Yvonne, let’s start with you. From the beginning, you had a clear vision of the guide as a tool, not just a research report. Why, and what steps did you take early on to help the research process align with that?

When I first learned about the handbook project, I immediately thought it’d be a fascinating opportunity to try something new. As an industry, we produce all kinds of research and reports about journalism, but I always found it difficult to wade through pages of information. Designing a handbook from scratch meant we had a chance to start from first principles, which meant asking ourselves “What kind of information would users want?” and “How did they want to consume it?”

Did they prefer video, photos, podcasts, or text? The possibilities were endless so we embarked on a user research process that helped the research and product team get a better sense of who we were trying to reach and how. We ultimately identified five personas, which is still a bit too many, but it gave us a sounding board for every subsequent decision related to the handbook. Is this useful for our target users? Or is it something we’re proud of and want to promote? Oftentimes, we caught ourselves doing the latter, and thanks to the user research, we could center our priorities based on the former.

User research is time consuming though. We spent 2-3 weeks scheduling and conducting interviews with newsroom leaders from around the world. The efforts, I hope, paid off 🙂

And Brandon, when Yvonne first walked you through the goals of the project, what were your initial thoughts about how you would make something like this navigable for the user? What was the most challenging aspect of building a guide like this?

I realized early on that it would be important to make using the handbook easy for not just the readers, but also for the editors writing the sections. Painful data entry tools usually generate confusing documents to read. I wanted to avoid that.

We went with a WordPress backend, which is pretty common for journalists because it’s flexible and has a really capable editor. But it also has an awful reputation. I hardly ever see WordPress sites that aren’t broken, bloated and/or hacked. In contrast, we have this super clean design from Jessica that doesn’t look like it could be implemented using WordPress. This ended up being a challenge, but also a win, because it forced me to lean into the useful parts of WordPress, ditch the problematic aspects of it and build my own replacements.

I can vouch for the fact that it was the opposite of a painful data entry process! It’s going to make it a lot easier for us to keep this updated.

Jessica, how did you approach designing the guide, both in the way that readers would move through it and in the tone that it projects? It has a lot of visual consistency with Membership Puzzle Project’s broader branding, but you brought a lot of new ideas to us, as well.

Regarding the look and feel of the Membership Guide, a lot of this was already captured from the existing Membership Puzzle Project site ( It had elements that were friendly, approachable, yet very trustworthy and credible which we wanted to capture.

And regarding actual features and functionality, a lot of this was captured from Yvonne who spearheaded the user interviews on what our audience needed and wanted.

I came in and visually translated all of this by coming up with a list of questionnaire to kick off the project, sketching out ideas, iterating these ideas, gathering feedback, mocking it up, iterating them again, and then fine-tuning them. Of course, the process isn’t as linear; there’s always several back and forth. And with design, it’s always iterative; it’s always evolving as people are too.