The Adaptive Content Engine

At GTxcel, we provide SAAS platforms for digital publishing. We have a platform for magazine publishers that transforms print-ready PDFs to responsive, accessible HTML.

Last year we launched our Content Hub with great success. Magazine readers use it to find articles from recent magazine issues or from curated lists of back issue content. They can also enjoy other content from the publisher like podcasts or video.

Publishers were very excited about it… but there were two problems.

Two problems

  1. Readers would tap on articles from the Content Hub and move to a separate interface to read the content. This felt disjointed and slow.
  2. Readers could not access the content hub from their mobile apps. Our native mobile app platform was hard to maintain and app engagement was relatively low.

How We Approached Them

I started by facilitating a cross-functional team meeting using the Lean UX Canvas as a framework.

Lean UX Canvas filled out for the ACE project
The Lean UX Canvas filled out early in the ACE project.

We analyzed publisher and reader comments. We documented the problems we are solving, who we’re solving them for, and what our desired outcomes are. We brainstormed potential solution ideas. We identified the risks and the assumptions that should be validated. I analyzed data about how our readers navigated through issues and between the issues and the content hub.

Mixpanel Flows report that shows how readers navigate our legacy article reading experience starting from the cover page of an issue.

I sketched user flows and ideas for the new reading experience. I used Figma to iterate on diagrams and wireframes. I held review sessions where I got feedback on the designs from internal and external stakeholders.

When we felt confident with our designs. I increased the visual fidelity and made the designs look great to showcase the beautiful content from our publishers.

I selected a few mockups to evaluate with an online unmoderated usability test on It was useful to identify some potential usability issues and get some feedback from their panel of participants.

As we narrowed down on some favorites, I created an interactive prototype and held design review sessions with customers.

A demo of the interactive prototype I built in Figma for the ACE mobile reading experience.

I planned and moderated a series of remote usability tests over Zoom using the interactive prototype. Remote participants clicking a mobile app prototype in their web browser is not the ideal scenario, but in-person testing would have been unsafe due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We documented findings on the wiki and I spliced together a highlight reel to share with the team.

We learned a lot from the usability testing and made some good improvements. The insights from the research informed our decisions moving forward.

We sliced the work into components and prioritized the most valuable. I worked closely with the developers as they built the functionality piece by piece – providing specifications and requirements and reviewing work in progress. I worked with sales and support to plan a beta program. We identified the right customers to invite, and when we felt like we had a Minimum Viable Product, I initiated the beta by scheduling individual kick-off calls with the beta participants, the salesperson, and the a support representative.

We learned a lot from our first couple of beta customers. I participated in the first few sales calls to help demo and highlight the features and benefits as the sales team ramped up on the product. I listened and took notes as customers provided feedback and shared information with us about how we can help them meet their business goals with the product.

We continue to build out the ACE user experience using what we’ve learned by collaborating with our customers.

The Results

We integrated the article reading experience into the Content Hub itself, which is available on mobile and desktop browsers. We also created a lightweight app that leverages Content Hub and the ACE reading experience.

It proved to be a great opportunity to reimagine the reading experience. We made it beautiful, engaging, and customizable to meet the needs of all types of publishers.

ACE has been driving a lot of sales. Customers have been excited about it and it’s allowing us to succeed in a challenging digital publishing market.

One of the top key performance metrics that I keep track of is Average Reading Duration per User. So far with our beta customers, the average duration is almost double what it was on our legacy platform.

A Mixpanel report showing more than double the reading duration on the new platform

Next Steps
I’m planning another round of usability testing with working code instead of a prototype. We continue to listen to our customer feedback to prioritize the next most valuable problems to solve for our customers.

We’re also stepping up our exploration of additional markets for our product beyond digital magazines. We’ve been making some progress in the K-12 educational textbooks so we’re learning about the user and stakeholder needs in that market.