Man playing smartphone game

Project Background:

NewsPicks is one of Japan's top economic news apps. Facing stagnating growth and a lack of insight into user behavior, I was tasked with conducting the company's first user research project in order to make clear current user trends and provide insights to help executives develop a new product strategy.

Project Goals:

  1. Creating shared understanding of target users with user personas
  2. Identifying reasons for slowing growth
  3. Testing hypotheses for service redesign


Duration: 6 months

Users Studied: 875 (Quant: 842, Qual: 32)

Team Members: Myself (project lead), UX Designer, CTO, Marketing Manager

Stakeholders: CEO, CMO, CSO, Engineering Team, Community Team (joined interviews, workshops)

Methods: Quantitative User Survey, Access Log Analysis, Segmentation, Qualitative User Interviews, Affinity Mapping, Journey Mapping, Empathy Mapping

Deliverables: User Personas, User Journey Maps, Interview Highlight Reel, Insights & Recommendations Presentation, Empathy Workshops


Quantitative User Survey (Demographics, Net Promoter Score)

  • Started by obtaining quantitative data about current users, focused on demographics and satisfaction (NPS), in order to create user segments and identify extreme users.

Quantitative User Access Log Analysis

  • Worked with data analysis team to add engagement metrics to survey results, allowing for user segments to include high/low engagement users.

User Segmentation

  • Combining survey results and engagement metrics to create segments and identify extreme users.
  • Segments included High Satisfaction/High Engagement Paid Users, Low Satisfaction/High Engagement Free Users etc.

In-Depth Qualitative User Interviews

  • Interviewed around 5 representative users from each segment (total of 32) for one hour each, asking about their lifestyles, motivations and goals.
  • Conducted empathy mapping and journey mapping with UX designers and marketers after each interview
Empathy and Journey Mapping After Interviews

Affinity Mapping

  • Combined insights from all interviews in larger affinity mapping session, grouping insights by category and theme.
Affinity Mapping
Affinity Mapping Activity

Personas & Journey Maps

  • Created user personas and journey maps based on trends and themes identified in user interviews to educate employees about what sorts of users exist.
  • Created persona displays to show around office.
Persona Cards
User Persona Cards Displayed in Office

Watch Party / Presentation / Workshops

  • Compiled research results into separate presentations for executives and team members
  • Presented findings to whole company at all-hands meeting.
  • Held over 15 workshops to introduce the personas and research results to cross functional teams, to ensure that all team members understand the background to the research and how to use the personas.
  • Held a watch party for stakeholders to come and watch edited footage from user interviews and come face to face with users.
Persona Ideation Workshop

Selected Findings

1. Paid and Free users had very different opinions of the service, making it clear that more needs to be done to allow free users to experience the benefits of the paid service.

Free User Comments

“I already don’t have enough time to read all the free articles I want - If I got a paid plan I’d just have to deal with more information!”
“I don’t understand why people would pay for a news app”

Paid User Comments

“Since signing up for a Premium subscription, I only ever read Premium articles! They give me a unique perspective that I can't get from the free articles”

“I don’t think of NewsPicks as a news app, I think of it as a way for me to learn and broaden my horizons. The paid articles give me great insights that have allowed me to change my lifestyle”

2. Users were often unaware of key features, and discovering these features proved to be key to maintaining satisfaction.

“Since I discovered the keyword follow feature, my usage completely changed. I only look at new articles related to my keywords now.”
“My friend told me how you can listen to the videos in the background. I now always use NewsPicks to listen to videos on my morning commute”

Selected Recommendations

  • Offer more opportunities for free users to discover the benefits of a paid subscription. Target long term free users who are less likely to change their usage style without being prompted to do so.
  • Show how people with different lifestyles take advantage of NewsPicks in their own way in marketing material. Encourage users to find features and content that meets their unique goals.
  • Create a new on boarding flow, with a focus on encouraging users to customize the news feed to their liking.


As a result of this research project, NewsPicks was able to create a shared understanding throughout the company of who their users are, and why they use NewsPicks. This project resulted in the decision to completely renew the user experience to better meet user needs and increase conversion opportunities.

Personally, the ability to guide  a cross functional team to complete user research was challenging and rewarding. I believe that the success of this project resulted in an increase in understanding and awareness of the importance of user research within the company.


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