Kinzen App
Project type: Design and research manager
In September 2017 I joined a news media start up that had just been founded by Mark Little, Aine Kerr and Paul Watson. Two journalists, two developers and myself came together to design and build tools that would help resolve part of the information crisis.

My time at Kinzen could be divided into three phases. The first which was the first very early ideation, MVP build and concept validation. The second phase was the design of an IOS app which would further help us understand user behaviour as we evolved our backend content extraction / content quality analysis and the third phase would result in the development of our first publisher solution. 

This case study will focus our first year and half, our very early research work up to the design of our first product an IOS news app.
Design and research manager/Product Owner
For the first year I was the sole designer and researcher for the project working closely with Paul Watson the CTO, a backend and a machine learning engineer. After a year we hired a senior UI designer, a user researcher, IOS app developer and a data scientist. For part of my time at Kinzen I was product owner managing the engineering and design team.
When we came together by mid to end 2017 the information ecosystem was in the middle of huge turmoil. On one hand we had devious players manipulating and spreading misinformation, influencing elections, algorithms designed to reward poor quality click bait and a universally overwhelming sense of lack of control as well as information fatigue. 
Our goal as a team was to uncover challenges as soon as possible that could potentially fix part of the problem. We would design and build tools that would solve and help readers have a more productive/healthy/quality news experience.
18 months
From day one we put the reader at the center of our design process.  We discussed internally the concept of designing form the outside in, and we followed through with houndreds of 1to1 interviews and thousands of surveys in two years.  A process that would require quick prototyping of ideas, listening and watching to understand where the biggest opportunities for improvement would be.

Early low fidelity wireframes to help us explore concepts such as channels and playlists, productivity features, topic, fact check, and complexity controls as well as insights on information diet.

As early as week 11 into the project we created our first low fidelity prototypes and interviewed dozens of readers. The interviews confirmed the universality of the issues we were dealing with. Content noise, overdose of information,  lack of a productive news routine, irrelevancy of the information, distrust and lack of control over their experience were only some of the assumptions we were able to validate through research.
The Kinzen News app idea evolved from the early research that confirmed people wanted a productive news experience that they could trust, where they could focus their content experience based on their identity (Place, Profession, Interests (Topics and Sources) but also a place that would allow them to explore in a trusted environment of quality information.

The app would depend on human intervention as a layer on top of our topic extraction as well as curation with 200 community channels to choose from and 3,500 hand-picked news sources, searchable by topic and location.

The Kinzen App was designed to help readers have a quality and focused place they could read news that was relevant to them, that adapted to their daily news routine and that would help them explore beyond their topics of choice.


A newsletter would play a key part of the readers daily routine, they could choose what content would be delivered to them and when.  The reader had full control over the channels selected and time of day.


Most people we surveyed and interviewed self identified to have different content needs when it comes to consuming information. Where you live (Place), Where you work (Profession), Passions and interests (Topics) and What you read (Sources) where the main identity routes. We chose these as a way to create your own channels.


Once channels were created readers had the opportunity to control the content that would be surfaced to them. From blocking topics to promoting them, choosing sources or giving Kiznen's editors choice more weight in the ranking we offered a range of parameters that would help adapt channels to readers readers preferences, giving them their control back.


One concept we explored and built was around the idea of valuable feedback, beyond a clap or a like. Feedback that could help inform publishers about their content and also with future views of collaborative and personalised filtering.


Concern and self awareness about being in filter bubbles was another universal discovery from the research we did. People were worried of not knowing where to go for quality information outside of their regular interests. We wanted to create a place that would help readers discover and explore. We would include emerging topics as well as houndreds of hand picked and curated channels by people from our community.

"Eilis was responsible for creating the culture that has defined Kinzen. From our small beginnings, she led by example. She was responsible for the emergence of the collaborative, empathetic and creative spirit that is Kinzen's core strength. Eilis quickly established herself as an advocate for the user in our product development process, eventually taking the role of product manager in addition to her work on research and design. Eilis provided leadership for our team as we designed, tested and shipped an ambitious consumer app, demonstrating that very rare combination of people-skills and process-skills. Eilis provided stability and certainty as Kinzen pursued new opportunities in enterprise software. As CEO, I came to depend on Eilis's open, honest and inspired feedback. And her resilient spirit."
Mark Little
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