The Times and the sunday times Universal app

The Times and The Sunday Times decided it would be stopping production of its flagship tablet app. Subsequently, there was a need to deliver a universal app experience that catered for the needs of over 200,000 existing tablet app customers.

Android Engineers (5)
iOS Engineers (5)
Product Owner
Deputy Head of Digital
QA Manager
Scrum Master
Head of UX/UI (Me)
UX Researcher
UX Designer
UI Designer
My Responsibilities
UX design
User testing
UI design

The Challenge


The original Times 'classic' tablet app was the most popular way for digital subscribers to read journalism from The Times and The Sunday Times, with approximately 200 thousand active users. However, production and maintenance costs were too high, meaning maintenance, improvements and developing new features was cumbersome.
  • 2 different experiences
    The Times have two app products providing very different reading experiences. The mobile app provides a more contemporary way of consuming content, whilst the tablet app is more traditional
  • 2 different code bases
    News content for the two app products come from different systems and are implemented differently; mobile is automated and tablet is manually curated daily with a large team dedicated to it's production
  • 2 types of customers
    Research and analytics suggests reading habits, patterns and behaviours between the two app customers are very different
  • 1 business need
    Over £2m a year is spent on production costs for the tablet app. To save money, the need to design an automated experience that existing tablet app customers will adopt is paramount

Project numbers


Year project


Diary studies


Beta tests


Beta testers


The Times and The Sunday Times currently has circa 205k active tablet users over a 28 day period


Active users


Avg. age




UK based

Project timeline

January 2018
Data was reviewed and interviews were conducted to look at usage and behaviours of the ‘classic’ app
April 2018
Diary study
A prototype of a potential universal tablet solution was built, allowing for a diary study to be conducted
June 2018
Iterate and test
Following diary study feedback, feature solutions were progressed and re-tested with ‘classic’ customers
January 2019
Beta testing
6 week testing period with approximately 1800 customers monitoring reaction and engagement
April 2019
Iterate and test
Following beta testing feedback, iterations and improvements were made to a number of features and solutions
February 2021
Following further beta testing and a significant period of development, the universal app went live



Discover & Define
Research customer attitudes, motivations and behaviour behind using the existing tablet app to help define what a world class news product looks like for them


Develop & Deliver
Create a world-class news reading experience that satisfies existing tablet app customers, ensuring customer retention

Empathising with our customers

Top level 'classic' app usage




Avg. sessions/day


Avg. pages/session


Avg. session duration
Interviews were conducted with 'classic' app customers to understand attitudes, habits and behaviours behind using the app.
  • A separate experience
    The 'classic' app is recognised by customers as a separate and preferred reading experience to mobile app and desktop website products
  • Traditional 'print' layout
    Customers prefer and enjoy how the 'classic' tablet app resembles a printed paper reading experience
  • Chain-like reading behaviour
    Customers tend to navigate through articles within a section before moving onto the next section, like reading a printed paper page by page
  • Traditional features
    'Best of' sections, section navigation, front pages and multi-column articles are particular areas of delight in the 'classic' tablet app
'Best Of' section
Section navigation
Magazine front page
News multi-column article
Comment article
Crossword section nav
'Best Of' Section
Bottom Section Navigation
Magazine Front Page
Traditional Multi-Column Article
Journey mapping workshop following user interviews

Typical Classic users

Exhibit 'chain-like' behaviour, navigating through section articles in a linear fashion before visiting the next section

Typical Mobile users

Jump between articles in no order, often navigating to the homepage in between to scan and cherry pick
Collaborative mapping workshop
Example 'Classic' primary persona current-state journey

Existing mobile experience

An automated mobile app existed, consisting of a very different set of templates, and delivering a more linear way of navigating.

The app was on-trend with other competitors, but this proved to be an unwanted approach for most 'classic' customers.
Example competitors

Competitor analysis

Direct and indirect competitors were analysed, giving us insights into on trend tablet app features, flows, design patterns and experiences.

The analysis, together with our existing mobile app experience, helped us concept a rapid prototype to test with.
Competitor analysis
The Guardian Discovery page
The Guardian Sports section
The Washington Post Politics section
New York Times article
Example competitors

Early prototype testing

Customer feedback primarily focussed on layout and navigation, with a large percentage stating they were unhappy with the proposed experience.
  • Hierarchy of content
    Article hierarchy within sections was not interpreted well; customers stated they struggled to scan stories and were overwhelmed by too much content and noise
  • Article layout
    The central body of text frustrated some customers, stating multiple columns of text, like their existing app, provided an optimal scanning and reading experience
  • Lacking Times heritage
    Customers stated they expect a print-like experience in their app, seeing the product as a digital extension of the printed paper
Hierarchy of content and article layout
Post testing empathy mapping highlighting two different user attitudes and behaviours
Post diary study empathy mapping highlighting two different user attitudes

"I much prefer the original [app]. It is far easier to navigate and feels like a newspaper. I just don't like it."

Points of frustration


Customers stated scanning sections was cumbersome and frustrating, making it a less optimal to find the stories they wanted to read.
  • Sections difficult to scan
    Customers wanted the experience they were used to, stating scanning for stories was more difficult with the new design

Magazine fronts

Research informed us weekend magazine reading was one of the top reasons customers subscribed to The Times 'classic' app. The new experience needed to match, if not surpass that.
  • Magazine design
    Customers were dissatisfied with the proposed magazine layout, stating it no longer felt like the magazine experience they enjoyed


Customers wanted a more 'classic' style of article that they had in their existing 'classic' experience.  
  • Article scanning experience
    Customer stated horizontal swiping (like turning printed pages) made for an "easier scanning and reading experience".

Initial satisfaction ratings

With a target score of 4 out of 5 needed to be attained before the business would be satisfied to launch to the public, customers in the early study were asked to rate their satisfaction.


Average satisfaction

"If it stays like this, I will cancel my subscription...there's no need to change it. I don't want a BBC experience."

Addressing article feedback

'Dead space'

Continued exploration with engineers suggested building multi-column article templates may not deliver the quality reading experience required by the business and expected by our customers.

As articles have varying character lengths and content would be automated, there wasn't a way to manage 'dead space' if an article was fixed height and scrolled horizontally.

An alternative solution was required.
Article 'dead space' would regularly occur

Alternative solution

Though multi-column articles were stated as a customer need, single-column templates did exist in their 'classic' experience.

A solution that gave customers a sense of their 'classic' experience whilst allowing for content automation was needed.

Single columns returned, however a closer resemblance to 'classic' app templates was applied. We tested with customers.
New article templates

Usability testing feedback

Further usability testing was conducted to observe reactions and gain feedback on iterated article designs.
  • 'News' template
    Had mixed customer responses; most stated they enjoyed a comfortable reading experience, whilst one saw frustration with "excessive white space"
  • 'Comment' template
    Was satisfactory to customers, stating it resembled their 'classic' app experience


Avg. satisfaction rating out of 5

Beta testing

We now needed a larger audience to provide significant data and feedback. The main objective was to validate whether the app was suitable to go live to our 200,000 customers.


Week study



Initial customer feedback


  • Top section navigation
    A high percentage of customers found the app quicker to navigate when swiping horizontally between sections
  • Article commenting
    Introducing the new commenting feature has improved user's experiences; customers enjoy reading article comments and being able to interact with journalists


  • Section design
    Though some found vertical scrolling improved their scanning experience, a high percentage of customers struggled to understand hierarchy of story importance in sections
  • Excessive imagery
    A large portion of customers stated the general design had too many images and was "too much like the website and looked like the BBC", losing the newspaper reading experience they had in the 'classic' app


  • Brand heritage
    Some customers stated the Beta experience didn't feel like a Times product that they'd be willing to pay for; it didn't resemble a premium newspaper that they felt The Times represented
  • Article read clarity
    Customers were struggling to see and understand what articles they had and hadn't read, which was becoming an increasingly reported frustration
Beta first-time user journey map

"It wasn't like reading a newspaper so I refused to use it”

Iterating designs

Brand heritage

Many frustrated customers stated the Beta resembled The Times website and "that it looks like the BBC", neither of which were wanted.

We reimagined the design to better match customer expectations with a 'journalism first, imagery second' approach.

Driving engagement with 'fronts'

Customers wanted a more realistic newspaper reading experience. Not having a front page in the Beta caused some frustration for customers.

We designed a set of 3 front page templates that display the edition's biggest stories, driving engagement and page views.

Greater brand presence

Customers stated the masthead "didn't represent the heritage of The Times brand". Navigation links also caused accessibility issues. Some customers stated they struggled to see and tap them.

We designed a masthead that gave a greater brand presence and hierarchy, whilst making navigation links larger and more visible.

Adding article variety

Article templates were a legacy of the website, which customers informed us wasn't the reading experience they wanted, stating "they feel repetitive".

We redesigned the 'Comment' template to be a closer visual and interactive experience to what customers used in the 'classic' app.

Improving in-article navigation

Customers stated they struggled to understand where they were within the edition and what articles they had already read.

We introduced a navigation drawer giving customers context of their position within sections and quicker access to sections and articles.

Magazine iterations

Magazine experiences were unsatisfactory to some customers, stating they "didn't provide a magazine reading experience".

An 'image first' approach was applied.

Providing article-read context

Customers were consistently stating they struggled to understand what articles they had read.

We introduced an additional label and treated text and imagery with an opacity to help customers see a visual difference between read and unread articles.

Final Beta findings

  • Some will still abandon
    10% of the Beta audience are perceived to likely not to adapt to or adopt the universal app, essentially cancelling their subscriptions – layout and navigation are key issues with users stating it is “less like the newspaper they pay for”
  • 'Adapters' and 'Adopters'
    While 76% of the audience have adopted or are perceived to eventually adopt the universal app, 14% stated they need issues resolving and more time to adjust before they fully adopt
  • Improved satisfaction
    Results throughout the Beta study improved week-on-week, with the majority of customers who had taken part in our research from the start providing increased satisfaction ratings


Average satisfaction rating out of 5

"It is quicker and easy to it feels more like The Times"

Final design

Designs needed to look and feel optimised from the smallest to the largest viewports in portrait and landscape orientations. However, as the content was automated and some components being fixed height, this wasn't easy to get right.

We worked alongside engineers to ensure that template logic worked accurately and that customers, no matter what device type and orientation they used, had the optimal news-reading experience.

What I learned

Customers don't like change, initially

Customers expected a print-like experience, seeing the 'classic' app as a digital extension of the printed paper. How they interacted with an edition seemed almost as important as the content that was in it.

They wanted the "scannability factor", to find their favourite journalists fast, to swipe articles horizontally as if turning a printed page. They didn't want their reading experience impacted by excessive advertising or want half their article screen to be filled with white space surrounding a wide central column of text. They wanted articles with thin justified text columns that "made scanning and reading easier".

Navigating the 'classic' app was a very different experience from what we put in front of customers originally. It was clear, though some were accepting of change, we needed to work and listen harder to give them the experience they wanted or risk losing their custom.

Empathy was key to getting it right

There were strong internal opinions for what the optimal universal app experience could be. Initial assumptions were made that if existing components used in web and the existing mobile app were re-engineered and optimised for a tablet experience, that would satisfy a very different audience. It was quickly proved it wouldn't be that simple.

Diary studies, interviews, usability tests and ultimately the Beta-testing allowed us to take our time and immerse ourselves in qualitative data. Understanding behaviours and motivations, as well as listening to frustrations and desires, was key to getting the solution right.

Going live

The business was adamant it wouldn't launch the new app, replacing the existing 'classic' app from stores until it was certain our loyal customers were happy and the churn rate would be minimal.

It took three years to get to a point where the universal app could go live. However, there still remains approximately 10% of customers who want the news-reading experience they originally subscribed for in 2011, the 'classic' app.

The Times and The Sunday Times universal app went live in February 2021. The 'classic' app is still available in stores.
IntroductionOverviewDiscoveryBeta IterationsFinal Design