Literati: Product innovation for Emerald Publishing Group

Imagine the future of academic publishing

Emerald Publishing asked Modern Human to imagine a suite of new products and services that help academics to publish their research, to amplify their ideas and to have greater impact in the world. Modern Human helped Emerald Publishing to create a vision for their future product portfolio that would open new revenue streams from institutions, businesses and individual professionals.

The landscape of academic publishing has transformed in recent years with the advent of online publishing - so too have the needs, expectations, behaviours, and motivations of the people who use academic publishers’ products and services. To stay relevant, academic publishers need to create new products and services that meet the needs of today’s authors, researchers, and librarians, whilst future-proofing their business and creating new revenue sources.

Emerald Publishing wanted to know more about the changing needs of the academic researchers, authors and lecturers using their products and services. Modern Human’s focus on ethnography and experience of design research meant we were ideally placed to help Emerald Publishing gain the understanding they needed to develop their offering. We know from experience that immersing ourselves in the worlds of the people we are designing for - watching what they do, how they interact with their environment and the products and services they use - always reveals more of what they think and feel than merely asking them.

To inform our human-centred design process, we first consolidated our existing knowledge of academia and academic publishing, gained over the course of many projects in the academic sector. We combined this with Emerald Publishing’s own audience insights. This knowledge of academics and the academic sector firstly enabled us to revise Emerald Publishing’s original brief, transforming it into a design project with greater innovative and commercial potential. Our experience with academia also accelerated our design research, enabling us to explore new avenues of enquiry and ultimately gaining fresh insights with which to innovate for Emerald Publishing.

To understand the behaviour, needs, goals, values and motivations of academics, we observed and interviewed both early career researchers and senior members of faculty at their various academic institutes. We were particularly interested in their research workflow, professional network and collaborative behaviour. Exploring their professional lives, goals, motivations and values enabled us to gain a deep understanding of their research experiences, needs and challenges. To ensure a global spread of research institutes, we supported contextual research with remote video interviews.

Following fieldwork, we analysed all the interviews, photographs, recordings and observations about the environment and academic research experiences. This activity yielded models of the academic relationship dynamics, a model of an individual’s strategic research pipeline management, and identification of the value exchanges at play between actors in the knowledge chain. Our research also revealed the relationship building struggles that academics encounter when attempting to involve practitioners in their work, specific language and collaboration barriers between different parties within academic research, and the specific, nuanced needs, behaviours and motivations of academics from East Asia when engaging in the research and publishing process.

Through a series of research presentations and concepting workshops, we involved stakeholders within Emerald Publishing to develop concepts with sustainable and commercial business models. The outcome of this activity was a diverse ecosystem of products and services, all built upon a self-reinforcing platform and constructed around a central data model that can be exploited for a range of commercial opportunities. Each product or service built upon and enhanced that underlying data model. The success of any one of those products or services helps to generate both demand and data for the others. The products and services answered genuine needs of different groups of academics, eased their pain points, and fitted neatly into their workflow.

With a total of seven concepts for products and services in hand, each of which can be built without the underlying central data model, Emerald Publishing are now in the development stage of the design process. This stage involves using different R&D techniques for developing the concepts, depending on the concepts’ scale of innovation and ambition - with the ultimate objective of launching the successful products and services. Emerald Publishing are currently using these techniques to validate, incubate, pilot and prototype the first round of products and services, from the seven that we designed for them. We look forward to seeing the results.