Springer Nature
Media and publishing
6 months
What we did
Design research
Digital strategy
Digital transformation
Mobile handsets showing the Nature, Springer Link and BMC websites

Springer Nature is one of the largest and most respected publishers of academic books, journals and research papers in the world.

A global, billion-dollar business employing 10,000+ staff, Springer Nature’s brands include:

  • Nature – founded in 1869 and the world’s leading multidisciplinary science journal.

  • BMC – a pioneer of open-access publishing.

  • Springer – which provides researchers with access to millions of scientific documents and datasets.

Springer Nature is operating in an academic publishing context that is changing rapidly. ‘Open access’ is changing the publishing business model; competition is increasing from new, ‘digital-first’ publishers; and sophisticated audiences’ expectations continue to grow.

Springer Nature is an organisation with an illustrious past. They wanted to create an experience vision to reimagine how their digital programme would ensure a valuable future.

Clearleft was engaged to work collaboratively alongside the Springer Nature team to create a product and experience vision that teams could align around.

The Results

A digital vision and principles for the entire business

Direction and guidance for an ambitious programme of change.

Created collaboratively and backed by the board

A contextual and transformative plan endorsed by the board of directors.

Supported by design concepts and suggested projects

Vital quick wins and tangible initiatives to ensure momentum.

The Full Story

How do you help a long-established business take advantage of digital disruption?

Every business with a significant online operation needs a credible and compelling digital experience vision. A ‘north star’ provides direction and principles to use when weighing up difficult decisions.

Partnering with an external agency to create your experience vision may seem as if you’re outsourcing an important part of your strategy. But the combination of Springer Nature's expertise with Clearleft's broad experience and a fresh perspective proved a heady combination.

Alongside a working group of Springer Nature’s digital experts, we set out to create an experience vision unique to Springer Nature. We knew this would be presented to the board and be a vital part of their business plan. Clearleft's remit included investigating products, processes, the operating environment, and the competitive landscape.

The challenge was set to deliver a world-class digital experience that met the needs of Springer Nature’s many users – and identify the most valuable opportunities to focus on. The steer from senior stakeholders in the kick-off workshop was to be brave and ambitious in our recommendations.

How do you take a design-led approach to a digital experience vision?

The designers’ toolkit is an effective one to use when tackling business-critical problems. A designer's mindset and methods can unlock imaginative and evidence-based design transformation solutions.

The start of any robust experience vision is a detailed diagnosis of the current situation. We reviewed existing research and carried out remote interviews with business experts across the Americas, EMEA and APAC regions.

User research continued throughout the project. In conjunction with Springer Nature's internal research team, we carried out primary research with content consumers, authors, peer reviewers and journal editors to get their input and to test reactions to emerging ideas.

In the same way that you would prototype a digital product, we worked together to create and iterate the vision. Concepts were sketched and shared early and often for feedback. Ideas were made visible, data interrogated and user stories honed.

For any experience vision, words and graphics matter. A co-created and design-led approach helped to bring to life a future state, supported by diagrams, data and design principles.

Remote and in-person collaborative design activities
Collaboratively co-creating the vision

How do you bring people on the journey with you?

We set out to avoid surprises and 'big reveals' by designing in the open from the project get-go.

The project team had daily stand-up meetings to keep abreast of progress. Smaller working groups tackled discrete parts of the vision.

We made extensive use of collaborative tools, allowing people to see and comment on the work.

A project postcard – distributed on the intranet to the whole company – shared highlights and insights from the previous five days and updates on what we’d be doing in the coming week.

Transparency extended to user research interviews. Each session was streamed live on a private network to anyone in the organisation who wished to observe. The research sessions were also recorded, with the most interesting interviews highlighted for those with less time.

We interviewed stakeholders and external experts and involved them in workshops and playbacks of work in progress and research insights. Importantly, they were a great opportunity to get feedback from experts across the organisation.

As ideas emerged, the project team spoke with business leaders and subject matter experts. The insightful perspectives that they shared helped us to sense-check and fine-tune our thinking.

How do you make a vision actionable so it delivers results?

Any strategic plan is only as effective as the delivery it drives.

Springer Nature's vision has a horizon of three to five years. But the digital teams need to make an early impact and create momentum for ongoing changes.

We wanted to find the right balance between expressing project ideas and giving digital teams the freedom to use their expertise to explore and develop solutions themselves.

So we focused on identifying meaningful challenges that have enough value for Springer Nature to tackle.

Regular presentations to communicate the vision
Communicating the vision

Each pillar of the experience vision included ideas for high-value projects to take forward. The suggested projects were derived from conversations and workshops with stakeholders. Sketching sessions explored ways to address the user needs that primary research had uncovered. High-fidelity storyboards illustrated how key concepts would create value for users.

The indicative projects – and the conversations they sparked - provided the bridge from strategic direction-setting to delivering transformation through design.

Closing notes

This project provided the time and space for people across the organisation to explore possibilities and have sometimes difficult (but always valuable) discussions.

Springer Nature is now at the start of an exciting design transformation. We are looking forward to seeing Springer Nature's re-imagined digital portfolio support the work of the global research community even more.

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