News In Slow German: a facelift

I love learning with my phone. You can learn anytime and anywhere. Whether you are on the way, waiting for the train, or relaxing at home, you can spend precious microtime with learning new things. Recently, I was on the market for a German language learning app. To my delight, I discovered News in Slow German, a high quality German podcast tailored to students learning the language.

After listening to some of the free sample podcasts, I was hooked. The content was current, engaging and fun to listen to. I was so taken by the product, I decided to subscribe to the paid service, so that I can enjoy the full content. Even though I have nothing but praise to say about the content, the app (and the web) leave a lot to be desired. I cannot get over how unappealing the mobile app is. It looked so outdated, over decorated and slightly messy. This is a shame since this downgrade the experience and the enjoyment of using the app.


Since I use the mobile app almost every day, my hands started to itch. I started to think what I would do to this app if I ever had the chance to redesign it. I spent a few hours indulging myself with this fantasy. The aim was to make the app slightly better without too much engineering “cost”. When I review the app, my initial thought was, the team who made the app was trying to fit in too many things at once and have not gone through the editing process.

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”- Antoine de Saint-Exupery

So this is exactly what I did, hardcore editing and just being brutal questioning the purpose of every single element on every page. Here are things that I think would improve the app:



  • No noisy background. This is the first thing that I would do. I would remove all the background images used in the app. This style is so 90s. Unless you have a high quality background image that is really catchy, guaranteed never to be boring and related to the theme of the app, I would advise never to use background images. It makes the app look cheap and amateurish. Use the main brand color instead, something your user can easily identify when searching for your app on the tiny mobile screen.
  • Mandatory login for all users. Users should always be asked to login to view the content, even though to get a free sample or the demo. Now before you accuse me of not being pro user hear me out, there are so many pros to this decision.
    • Simplicity for the freebie user. Why would you want to confuse the freebie users about the difference between free sample and a demo content? Let them decide once they logged in. When they login, freebie users should be able to explore both the demo and free sample content via the “more” navigation. Your backend system should recognized the user who logged in whether they are a freebie user or a subscribed user and display the appropriate content.
    • Simplicity for the subscribed user. Why on earth do you want to annoy your wonderful subscribed user by forcing him/her to decide whether to login or enter offline? I get that you need to login to download content, but as a user I make the decision whether to download new content only AFTER I am in your app, and not before. An app owner should always understand the user flow.
    • Know your user. As the owner of the app, you always want to know your user, you do not want them to be anonymous. Why? To be able to communicate and to service your users better. For example, if you have a new feature implemented and you want to communicate this to your users, you would need their email. If there is a change in the app that requires all your user to upgrade the app, you would want to be able to reach out to all your users to inform this. If a user complains to you that something is not right about the app on his device, you would want to follow up on that know who your user is, what kind of device and the version of the app he is using, etc.  Without knowing your users, your connection with them is lost. I hope I have made my point across on this matter.
  • Clean up the episode playlist. The heart of the app is the playlist page. Think about what are the most important information that you want to convey to your users. I added the number of views of each episode because I would like to know which episode is popular.
  • Allow users to bookmark. A bookmark is a handy feature to have for someone who is listening to podcasts, it helps them find back their favorite episodes to listen to them again. This helps them with their practice activity.
  • Move secondary feature links to the menu (overflow menu icon), such as FAQ, about the app, terms and conditions of use, logging out, look up flash card, and look at demo content. They are all good stuff but they are not the primary use case for the user. It is best to optimize the space and tuck these features in a neat and tidy “more” menu list.
  • Adjust transcript for optimum reading experience. Now that we have tidy up the place, there is more room for listeners and readers to fully enjoy the news. Remember the KISS principle (Keep it Simple Stupid), when readers listen to the podcast allow the navigation to always be accessible on top. It does not have to take up too many space, so long it is easy to reach. Provide enough space between paragraphs in the transcript. Use a larger font for easy reading. Do not underestimate the importance of providing sufficient space between lines of sentences.

The improvements above are minor changes. Surely we can do better. If I were to develop the app from scratch I would make some fundamental changes that I believe would make this an outstanding app.

  • Playlist per story not per episode. I personally would like to browse through the news stories, and not the episodes. Since episodes name has no semantic meaning and therefor quite useless for me to find out what is the content behind the title.
  • Bookmark stories not episodes. As a happy consequence of a story playlist (rather than a episode playlist), one can bookmark his/her favourite stories. Users can listen to them again in the future, or even brace yourself, to add tagging on those stories. For examples stories about technology, politics, human interest, fun facts, etc. With tagging, I can create my own playlist of technology or fun facts stories. If we can have this, I would be in app heaven. 🙂
  • Allow login with Social SSO. We live in an era of app plethora. Each one of them requires a login. As a user I always use Social SSO whenever available. It helps me manage all my accounts. The best app out there understood the importance of integrating their application with a Social SSO. Let it be Google+, Facebook, Twiter, they are all helpful for the users so that they can manage their online identity and access. The API is free, use it and make your users happy. Another argument for implementing this is that apps having social sso are more likely to get users to sign up since it is much faster to do registration.

So there you have it, my improvement points for the app. Many of the suggestions were merely arranging information where it should be, with the aim to provide just in time information and thereby optimize the users’ enjoyment.

I would love to hear your comments. What is your opinion about the app? Anything else worth improving?


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