Ida Aalen Netlife Research Paper

Ida Aalen

Ida Aalen is a senior interaction designer at Netlife Research. Ida is involved in user research, interaction design and concept development. She has worked on websites like the Norwegian Cancer Society and the Great Norwegian Encyclopedia, and wrote Norway’s best-selling book about social media, titled A Short Book on Social Media. Before starting at Netlife Research Ida worked as a journalist for an online newspaper.

Ana Andjelic

Ana Andjelic is Head of Digital Strategy at Spring Studios, a next-gen agency specializing in design-focused brands. There, she works with the top creative and strategic talent on using digital to solve business problems of brands like Target, Harper’s Bazaar, Max Mara, Nexxus and Calvin Klein.

Ana is well respected in the industry for her knowledge and approach to strategy. She is a whirlwind of energy and enthusiasm with almost 10 years of experience bridging brand planning and digital strategy. Ana has been selected as one of the Top 50 Planners to Watch in 2014 and Top Digital Strategists in 2013 by The Guardian

Johan Bakken

Johan is co-funder of Bakken og Bæck and has developed the company from 2 to 15 employees in 3 years.

Stine Camilla Bjerkestrand

Stine works with digital strategy, content and leadership in Netlife Research. She’s passionate about developing digital services that take user needs and technological opportunities seriously. To be successful, we must often develop new business models and make changes in the organization, says Stine Camilla.

Stine’s professional background is in journalism, innovation and leadership.

Aslak Borgersrud

Aslak is a musician, tech journalist and writer. He is mostly known as a rapper in the Norwegian group Gatas Parlament. But nowadays he spends his time wriiting about technology, people and the future on He is the editor of Aslak will be the host at Webdagene.

Johan Brand

Johan co-founded and is the CEO of Kahoot!, an educational gaming platform with millions of users world wide. He has over a decade’s experience merging creativity, innovation and technology. His work has included high profile projects for brands including Mercedes, BBC, HP, and Unilever, as well as startups in London and abroad.

Most recently, Johan launched The Nordic Connection, an entrepreneurial network based out of London’s TechCity, with a focus on creating global opportunities and connections for Nordic startups.

Amber Case

Amber is the Director of Esri R&D Center in Portland, where she works on next generation location-based technology.

Previously, she co-founded Geoloqi, a location-based software company acquired by mapping company Esri in 2012. Case founded IndieWebCamp with Tantek Çelik and Aaron Parecki in 2010 and has been named one of National Geographic’s Emerging Explorers.

Anders Christensen

Anders is the manager of Bekk Interactive. He has been working with UX since early 2000.

Ove Dalen

Ove is one of Norways top experts on web content and strategy. He is the author of two books on the topics and speaks regularly at conferences. He works as the knowledge manager of Netlife Research and works with content, strategy and customer experience.

Nir Eyal

Nir writes, consults, and teaches about the intersection of psychology, technology, and business. He is the author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products. He founded two tech companies since 2003 and has taught at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford.

Nir is also an advisor to several Bay Area start-ups , venture capitalists, and incubators. In addition to blogging at, Nir is a contributing writer for Forbes, TechCrunch, and Psychology Today.

Synve Røine Fossum

Synve works with user research and interaction design at Netlife Research. Her specialty is complex applications and systems with expert users. She gives everything to investigate user behavior and easily knocks on the door of the companies boss.

Synve has a Masters in Psychology from the University of Oslo (UiO) focusing on human interaction technology.

Håkon Fretheim

Håkon is Digital Director and partner i Saatchi & Saatchi Norway. He has been responsible for the integration of digital competence in Saatchi & Saatchi and has 15 years of experience as digital advisor and producer.

Brad Frost

Brad is a web designer, speaker, writer, and consultant located in Pittsburgh, PA. He’s passionate about creating Web experiences that look and function beautifully on the never-ending stream of connected devices, and is constantly writing about it.

He’s also created some tools and resources for web designers, including This Is Responsive, Pattern Lab, Mobile Web Best Practices, and WTF Mobile Web.

Christian Printzell Halvorsen

Christian has been CEO of and part of the Group Mangement in Schibsted Norway since 2009. He has led the company during a period of strong growth and great changes in consumer behavior – from PC usage to mobil. Christian’s background includes an education in technology, previous work experience with McKinsey & Company and a position as Vice President of Strategy and Product Development in He is passionately interested in innovation and new development.

Eirik Norman Hansen

Eirik is marketing director and works with business development in Creuna.

Ida Jackson

Ida is an Information Officer and Web Editor at the Great Norwegian Encyclopedia. She has worked with the redesign, the usability and the content strategy for the website. Ida is a writer by trade, and web writing is her main passion. Before starting her job at the Encyclopedia in 2011, she was kept busy by her weblog and her small social media consultant-company. Ida’s time as a full time blogger resulted in the book Sosiale medier – hvordan ta over verden uten å gå ut av huset.

Jessica Lawrence

Jessica is the Executive Director of NY Tech Meetup (NYTM), the largest Meetup in the world. She co-founded The Work Revolution Summit, a conference on the future of work and was the CEO of Girl Scouts of San Gorgonio Council in Southern California, where she supported a community of 75 staff, 5,000 volunteers, and 15,000 girls.

Jessica’s writing has been featured on the Harvard Business Review blog,, The Next Web, The Huffington Post and in a weekly column in The Press-Enterprise.

Joe Leech

Joe Leech is User Experience Director in cxpartners.

A recovering neuroscientist via a spell as a primary school teacher to a MSc in Human Computer Interaction, Joe embarked on a UX career 9 years ago.

As a User Experience Director Joe heads up a team of user experience consultants. He specialises in designing every aspect of the user experience from initial research to developing online strategies to
producing wireframes & managing a design team.

He’w worked with clients like Disney, Marriott, Virgin, theTrainline and Appliances Online.

AJ Leon

AJ nomads around the world and makes things happen. He is currently traveling around the world in 1,880 days primarily by land and sea. He is a writer, designer, entrepreneur and humanitarian that has initiated social projects in South Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Malawi, The Philippines and England.

He is the author of The Life and Times of a Remarkable Misfit and publishes weekly articles at Pursuit of Everything about living with intention, doing work that matters and changing the world.

Anders Waage Nilsen

Anders is the manager of Netlife Research in Bergen and a climate activist. He makes what he feels the world is missing and has started a Norwegian skiing magazine, a movie festival in the Norwegian mountains and much much more.

These days he works with strategy and management at the newly established Netlife Research Bergen.

Torry Pedersen

Torry is a Norwegian newspaper editor. He is the editor-in-chief of VG, the largest Norwegian newspaper.

Brian Suda

Brian Suda is an informatician currently residing in Reykjavík, Iceland. Most recently, he has been focusing on the mobile space and future predictions. How
smaller devices will augment our every day life and what that means to the way we live. People will have access to more information, so how do we present this in a way that they can begin to understand and make informed decisions about things they encounter in their daily life. This could include better visualizations of data, interactions, work-flows and ethnographic studies of how we relate to these digital objects.

His own little patch of Internet is where many
of his past projects and crazy ideas can be found.

Mo Syed

Mo is Head of User Experience at ecommerce merchandising platform vendor Amplience. He is a regular speaker on conversion and UX for ecommerce at a variety of industry fora including UX Riga, UX People, London and events held by Internet Retailing and The IMRG.

Mo has been researching, and designing interactive experiences for a range of brands including M&S, Vodafone, Premier Inn, Barclaycard and Mercedes-Benz, Thomson Reuters and BP; agency, in-house and in startup land. He has a research background in Psychology and loves knowing what makes your customers tick.

Sigrid Bonde Tusvik

Norwegian comedian telling us how to manage our Facebook updates.

Even Westvang

Even works at Bengler with design, programming and concept development. In his everyday work he tailors social software for media corporations and disseminates information through visualization.

If you’ve worked on a website design with a large team or client, chances are good you’ve spent some time debating (arguing?) with each other about what the homepage should look like, or which department gets to be in the top-level navigation—perhaps forgetting that many of the site’s visitors might never even see the homepage if they land there via search.


Nobody comes to your website just to look at your homepage or navigate your information architecture. People come because they want to get something done.

All too often, we blame the client for falling short on user experience. They don’t get that the important thing is that the information architecture is easy to understand—something you will never achieve if every single department gets to have their own button on the homepage.

It’s about time we take more of that blame ourselves. Usually, no matter how much user research we do, or how meticulously we’ve treated the digital strategy, we start out in our interactions with clients by mapping the information architecture or sketching homepages. It’s no wonder clients believe these are the pillars of the entire website, if these are the first things we show them. In fact, very few users actually meet their goals right on the homepage of any given website, so it follows that very few organizations will reach their own objectives—much less their users’—by focusing only on the homepage.

Long before “mobile first” or “content-driven design” were even buzzwords, information architect Are Halland tried to solve this conundrum by introducing the core model, which he presented at IA Summit 2007. The presentation is still highly enjoyable and relevant, even seven years later. In short, websites must be designed from the inside out, with primary focus on the core tasks its users need to accomplish.

When we used the core model technique at Netlife Research to begin a mobile-first, content-driven website redesign with the Norwegian Cancer Society (NCS), we spent less time quibbling over the homepage contents, and more time trying to figure out how we could actually help the users and the NCS get what they needed out of the website—with great results.

The core model ensures that we’re thinking about user needs all the way through the website design process, thinking holistically about goals instead of hierarchically; instead of demanding “Where do you belong on the NCS website?” of our visitors, the core model prompts us to ask, more generously, “How can the NCS help you?”

A different starting point

Using the core model, we start the design process by mapping out all the content we have in order to find the pages with a clear overlap between objectives and user tasks.

To use the core model, you need:

  • Business objectives: Prioritized, measurable objectives and sub-objectives. What does the organization want to achieve?
  • User tasks: Actual, researched, prioritized user tasks. What is it that people want to get done? (We usually conduct top task surveys to identify the user tasks, which is a great tool if you want to align the organization.)

A good review of a website’s existing content can turn up some dusty corners that need clearing out. Typically, a website might have a lot of content that doesn’t help users meet their goals—such as press release archives and lengthy vision statements. A great deal of this content can usually be removed, simplified, or merged in some way.

When you have set aside the nonessential content, you are left with cores. These are pages or workflows whose content fulfills a clear overlap between business objectives and user tasks.

An example from the NCS is their page dedicated to information about lung cancer. Our user research identified a huge need for qualified and authoritative information on the many forms of cancer—and seeing that one of the objectives for the NCS is to educate Norwegians about cancer, this is a clear match of the users’ needs with the organization’s larger objective.

But what happens with pages like “Donate”? Our research showed that users did not typically search the site for information related to fundraising, but being able to receive donations online is essential if the NCS is going to raise more money for cancer research. This is where the core model truly shines: if you create good cores, you’ll also be able to create good pathways to other, less-requested pages on your website, regardless of where they are placed in the information architecture. A core page should never be a blind alley.

Who is the core model for?

The core model is first and foremost a thinking tool. It helps the content strategist identify the most important pages on the site. It helps the UX designer identify which modules she needs on a page. It helps the graphic designer know which are the most important elements to emphasize in the design. It helps include clients or stakeholders who are less web-savvy in your project strategy. It helps the copywriters and editors leave silo thinking behind and create better content.

And to get all these different disciplines to start thinking collaboratively, we’ve found success with organizing team workshops that introduce core model thinking to the whole group.

By the end of the workshop, the group will have a common understanding of user needs, business goals, and how different pages should be connected. Additionally, you have worksheets where stakeholders have given you a prioritized list of what kind of content and modules they believe are the most important on the page they have worked on, when considering both user needs and business objectives.

With a prioritized list of what kind of content and modules needs to be on the most important pages, it’s a lot easier for the team to get to work, regardless of whether they are UX designers, graphic designers, or content strategists. We start by creating the core pages; the homepage is usually the last page we design. (How can you design the wrapping before you know what’s inside?)

How to do a core model workshop

The core model workshop outlined here is the first stage of a bigger design process, which might look a little different from one team to the next. But when you work with clients through these initial worksheets, the end result will be a team that’s excited to see the new website take shape—and is agreed on which content is truly important.

Doing a core workshop is easy and low-tech. All you need is:

  • Handouts summarizing researched user tasks and identified business objectives (see above)
  • Handouts with the core model (e.g., A3 paper size) (to fill out)
  • Markers and Post-Its
  • Room with a projector
  • 3-4 hours per workshop
  • 1-3 participants from your team (e.g., designers, UX, content, developers, and so forth)
  • 6-14 stakeholders from relevant fields or departments in the organization
  • Snacks and lots of coffee!

When inviting stakeholders, try to involve people…

  • who will work with the content
  • with strong opinions about the website
  • who should be collaborating, but aren’t

To take part in a core workshop, there is no need for drawing skills, design skills, or tech-savviness. The most important thing is that people understand their own respective fields.

All workshop participants should work in pairs to fill out their worksheets. Between each step in the workshop, they’ll present their ideas to the other pairs, which will usually generate questions or new ideas that the other pairs can incorporate into their worksheets.

1. Identify your cores

The first thing you need to do is to identify your core pages by matching the business objectives and the user tasks. You can do this in the workshop or beforehand. Let’s use the example of our cancer type template, e.g. “lung cancer,” where we matched the following tasks and objectives.

Business objectives:

  • Helping patients and their friends and family
  • Increasing knowledge about cancer and prevention

User tasks:

  • Learn about different forms of cancer
  • Identify symptoms of cancer
  • Get tips for preventing cancer
  • Find information about treating cancer (therapies, adverse effects, risks, prognosis)

2. Plan for inward paths

Instead of jumping into content creation and detailing that page, the next step is to map out inward paths. This is where we’ll look carefully at any user research findings to help inform decisions. How might people find this page? How did they get here?

This approach is a simple way to prompt your client to think about the page from a user’s perspective. In our example of the page about lung cancer, plausible inward paths are things like:

  • Googling lung cancer
  • Googling symptoms
  • Clicking a link on the homepage
  • Finding a link in a printed brochure

3. Determine core content

After identifying inward paths, we begin talking about the core content. What content do we need on this page for it to achieve the goals of both the organization and the users? What kind of modules or elements do we need?

In this task, the participants are using all the information they have on their worksheets: the user tasks, the business objectives, and the inward paths. In light of this information, what are the most important things that need to go on to that page—and in what order? Having a solid user research foundation at hand will make this process much simpler. In the case of the NCS workshop, the user research had identified cancer prevention as a top user concern, which made it clear that we needed to say something about prevention—sometimes even for cancer types that cannot be prevented.

4. Set forward paths

This last field is key to the core model’s success. After visitors have gotten the answers to their questions, where do we want to send them next? At this point you can allow yourself to think more about business goals in a general sense.

In the case of the lung cancer page, it could be forward paths like:

  • Contacting the cancer help line (so they don’t diagnose themselves)
  • How to prevent all forms of cancer, not just this specific type of cancer
  • Patient rights, if they are reading about treatment
  • Telling users about the political work and lobby work NCS does (e.g. trying to reduce treatment waiting times)

This has to be done in the context of user tasks. If someone is visiting the website in a fearful state, hoping to find solid information about melanoma, do we really want to conclude their journey with a flashy “Donate!” message? Not really—that would just be rude and insensitive, and is unlikely to encourage donations anyway. However, many users do look for general information on cancer research, and in this context, we can frame it more specifically: “If you think cancer research is important, you can help us by donating.” (And in fact, this more considerate approach might end up increasing donations, as it did for us at the NCS.)

5. Think mobile to prioritize

After all these steps, participants are usually excited. Their worksheets are full of ideas for content, modules, and all sorts of functionality.

The enthusiasm is great—that’s something we want!—but a worksheet full of discursive ideas is difficult to work with. Are all these things equally important?

That is why the final step in the workshop is to use mobile-first thinking to prioritize all the elements. We give the participants a new sheet and ask them: if you had just a small screen available, in which order would you place the elements you’ve identified throughout the workshop? They’ll also need to place those forward paths they’ve written down in the context of the main content.

From core sketches to a finished website

We rarely use wireframes, and you won’t see a photoshop sketch or prototype with lorem ipsum. Why not?

A wireframe says a lot about where something is placed on a page, but it rarely says anything about why it was put there. Because of this, wireframes imply a lot more about what the design could look like than you really want it to in the early stages of design.

The core sketches from our workshop, on the other hand, can be put to good use by any web discipline, because it tells you which elements need to be on which pages, and—just as importantly—why they are there. There really isn’t any web-related discipline I know of whose members shouldn’t care about what needs to be on the page and why.

With interdisciplinary teams, you’re more likely to come up with more innovative ways of solving the user tasks: should it just be text? A video? A quiz? Something completely different?

At Netlife Research, we usually work in close teams of two to four people with a broad combination of skills, such as user research, UX design, graphic design, front end development, and content strategy. At this stage we’re also typically in close collaboration with a work group from the client.

Together, we are able to identify what kind of modules and information we need on the core pages—but the visual design is still flexible at this stage.

The next step is to begin content workshops with the organization, using core model thinking and writing in pairs. 

Ultimately, we delivered an HTML and CSS prototype with actual content, which (in this case) a subcontractor then developed for the NCS, along with a custom CMS to manage the website and make changes. We also designed several modules tailor-made for common forward paths, which their website editors can place as needed on various pages.

One such forward path module is a box advertising the cancer helpline. This helps the NCS achieve its goal of increasing the use of its services for learning about cancer, and it helps users get answers to their questions.


The message gets out to more people

After launch in September 2012, the number of unique visitors on the NCS website has steadily increased each year, despite the fact that the project had no specific activities aimed at search engine optimization. User-focused content goes a long way.

As a welcome side effect of restructuring the website and the content around user tasks, the Norwegian Cancer Society is also now being used as a source by news media more frequently than before.

Forward paths have a huge impact

One example of a forward path is the aforementioned cancer helpline. If you compare the number of cancer helpline conversations in 2013 with the number of conversations the previous seven years, the number of conversations is up 40 percent. Usually, organizations will be looking to decrease the number of calls, but when you’re in the business of informing, it’s a good thing when users reach out. More people at risk of cancer picked up the phone, or entered a chat, or sent an email, and talked to an oncology nurse.

And despite this increase in conversations on the support lines, the oncology nurses tell us they are actually receiving more informed and sophisticated questions than they used to, because more people have already found the answers to their most basic questions on the website.

Fewer banners, but more donations

The previous NCS homepage had several banners and menu items pointing to different ways of supporting the NCS. Today, there’s just the “Support us” item in the menu, and the banners are gone.

Despite this, the effect on the digital fundraising has been astounding. Comparing numbers from 2011 (a whole year with the old website) with 2013 (a whole year with the new website):

  • The number of one-time donations has tripled (up 198%)
  • The number of regular donors registering each year has quadrupled (up 288%)
  • The total sum from regular donors each year has quintupled(!) (up 382%)

This is not only due to core model thinking, but also continuous improvement of the forms.

People will do anything on mobile

For several years, we have advocated the idea that people will do anything on mobile, if you just let them. Our work with the NCS is great testament to this way of thinking.

Users spend roughly the same amount of time on the page about lung cancer regardless of which device they are using; while tablet and desktop users spend on average 3 minutes and 48 seconds, smartphone users spend 3 minutes and 57 seconds.

In some forms, conversion rates are actually higher on mobile; in a recent membership campaign, the conversion rate was 7.3 percent on mobile whilst only 2.5 percent on desktop.

From homepage first to homepage last

By devoting your time to the core pages first, you’ll avoid a number of turf battles about menu bar real estate, and enjoy the benefits of getting the whole team united behind the same essential parts of the website. You’ll prove to the team that you care about their content and their users (and, sure, maybe convince them to care a little more about their users, too)—and the end result is a website that knows exactly what it’s about. Next time you’re faced with a compromise-riddled situation where you’re designing a website by committee, give the core model a shot. In my work, it’s been a great way to get down to business and stay on positive terms with the whole team.

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