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Midlands News Association

User experience design and strategy to balance advertising and usability

The Midlands News Association (MNA) is a popular regional news publisher
selling a number of titles, most notably the Express & Star and
Shropshire Star newspapers. Cyber-Duck devised a user-centred strategy and design that could help them balance usability and advertising; we delivered an intuitive design system for its in-house developers to take forward.



Like many other businesses in the news sector, MNA has struggled to transfer the increasing usage of digital services into tangible revenue. The websites for MNA’s newspapers currently generate approximately 3.5m unique visitors per month and were last redesigned in 2012. MNA wished to translate this readership into revenue for the business. 

Approximately 95% of MNA’s total revenue came from print and so MNA was seeking ways to help digital perform better to augment the revenue generated from print. MNA currently achieves revenue from its website traffic via advertising (both viewing and user clicks), third party news articles and through the use of its third-party services like jobs boards and dating. If users were exposed to more adverts, MNA will generate more revenue.

Naturally, this posed a challenge to balance the usability and ease of use of the website for the reader, against additional views of the website and adverts for the business. Cyber-Duck were brought onboard to help. Our objectives were:

  1. Redefine the user experience of their online offering, to become more relevant and engaging with their readers.
  2. Produce a full design system to create design and development MNA’s regional titles.

User experience strategy

Naturally, this posed a challenge to balance the usability and ease of use of the website for the readers, against additional views of the website and adverts for the business.

Cyber-Duck aimed to solve this challenge and generate more page views (and by association, revenues). Our process began with strategy workshops with the MNA team. These established research goals and defined our research recruitment strategy.

We conducted a deep research study that involved a broad range of research methods, including surveys; in-person and telephone interviews; diary studies; card sorting; and usability testing. The diary study was particularly interesting. A range of existing readers recorded daily how they engage with the publications across both print and digital.

Together, the research provided valuable insight into the mental model of MNA’s readers, which informed the design strategy. Based on reader behaviours, we defined archetypal personas that represent key segments of the audience; the cards reflect the motivations, concerns, goals and habits of each audience segment.

With MNA’s team, we mapped typical user journeys, user stories, card sorting and a content audit. Along with the prototypes and art direction, our UX team defined a direction for the technical implementation. This included prioritising features and ideas based on what would be most / least useful to the MNA readers (based on the persona groups we identified), and what would be easiest / hardest to implement.



Cyber-Duck produced a design system / style guide for the website, with clear rules for how we implement content and design language to ensure seamlessness and consistency throughout. 

We crafted a library of reusable design patterns with code snippets that appear throughout the website, again to provide users with a coherent experience as they navigate around the websites.

We handed over this design system to MNA’s developers to complete the build of the websites. They became the first UK publisher to use technology used by the Washington Post; with a new CMS, senior print reporters could upload content straight to the websites.

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