire scope of products.
How can executives ease worries with their employees around innovation?
When it comes to innovation, there’s always this fear of what do you expect out of it. You’re talking about products that are not seen. You’re talking about communicating ideas and getting buy-in. And again, this goes back to my point about prototyping. Prototyping can solve and ease some of those worries around innovation. You can show designs, having a clear point of view, having a product idea, or a hypothesis, that you come to the table with, showing them what it could look like in a perfect world, and then scaling it back and saying that, “All right, the first time may not be exactly what I can end up with, but it’s going to be pretty close.” … helps get that buy-in among stakeholders, as well as team members within the company.
Being able to see something and feel that this is real, and not just paperwork, or just a set of ideas that they’re seeing in a document, goes a long way.
What role do chatbots and voice assistance play in outreach?
When it comes to conversational interfaces like voicebots or chatbots, we think it’s a new way of accessing information. It’s not about taking what you already have on a website, and giving it to the consumer. It’s not about already taking what we know as known UX paradigms in mobile apps, and taking and giving it to the consumer in different format. It’s giving them a new way of accessing information. It may be more limited than what they could get in other platforms, but it’s kind of unique, and it’s a fun, engaging tool for them.
So, the key there, when it comes to the consumer, is to think about what are they getting out of this interaction? What is the payoff that they get when they use the chatbot or the voice-bot? It’s not about solving all their problems, because the platforms are limited, but it’s about giving them some sort of payoff at the end of the interaction.
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Also published on Medium.