January 14, 2020

A Journey from Old to New

This year The Spectator will print its 10,000th edition – an important milestone in our 190-year long journey, because it will also mark the start of a new digital era for The Spectator. As a business, we’ve been growing faster than ever before. In fact, we’re the fastest growing magazine in Europe.

The Spectator’s website was born nearly 10 years ago when James Forsyth, the magazine’s Political Editor (then just a junior hack), decided to start a blog in 2012. Coffee House, as it was called then, was one of the first sites to offer real-time political analysis and commentary from Westminster. Over the years it has matured and the commentary got better and better so, six months ago, we set off with the ambition of reinventing ourselves digitally – replatforming, rearchitecting and releasing a whole new website to the world.

Our new site pays tribute to our print magazine. One of the challenges we’ve always had online is how to best showcase our variety. Our magazine is a journey of discovery from one page to the next. Our readers “hear” the writers. They get lost in the secret garden. We wanted our website to feel the same. I’m pretty obsessed with layout and design, so we invented a mosaic of the emotion that the magazine gives. I want people to get the same joy of reading online that they get from the magazine, irrespective of whether it’s fast, live commentary, or reflective analysis and review.

For the techies, the new platforms are blazingly fast and API driven. We’re using a super-cool new CMS and serverless architecture.

So what’s the magic behind turning a 190-year old organisation on its head and aiming for the greatest and best in tech? The answer really boils down to three simple things:

  1. Keep it simple and focus on the basics.
    When I started the project, I had a feature list as long as my arm. But I whittled it down to MVP, which focuses on three simple things: make it useable; make it lightning fast; make it very, very pretty. If you get those things right, you have a solid foundation on which to build. Fixing those issues later on is far, far harder.
  2. Understand your users.
    Don’t just workshop with them – become them. We spent days and weeks interviewing users, asking what they wanted us to focus on and where. But the goal here wasn’t to draw up some long wishlist. It was to be able to picture them when we started to build the website. It’s about being humble – we might all think technology is the best thing since sliced bread, but our readers love our print product, so let’s not damage that – let’s enhance it.
  3. Focus on your own people as much as your customers.
    It sounds backwards – “it’s all about the customer!” Well, yes it is – and yet it’s also not. You can’t deliver tech change by focusing relentlessly on the customer. You have to think about your own organisation, too. Be prepared to bulldoze through things – but reassure with constant proof-of-concepts and demos to showcase how the new technology will make things better for customers and the organisation. The right tech is always a combo of all three: business, development, and user.

One more thing… if you ever embark on a project like this, you must have an endgame. Mine was simple: a product we could be insanely proud of. A product that, when you meet people who use it, they tell you that they love it. That’s all that matters. As technologists, we are all makers and crafters at heart. So follow your heart, put your passion into your craft, and the end result will be magical.

There is almost nothing in common “under the hood” with this new site compared to the old one. I can’t think of a better way to commemorate 10,000 editions than to kickstart the 10,001st with a website which will showcase it online better than ever before.

The new spectator.co.uk launches in March. Betas start in February. Sign up here to be the first to beta test it.

Tom Morgan, Director of Digital at The Spectator, will be at our Digital Marketing Summit on 30 January 2020 to discuss this topic in more detail.

Written by

Tom Morgan,
Director of Digital at The Spectator