Case Study
Earnest
Re-imagining Academic Publishing
Overview
Summary: Earnest is an AI-powered personal research assistant. A writing platform to support early career researchers writing their papers and getting peer reviews. It redefines the old model of academic publishing with new business model proposal based on the open access principles. Which aims at creating new revenue streams for publishers and increased publishing opportunities for researchers.

My role: Service Design / Interaction Design

Client: Emerald Publishing Group
Duration: 4 weeks
Team: Mathilde Dongala, Mayra Kapteyn, Thomas Anderson, Renzo Vallejo

This work was made with guidance from Hyper Island's industry leader Sam Dunne Editor @Core77 & founder @Cohere
Brief
Emerald published journals articles and books for a global audience of academic and professional students and researchers. The company want us to help them design the future of academic publishing, by redefining their current business model and presenting a financially sustainable vision for the next generation of their business.
Client Brief
"What does the next generation of users want from an academic publisher like Emerald Group Publishing?"
OUR SOLUTION
Meet Earnest
Earnest is a personal research assistant powered by Artificial Intelligence that
helps researchers and students to write, find and review academic papers.
The Process
Problem Statement
Despite rapid developments in technology in recent decades, most research content is still accessed online via computers, with users saving and printing pdfs. Access to Emerald's contents on mobile devices is very low, yet globally, mobile internet use has now superseded desktop internet use, so we wonder: why that is not replicated in the research space?
"The question isn't: how can we optimise our website for mobile devices, as we don't know if that is what users want, but rather: what do the next generation of users want from an academic publisher like Emerald, and how can we create new value for them?"
Emerald Publishing Group
Project brief
Background
Emerald wants to meet its vision for users, to meet users' needs, keep pace with tech advances, and continue to run as profitable business.
* The users of the content are different from the purchaser. Content is purchased by university libraries on subscription and made available to institutional users - academics, researchers and students.
Emerald's a vision for its online presence
This was the list of requirements from the client brief
1
Flexibility
Emerald's content and services must be adapted to user's devices and circumstances
2
All in one place
Emerald wants the website to have the richest version of their content so drive users to their content and services
3
Easy to find and use
Emerald's content and services the users need, presented in an accessible, engaging way
4
Experience
To provide an intuitive user experience which is continually enhanced
5
Community
Emerald want's like to make people happy and build a community around their content and services
6
Win Win
Emerald wants to meet users' needs, keep pace with tech advances, and continue to run as profitable business.
Challenges
We identified multiple challenges in this project. Based on our research findings and insights we pivoted challenges into opportunity areas and questions to help us reach a meaningful solution.

Open access challenges business sustainabilityThe evolution of digital technologies and development of the open access are a growing thread to the current academic publishers business models and its sustainability, which is solely based in prestige and status.
Opportunity: Open access based business model
Question: How might we create an open access environment that provides quality articles?

Academic robustness and content relevanceEarly career researchers say they struggle with creating easy-to-read and engaging content that follows academic standards and robustness.
Opportunity: Using technology to assist researchers being better writers.
Question: How might we support early career researchers to write relevant content following the academic standards?

Finding content and academic supervisionFinding the right academic content can be an overwhelming task as many academic content is impenetrable, most of the times because it's hidden behind pay walls . Students and early career researchers have reported that is hard to look for a supervisor with the same research interests and enough knowledge to guide them to resources or other research partners they can collaborate with.
Opportunity: Using digital platforms to create community and crowdsource support.
Question: How might we enable early career researchers with the proper guidances in terms of content and academic supervision?


Sketch notes after receiving the brief and discussing it with the client.
Project Point of Departure: Use the kit as a framework for a project kick-off workshop.
Defining questions that help the team framing the challenge
Reaching out to expert users on social media
Approach
We used mixed of methods during our research phase. From desk-research to get acquainted with the terminology and dominant trends and concerns in the publishing industry, to carrying different kinds of interviews: in-depth with experts within the academic community, extreme users. We also used Guerrila techniques to speak with users. We went to Manchester University and conducted spontaneous interviews and concept testing!
Below some of the users and experts we spoke with
We hoped that we might uncover some interesting findings by using this methods with such users. One of our interviewees was Jack Andraka, known for his award-winning work on detecting the early stages of cancers, performed while he was a high school student. Also Jelte Wicherts, the editor of an open access academic writing platform (PLOS ONE Editorial) disrupting the industry.
Once we had completed the interviews we synthesised some of our key findings into composite user personas in order to aid our understanding of Emerald's user's needs.
Dr. Abigail Loxham
Faculty Member Latin Studies | The University of Manchester
Dr. Dana Ruggiero
Customers Support
Eelke Boezeman
Founder and CTO at Peerby
Jack Andraka
Award-winning Inventor, Scientist, and Cancer Researcher.
Dr. Jelte Wicherts
Associate Professor in Psychological Methods | Tilburg University's School of Social and Behavioural Sciences
Dr. Jelte Wicherts
PhD candidate Psychology | Universiteit van Amsterdam
Insights from research
Finding relevant content

It's difficult to find relevant academic content that is not sitting behind pay wall. Finding high quality articles is often a time consuming activity.
Writing in the academic style

Writing in the academic style is difficult, especially for less experienced people, such as students and early career researchers.
Avoiding Duplication

Often times researchers submit work, which they spend long time writing, without realising other researcher has writing in exact same topic elsewhere.
Looking for supervision

It can be hard to find the right collaborators and supervisors with the same research interests and enough knowledge to guide them
Drafting the discussion guide to be used in the interview with Jelte Wicherts
Synthesizing research information and knowledge into color coded categories.
Team split and worked in pairs to increase focus and efficiency in deliver. Rooftop session.
Analysing research using an innovation framework: "desirability + feasibility + viability"
Earnest suggests relevant content while users work, while also helping them to write in the correct academic style.
To generate ideas we experimented different methods, from Mash-Up innovation tool, to design fiction and traditional brainstorming. We manage to shortlist three strong ideas.
To flesh out the concept and align the team's understanding of the idea, we began wireframing the possible service and sketching interfaces. Then we went to the University of Manchester where we used guerilla testing tools to understand which idea seemed to be more relevant to our users' needs. The strongest idea was the personal research assistant that could help our users navigate hard-to-find academic content, as well as assisting them writing in a robust academic style and relevance.
Further definition of How Might We questions, before ideation
Summary of three strongest ideas different ideas, which were voted out
Comparison of three ideas business viability, using the business model canvas framework.
Low-fi prototype for the three strongest ideas, for later conducting guerrilla testing.
Earnest suggests relevant content while users work, while also helping them to write in the correct academic style. Earnest also avoids duplication of work for researchers, alerting them of similar research being carried out. Furthermore, it allows academic to connect with potential collaborators. These features were based on the key insights that researchers find rather laborious to find the right content, and writing fluently in the scholar style, especially for early career researchers and graduate students.

Client Feedback
"I thought it was fantastic, was great to see that user needs where at the forefront and the basis of why you developed the product. It really shows how valuable it is talking to users first. Some really innovative ideas, and its definitely the way we should be thinking, especially out of the box of what Emerald do now."
Head of Innovation at Emerald Publishing Group
Founder at Prolifiko
Made on
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