Spark CMS for The Financial Times

Improving content visibility on the dashboard

My role and responsibilities

Role: Lead Product Designer
Responsibilities: UX and UI design
Applications and tools: Sketch, InVision, Trello, Slack


The Financial Times is one of the world’s leading news organisations, focusing on global business news and current affairs.

For 13 years the newsroom had been using a complex, third-party content management system that had become unfit for purpose. For this reason, it was decided to replace it with Spark, a bespoke CMS that was created in the heart of the newsroom, catering specifically for the user needs of the The Financial Times newsroom. This case study refers to a phase in the development of Spark just before full rollout.

The challenge was to improve visibility on the dashboard so that a user could quickly and easily find content, and understand where this content was within the production process.

The outcome was a redesign of the dashboard based on user feedback and future user requirements.

This case study is a snapshot of a much wider project that I lead from conception to rollout for two years. For an overview of the entire project please view here.


The Spark CMS dashboard was designed to achieve an overview of content in the production process. I have observed that the product isn’t meeting the content overview goal which is causing an inefficient work process and reliance on individual transfers of knowledge.

Three small, self-contained newsroom desks were using Spark. The reporters working with the new CMS could easily communicate with each other and the number of stories published were small. When the desk editor had checked a story, a member of the Web Revise team (the final check and edit before a story is published), would be notified by physically walking over to the Web Revise desk and showing them the story. 

The next desks that Spark would rollout to were much larger, published a larger volume of stories, and had more reporters, some of which were strategically based around the world, rather than sitting at a single desk together.

User flow for publishing a story
Current dashboard


How might we help give visibility to production content and show where it is in the production process?

As Spark had been in production for six months, I had already gathered a large amount of user feedback from research interviews, testing sessions, informal conversations with users, and comments from the Slack feedback channel. 

Based on the feedback insight I was able to define a number of key elements on the dashboard that needed to change including story headlines, visibility of workflow status, and confusing iconography.

As I had already been working on the project for over a year, I had already created a UI component library in Sketch so it was quick and easy to assemble designs. After discussing my rough design solutions with the product team I consolidated the feedback and created a single design that I tested on five members of the newsroom.

Findings from the user testing were positive. All five testers thought that the filters and status labels were more visible, and however there was no agreement on the treatment of guide notes, and none of the testers liked the editing history feature.

Fluid conversations between myself, the product team, stakeholders, and users continued and after more development a final design was agreed and implemented.

Feedback from user testing session
Rough design solutions based on user feedback
Dashboard design tested on users
The final dashboard design


Users were able to find content more easily, and know where the content was in the production process

The new design was first rolled out to a single desk and the reporters were shadowed for a week. Together with feedback from the users, satisfaction metrics were used to measure the success of the dashboard which achieved a score of 8.5/10. Users thought the new design was intuitive and improved visibility and findability of stories. The new dashboard was then released to the entire user base with feedback monitored for future iterations.

Leanings and next steps

Customisation for different newsroom roles

What was discovered from the feedback was that different roles in the newsroom, such as a reporter or desk editor, had very different requirements from the dashboard. It was impossible for a single view to cover all needs, so the next step was to investigate customisation of the dashboard, and the development of different views for the different use cases.