KSF Media is Finland’s leading Swedish-language media agency, and its publications include Finland’s largest Swedish-language newspaper (Hufvudstadsbladet) and the local papers Östnyland and Västra Nyland. Although Hufvudstadsbladet already had a mobile app, it had limited opportunities for further development. When KSF Media hired Antti Haarala as Chief Digital Officer, one of his tasks was to create a new mobile app for HBL – one that would also leave the door open for future development. At the same time, KSF decided to introduce high-quality apps for its local newspapers as well.
“I’ve previously been involved in creating a mobile app for news media from scratch, and I’ve seen how consumer behaviour in digital news media is getting increasingly mobile-oriented. Mobile apps are therefore vital, especially as mobile-optimised apps are able to provide readers with a better user experience and engage them far, far more than browser users. Things like push notifications contribute to this, as they allow you to send users immediate updates on current events. And it’s easier to turn engaged mobile app users into subscribers,” says Haarala.
This has been the case with the HSL Nyheter app, which was also developed in cooperation with Digia. It has been downloaded by more than 10,000 people to date, of which more than half use the app more than once a week. Readers use the app an average of 5.5 times per week, while the website gets less than 2 visits a week from its readers.
We knew what we wanted and we knew that Digia could help
In addition to Haarala, KSF Media’s digital services development team has an experienced product manager and a graphic designer. The team itself has profound experience in designing mobile news media services, which is why they knew exactly what they wanted from a partner. Previous cooperation with the Digia team meant that they never even considered other options.
“I’ve worked closely with the Digia team before and I knew that their technical expertise was of the highest standard. This is why we never needed to even consider any other options. It was easy to start cooperating with Digia,” says Haarala.
The Group wanted separate yet harmonious mobile services for its newspapers
KSF Media and Haarala were also considering the bigger picture – they wanted to harmonise the digital base for the Group’s various media. Alongside developing the HBL app, KSF Media also renewed its backend system for news content. This offered the opportunity to cost-effectively develop high-quality mobile apps for the local newspapers as well. The new backend system was common to all newspapers, and they were able to build the HBL app in a way that enabled it to be easily adapted for use by the local papers.
“Thanks to its extensive readership, the Hufvudstadsbladet app was the most important and we wanted to get that finished first. However, we also wanted to spend time fine-tuning the product and user experience. Once the brunt of the work was done, we were able to get the apps for the local papers finished in only a few weeks. Competition for readers isn’t as hot for local papers as it is for a national newspaper, so good mobile apps can help us strengthen our position in Uusimaa with little effort,” says Haarala.
Digia’s Mikko Sairanen worked with KSF Media as Delivery Lead. Sairanen had worked with Haarala before, so they quickly found common ground.
“We were able to come up with a proposal for the app architecture quite quickly, as we understood what KSF Media wanted. The most important thing for us to consider was how to provide native app usability and functionality, but with the flexibility that web technologies have for publishing news content. It was also a question of cost, as using web technologies saves both time and money,” says Sairanen.
Ensuring an excellent user experience was vital
A mobile app’s user experience consists of everything relating to its usability. This encompasses:
- A functional structure and easy navigation.
- Taking advantage of the mobile device’s built-in usability features. Swiping to navigate within the service.
- Pleasant visuals.
- Technical reliability and speed.
The last in this list was Digia’s responsibility. In addition to text and images, modern media content comprises a wide range of elements, such as visualisations and external links. They must be implemented in a way that does not slow the app down, and this was the project’s greatest technical challenge.
“We had a clear vision of what we wanted to achieve, but we lacked the required technical expertise to do it. This is what we got from Digia, and they ensured that the apps worked quickly and reliably. They had a good understanding of our vision and what was important to us, and they were able to proactively suggest alternatives that would improve usability without stretching the budget. For this, they deserve extra special credit, as you really can’t overemphasise the importance of speed in the user experience,” says Haarala.
Digia’s Mikko Sairanen explains the team’s technical choices:
“In the end, we opted for a hybrid model for the app in which the start pages and news listings are generated natively for the iOS and Android platforms, and individual article views are created on React using online technologies. This enabled us to minimise data transfer volumes and maximise performance. The end result is an app that looks very native from the user’s viewpoint and quickly downloads articles.”
Agile collaboration model enables good results
From the outset, Antti Haarala was certain that collaboration should be based on agile application development models, and that the whole team – Digia included – should work in the same place. This made it easy to build a variety of prototypes and reach the eventual solution through iteration.
“Before the coronavirus pandemic forced us to work remotely, we all worked in the same space. I find this to be the best way of collaborating on app development, as it enables tests to be carried out quickly and on a more impromptu basis. However, our flexible and agile cooperation continued almost unchanged, albeit remotely,” says Haarala.
Further development of the mobile apps and the future of collaboration
The Hufvudstadsbladet mobile app was released in December 2019 and the local paper apps in spring 2020. KSF Media now intends to market the apps and collect information about their functionality, and possibly conduct a user experience survey, which will all help to steer future development. There are also ideas to develop paid in-app services.
“We’re currently taking a bit of a breather, but we intend to grow the apps’ user base and collect feedback. We have a working platform and solution that we can further develop in any way we wish, and our cooperation with Digia is extremely likely to continue. At the very least, we intend to make subscriptions directly available in the app,” says Haarala.