Cornerstones of Newspack development

In April, the Newspack team converged on New York city for a product planning meetup. Automattic is a distributed company so this involved folks travelling in from as far as Vancouver Island, Zagreb Croatia, and New Orleans. We came out of the meetup with a clearer vision of the functionality, features and philosophy of Newspack. What follows are some key product concepts and a visualization, which we call the swim lanes, of the product focus areas.

Key Concepts

1. Revenue Focus

The central goal of Newspack is to provide a foundation for sustainable journalism, and to this end the primary product focus should always be on customer revenue. In the swim lanes, the Marketing pool is where we stand to have the most essential and transformative effect on our customers. As “CMS people” we have a natural bias to focus on publishing flows, design and layout, but to truly help our customers succeed we must keep our eye on revenue generation above all.

2. Curation and Configuration

Newspack is not about building new functionality—it is about identifying the very best existing tools and providing a simple, relatable interface for installing and configuring these to best serve our customer. The products we include will originate from Automattic, Newspack partners, and third parties. The Newspack team will develop new features only if no existing options satisfy the feature need.The WordPress ecosystem is vast and sometimes overwhelming to the customer. Our approach is to weave a (sometimes) complex tapestry of existing tools, abstracted behind the simplest possible UI. Newspack is the glue that creates a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

3. Empathetic Development

We’re lucky to have a tremendous set of customer and customer-adjacent voices available to us in our development process: the 12 charter publications, our partners, the industry research News Revenue Hub is conducting, and the industry expertise that we and those around us have built up over the years. To capitalize on these advantages we should listen closely to these voices at every stage of product development. Steady, meaningful interaction with our customer will help us make Newspack the best product it can be.

4. Less Is More Visuals

The visual elements of Newspack — theme and blocks — build on the idea that the visual delta between news websites is actually small, and endless customization is neither necessary nor desirable. We plan to provide a single theme with enough flexible customization for publications to express their brand differentiation in meaningfully ways, and a set of Gutenberg blocks they can use to assemble an ideal site.

5. Education as a Feature

Some of the value we aim to provide to our customer comes in the form of guidance rather than features. Newspack should surface and explain best practices in design, publishing flow and business practices whenever possible, even if it doesn’t relate to a feature we are providing. WordPress can be overwhelming, and our job is to make it simpler and more relatable.

Swim Lanes

Here’s a brief look at how we plan to focus on the various pieces of work—swim lanes are groupings of related work that will be ‘serialized’ (rather than happening in parallel). They will each have a ‘directly responsible individual’ leading them, but will not necessarily be the work of a single person.