Research & Testing
Perennial Press is a small liberal feminist press who's mission is to promote the work of underrepresented BIPOC and Queer creatives.
During COVID lockdown, Perennial is unable to attend in-person events to promote themselves, and the ability to sell their books in brick and mortar bookstores has also taken a hit.
Perennial Press came to me with several original problems and goals in mind. After our first meeting, however, I quickly learned that I was only scratching the surface of the project. After doing my initial research and asking further questions for scoping purposes, I discovered the following:
The biggest obstacle blocking Perennial from having a robust online presence was that their website did not have enough context about who they are, what they do, and what they offer to their constituents.
Perennial's personality was not shining through.
And because constituents couldn’t pick up on Perennials personality clearly, there was a lack of trust and comfort when using the site.
Eliminate user distrust and discomfort by bringing Perennial’s personality to the forefront!
Let’s better communicate who Perennial Press is and what their mission and values are. By adding more website copy and content and by reprioritizing how that copy and content is displayed, we can mitigate the confusion and discomfort users feel when navigating the site and in turn offer them a much more informative and aesthetically pleasing experience.
With the improved experience, authors can be confident that their work is going to an adequate publishing press, and customers can feel excited about whom they’re supporting when purchasing products.
Where do we start?
User interviews, usability tests, affinity maps galore!
I interviewed a total of 12 constituents (a mix of authors and customers) and got quite the affinity map! It was daunting at first, but over time and with some big picture thinking, I was able to group the notes into overarching trends which led to the following key findings.
1) Need more content and context
Both authors and customers left the site with more questions than answers. Perennial needed more instructional and descriptive copy so that visitors could understand what they’re looking at and know how to accomplish their goals without spending too much time searching for clues to aid in their journey.
Initially, Perennial didn't even have a home page! They had a splash landing page, and although it has it's own aesthetic appeal, it was lacking in informative copy and didn't give users an adequate idea about who Perennial was.
The submissions page is vital to garnering author buy-in. The original submission page was straightforward but lacked enough information and guidance, and didn't prioritize what the authors cared about well enough.
I built out an entire home page with the mission statement up front and centre. I implemented a carousel gallery for any latest news and updates they want to share with their constituents and linked their Instagram so users can have another medium through which they interact with Perennial. All of this is to inform users better and communicate clearly who Perennial is and what their values are.
The revamped submissions page proved to be more informative and therefore more useful for visiting authors. I added informative copy to give authors more direction on what exactly they should be submitting and reprioritized information so that authors immediately had answers to their most asked questions.
2) Community matters!
Both authors and customers really care about the people behind the work! Authors and artists are the heart of Perennial and their work so there should be shout outs to them wherever there’s an opportunity on the site. It’s worth building out a page specifically for spotlighting the brilliant minds behind Perennial Presses work. Also, the more a visitor can learn about Perennial’s friends, the more they can understand about Perennial.
Perennial is working with a lot of great creatives, but there was no easy way to find who these people were and learn about them! After some clicking around, their pictures show up on a page dedicated to chapbooks, but beyond this page, there's no clear indication who who Perennial works with.
I created a dedicated authors and artists page underneath a completely new and dedicated Community navigational element. Here visitors can see full bios of the creatives and get links to their personal websites! I also named and linked any artist whose work we used to decorate the pages throughout the website.
3) "They're more fun than the website looks."
Perennial's previous aesthetic wasn't doing them justice anymore, nor was it accurately portraying their personality. It was time for a full makeover. I got rid of the previously dark foreboding background and lightened up the entire site to match their new lavender purple logo. I added more visual content throughout the site to give visitors some eye candy. And I included more copy to communicate clearly how visitors should interact with the site and what they can expect from Perennial. Altogether, these changes portray Perennial Press as a lighthearted, welcoming place at the same time that they are serious and professional about their work.
I started their About page with a beautiful art piece by one of their art contributors and a poem excerpt that was the inspiration for their company name. Immediately after, I restated their mission statement and listed their core values to bring forward who Perennial is.
Beyond the literary work that Perennial publishes, they also work to publish visual art from underrepresented creatives. I took the opportunity to use these artists artwork to both decorate the website and promote the artists at the same time! I even built out a dedicated Art Gallery page so visitors who are particularly interested in the visual works can view them there.
a new CMS
for the Future
I met with my client to debrief her on my research findings, and we engaged in a short design studio to ensure that I was redesigning Perennial in their vision. This website is their baby, after all, and I want to make sure I’m doing the project justice so that they can expand while maintaining their integrity.
Learning a CMS
An unexpected position I found myself in was having to learn a new tool in the middle of the project. My client was already paying for the website builder, Format. Now I had experience with Wix and Squarespace, but I had never heard of Format before. It was a bit of a challenge initially, but now I can confidently say that I’m very comfortable using Format and it’s another tool I’ve got in my toolbelt!
Test, Iterate, Refine
Once I completed the initial redesign, it was time to put it to the test. I met with 5 of the previous users I interviewed (3 authors, 2 customers) and conducted usability tests with them. To my delight, the positive feedback was ubiquitous, and there were only minor revisions.
Strategizing for the Future
Perennial is overflowing with potential, and their community truly believes in them! There is so much more in store for Perennial, and they needed support in envisioning and organizing what they’re next few steps might be after the design handoff. I sat down with them to discuss and understand what their priorities moving forward are and what could be possible with their current team size. I put together a feature rollout sheet for them that included everything their constituents wanted to see from them and what Perennial wanted to see from themselves. I placed that all along a timeline with specific milestones as markers for the beginning of every next phase. Charting the feature rollout ensures that Perennial is continuously working towards a new goal with enough prep going into each step so that they can execute every milestone without too much stress on their bandwidth.
Results & Reflections
People loved the new redesign!
Of course, that doesn’t mean it was perfect, and there were small tweaks I had to make here and there, but overall, it was a huge success. Authors found reassurance with the information provided to them. They felt that any initial confusion was addressed and dissipated. Customers were excited about the new look and felt more enticed to engage with how fun and modern the redesign was. Both constituents appreciated the nods to authors and artists throughout each page. To them, it was clear how highly Perennial regards their creatives and how important Perennial’s community is to them.
User research is definitely my ish.
What did I learn from this project? I love talking to people! I love asking them questions and getting to know how they think and why they may interact with a product the way they do. Honestly, I love research and synthesizing key findings. I could sum it up in one quote, "If you listen to your client and users, you will design the right thing!" Who said that? Probably everyone and their cat, but I feel it cannot be stressed enough! I know next to nothing about publishing presses, so it's imperative I listen to the client and users so that I may understand their unique frustrations and small wins. If there is one key takeaway for me, it is this: As a designer, I am merely a facilitator of the peoples' needs, wants, and dreams. And I am perfectly happy with that.
Ivy is an incredible designer to work with. She exemplifies professionalism. From the initial onboarding documents to the hand-off, the entire process has been seamless. She is a thorough user interviewer and was able to gather useful feedback for Perennial Press. The insights she gained as well as the product roadmap and comprehensive website she created will be carrying our company forward for months if not years to come. Would 100% work with Ivy again!
- Madi Giovina, Perennial Press Founder