How We Learned To Love Iterative Design at Fairfax

In 1995 the Sydney Morning Herald went online—and a hair breadth faster than many larger international news titles. More than two decades and countless redesigns later, the s​ (and cooler cousin t​​deliver breaking news to 4.4 million Australians every month. In this talk, Dina and Lucinda will give you behind‐the‐scenes access into how a media company, in a time of ultimate disruption, undertook their most ambitious replatforming‐cum‐redesign yet.

They’ll discuss the advantages of adaptive web design principles (versus responsive) while walking the line between internal needs and commercial considerations. They will also talk about what agile methodologies and iterative design means for designers—and how to get it right. Eighteen months, 24 cross‐functional team members, 1000s of internal and external user feedback comments… If you’ve every wondered what it’s like to work on a project that’s big, you won’t want to miss this talk.

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The major metropolitan newspaper Sydney Morning Herald went online in 1995. Two decades later, as it continued to deliver breaking news to 4.4 million Australians every month, it underwent a major overhaul.


Data and research showed that users transitioned from one device to another, expecting consistency.


A cross-functional team was put together, which over the 18 month process adopted an iterative approach.


The existing model of a desktop design and a separate mobile design was replaced by an adaptive design model.


Advertisers are important stakeholders, whose specific needs can be met with responsive design.

An adaptive approach (a series of set sizes) worked better than responsive (fluid sizing) to accommodate advertisers’ needs and to optimise for performance.


A tablet-first approach allows you to work in portrait and landscape mode, scaling up to  desktop and down to mobile as required.


Iterate often and quickly, work quick and dirty, explore alternatives and test everything.


Test with a small number of user and feed results back into process quickly to inform iterations.


Create a UI library of components able to be used and reused across properties.

There is no design perfection – aim for “right for right now”.


In an iterative approach, there will always be more iterations – always.


An iterative approach on a large scale requires collaboration, freedom of expression and room to fail.


Choose your battles – sometimes you just have to compromise.


Do users really want what they ask for?