The New Blinkist:
Role / Director of Design | Responsibilities / Leadership, strategic design, product strategy
Blinkist's original elevator pitch was strong — curious but struggle to find time to read? Get the key insights to amazing non-fiction books in as little as 15 minutes. All the knowledge, none of the fluff.
This resonated with millions of people who wanted to deepen their knowledge in less time for a myriad of reasons. Yet a few years later, the Blinkist product had evolved drastically and that sharp elevator pitch was a lot less punchy.
The maxim of “innovate or die” can — for many companies — loom large. Blinkist was no exception. Blinkist’s founders wanted to bet big on content by introducing different kinds of formats. The product moved on from non-fiction book summaries (known as 'Blinks') as its only content type to incorporating full length audiobooks. Additionally, it had also evolved to offer audio designed to help you sleep (Bedtime Biographies), its own original content (Blinkist Originals) and podcast summaries (Shortcasts). This had a huge impact on everything from the product itself to how we marketed it.
As we added new content types, we fundamentally changed the original Blinkist product, thereby changing the solution to the original customer problem. However, we didn’t have a clear direction on how these changes would cohesively work together. This resulted in several core issues, including:
1. Unclear value proposition & positioning
A product on the road to losing its point of view
2. Declining product quality
A more complex and confusing product experience
3. Losing the customer problem
Lack of clarity about the people we were now building for and why
4. Negative customer feedback
Confusion and frustration from customers about the addition of certain formats
In addition to the changes we were making to the app internally, changes were happening in the world around us. Covid-19 had entered the picture, altering the lifestyles of our consumers in a major way.
These internal changes coupled with unforeseen external forces meant we quickly needed to understand what made Blinkist relevant today, which problems it solved and for whom. We lacked a compelling reason for what we were doing and were missing a clear direction that would inspire our product teams.
As Director of Design, I wanted to steer us back on the right path. I had already been working on our product vision and raised the issue of our fractured narrative and experience with the executive team. I suggested we investigate our value proposition, which in turn would help strengthen the product vision and long-term strategy.
The desired outcome of this body of work was for all teams to have shared understanding on core pillars — primarily the value proposition and core customer needs. The outcome of this being to enable leadership and teams to make great decisions about how we built and marketed the Blinkist product. For leadership, an important aspect of this work was providing the ability for us to be more principled and make tough calls about what we prioritised in the product, so that we could get back to that effective elevator pitch.
To start, I identified key stakeholders across the organisation and created visibility around what we were doing with an initial roadmap.
To help tackle this project, I onboarded a freelance strategic designer to partner with and worked with them to outline the key outcomes we needed to deliver for this project. They began with in-house interviews across the organisation to understand where teams needed clarity. This allowed us to understand where we needed to provide the most immediate answers to help enable their decision making and goals.
Understanding current customers
Meanwhile, I worked on defining customer profiles and understanding core needs. The aim here being to identify their core problem, motivations and what stood in the way of them achieving their goals.
I collaborated with a member of our Performance Marketing team to look into customer segmentation and market demographics. I also dug deep into preexisting customer research (for example, the Jobs-To-Be-Done study from our UX Research team) and data for more insight into customers.
Identifying new customer segments
One exciting output of this work was identifying promising new audiences for the Blinkist product. For example, previously unidentified profiles that could be coming to Blinkist already for new content types or new audiences with pain-points that we could solve.
Through this research, we developed hypotheses about previously unknown profiles and sharpened our understanding of existing segments.
In total, four final profiles were identified — two based on existing established customer profiles and two new profiles. I outlined the goals, desired outcomes and frustrations of the profiles to develop these into proto-personas
and collaborated with the strategic designer to refine them further.
With these profiles now defined, we had a stronger idea of customer needs. Based on this, we were able to see how Blinkist could solve those problems across all profiles. This allowed me to narrow which solutions and benefits were most vital and important across all groups. This process of drilling down helped to begin clarifying which value propositions made sense of Blinkist.
Uncovering the value proposition
Using a canvas format (defined by our freelancer), Blinkist's CPO utilised the outcomes from strategic work to draft the value proposition.
It distilled key pre-existing information about brand (i.e - Blinkist's brand promise), articulated which problems we were solving, whom we were solving for and how we were solving those problems.
During the course of this project, it became evident that the value proposition of deepening knowledge through bite-sized content was still the strongest. (Plot twist! ⚡️)
This canvas, along with the work on proto-personas, were artefacts that I shared back to the Blinkist organisation. I made it a principle to work in the open through this project, communicating regularly about the work and our progress, in order to foster trust around exactly how we arrived at these outcomes. This was the first time Blinkist had a single source of truth for its product vision and value proposition.
As with any strategic initiative, developing strategic artefacts is only one part of the mission, embedding these new insights and vision is another vital part of the work.
However, my involvement ended with the former. I completed the strategic portion of the project and initial socialisation of the subsequent outcomes before I left Blinkist.
This work sought to clarify Blinkist’s direction and bring back an understanding of who we were building for. The artefacts distilled a large body of work, evidence and insights into outputs that could be embedded into all processes.
As Blinkist's founders were involved at key junctures, the stage was set for them to pick-up this work and further embed the story of the new Blinkist with the organisation.
Despite my departure, the sharpened and more focussed value proposition is evident to see today in Blinkist's marketing and product.
Doubling down on helping people learn through short-form content gave room for Blinkist to prioritise Blinks (book summaries) and elevate just one of those new content types— Shortcasts (summarised podcasts) — as that solution.
The product experience has been streamlined to centre on these content types. Meanwhile, storytelling on surfaces like the App Store, which previously featured fragmented messaging, have been simplified to once again focus on core benefits.