I was Jeffrey Zeldman’s guest on The Big Web Show podcast this week, and much nerdy fun was had. We talked about what it’s like being the design director at ProPublica, how “journalism in the public interest” differs from traditional reporting, and how the team at ProPublica approaches designing for it—and oh yeah, a little bit about that AMP thing, too. Check it out.
I get a lot of questions about my gig. Of those, the third most frequently asked is about swag: Have we got any? (No, really. I keep track. We’ll save Numbers One and Two for another time.)
Well, we’ve finally got something to answer that question with, and it’s pretty great:
The back story: Last week, a certain White House official was widely quoted saying the media should “keep its mouth shut.” My boss, editor-in-chief Steve Engelberg, told him (via the New York Times) the diplomatic equivalent of “NOPE.” I was away at a conference when I pulled out my laptop, saw all this, and thought, “Hey, I’ve got an idea…”
Several hours later, with the help of our crack social team, biz dev director Celeste LeCompte, and the fine folks at Cotton Bureau, we had ourselves a damn fine shirt. Roughly $10 from each sale goes towards funding ProPublica’s work, the rest lets Cotton Bureau cover their bills.
If you’re into it, go grab one (or several). And if you’re really into it, give us a shoutout or two on Facebook or Twitter and help spread the word, won’t you?
Widely reported last year, but in effect as of this week.
Worth keeping an eye on. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this penalty applied to desktop sites at some point down the road. As goes mobile, so typically goes the broader web.
Over at the day job we’ve published our very own Year in Review, highlighting some of ProPublica’s best visual and interactive stories from the year that was. To paraphrase a co-worker, it’s one of the nicer ways to look back at 2016.
For those keeping track, we also created and ran a Jekyll-powered microsite to cover the U.S. election, overhauled our iOS and Android apps, and helped redesign and relaunch ProPublica’s Data Store, among other things. It was a packed year!
It’s been a little over two years since I joined ProPublica to help oversee and sharpen its sense of UX, editorial design, photography and illustration, and I’m proud of this list and the progress we’ve made so far—and 2017 promises to bring still bigger steps on all fronts.
Morning commute, West Soho/Hudson Square, New York City. iPhone 7, black and white conversion via Darkroom.
The Freedom of the Press Foundation has published an open letter signed by over 150 photojournalists and documentary filmmakers asking manufacturers to build encryption into their cameras.
This is important. Consider what can be easily revealed about a confidential source when a government or hostile party seizes a journalist’s camera, and you begin to understand what’s at stake.
Android, iOS, and macOS all offer system-level encryption for their devices, but there’s nothing to stop someone from pulling the data card out of most any camera, plugging it into a reader, and freely reviewing its contents—and “inspecting” cameras is a favorite tactic of many a government, police force, or criminal antagonist. The Committee to Protect Journalists notes such incidents are so common they can’t “realistically track” all of them.
There are too many places in the world where a single photo can put a source or photographer in lethal danger, and that makes the current lack of hardware-level protection unacceptable. As someone who collaborates with and directs photojournalists’ efforts on a daily basis, I endorse the Foundation’s call.
Blockbuster reporting from the New York Times paints the fullest picture yet of the DNC email hack that influenced public opinion during this year’s presidential election. If you want to start wrapping your head around what happened, this is your best bet.
It’s Illustration Week in New York City, and with it comes the release of the 35th annual American Illustration “big book.” I’m particularly honored to have been a jury member for this year’s very special edition.
Every twelve months American Illustration (and it’s cleverly named photo counterpart, American Photography) gathers a small group of industry professionals to pick some of the year’s most intriguing illustration work. Selections are compiled into a massive hardcover tome that cuts across a wide gamut of work styles, industries, and project categories.
The resulting book’s only real organizing principle is alphabetical order (by artist name). Student work appears alongside the output of beloved, grizzled veterans. Even unpublished work is fair game. The raw mix makes it a great resource for discovering fresh angles and new voices, and a must for any art director’s desk.
This year’s edition was designed by fellow juror Matt Dorfman, and sports a wonderfully bonkers cover illustration by Benjamin Marra. There’s a lot to like, and a lot of fun work to take in. And with gilt-edged pages it’s downright swanky, too.
Metropolitan Lumber and Hardware mural on Spring Street in West Soho, New York City. Fujifilm X-T1, 23mm f/1.4, in-camera black and white.
Longer public interviews with Apple’s top leadership are less rare these days, but this one from former BusinessWeek colleague Lena McGregor covers a lot of ground, including Apple’s increased spending on R&D (more than the 14 largest auto manufacturers combined), Siri and AI, Apple’s interest in augmented reality vs virtual reality (“sort of a core technology”), and the overall size of the global smartphone market as it relates to Apple’s future growth (“It is the greatest market on Earth from a consumer electronics point of view […] and there is nothing that’s going to replace it in the short term or in the intermediate term, either”).
With its next major release, Chrome will start blocking Flash content by default.
The writing has been on the wall for an interminably long time, but the takeaway is unequivocal: Flash is truly dead. With Chrome joining the ranks of Safari and Firefox in blocking Flash content, there’s effectively no future for the once dominant multimedia plugin.
Tellingly, Google’s post announcing the shift focuses on “background” Flash content. It’s taken as a given that if you’re doing rich media work on the web you’ve already shifted to HTML5. What this post is dealing with is are the last few diehards and the oft-overlooked utility functions Flash sometimes served—if you’ve ever added copy-to-clipboard functionality to your website then you know what I’m talking about. With this change, even those uses are ending.
Val Head’s intro pretty much nails it: The more you think you know about SVG, the more you realize there is to discover. An increasingly important and ubiquitous piece of the modern responsive web, SVG is one those seemingly simple technologies that quickly reveals layers of useful—and occasionally maddening—features the more you work with it.
Chris takes a lot of information you might have encountered here and there across various tutorials and distills it into one concise, accessible volume. The result is a lightweight reference of the essential material everyone working with SVG should know. (The clear descriptions of
<use> are worth the price alone, and something I’ve already put into use on this site).
More importantly, as a government work, it’s freely available and open source—meaning you or your company can fork it and build out your own style guide without having to start from scratch.
Draft or no, it’s thorough and well considered, and I have a hunch we’ll see some company style guides popping up in the not-too-distant future based on it.
Interesting piece from Wired about Dropbox’s shift away from Amazon’s cloud and onto one of their own devising.
I remember a time when everyone thought it would be Google providing all this distributed infrastructure. But in the intervening years it’s become a lot clearer Google is fundamentally an advertising company, and Amazon is a services and logistics company—and becoming the de facto retailer of distributed storage and processing power becomes a lot more important if you’re the latter.
Amazon’s resulting cloud dominance has been fundamentally unchallenged for close to half a decade now. It’s hard to think of a project I’ve worked on during that time that didn’t involve their infrastructure in some way. It’s only recently that the very biggest consumer companies, like Dropbox and Apple, have undertaken the herculean task of spooling up distributed infrastructure of their own at a similar scale.
If you’re interested in a look at the actual bricks and mortar that make up the “the cloud,” Ingrid Burrington’s post “Why Amazon’s Data Centers Are Hidden in Spy Country” is recommended reading, along with all the other entries in the Atlantic’s “Beneath the Cloud” series.
Pretty cute video from Vox about user-centered—ahem, human-centered, pardon me—design. This might be my new go-to link for explaining my job to people outside tech and news.
Spring Street between Hudson and Varick. Shot on an iPhone 6, black and white conversion via Darkroom.
I took a turn hosting the ProPublica podcast this week, with Khoi Vinh as my guest. We talked about the evolution of digital design and the key differences between designing for newsrooms versus startups. Like myself, Khoi is someone who’s spent time in both worlds. Worth a listen for anyone interested in where design in the newsroom is mirroring (or diverging) from broader design trends.
Nice writeup from NiemanLab about how we’re incorporating “guerrilla” user testing into our work at ProPublica.
I’m a huge, huge fan of lightweight UX research. Especially in newsrooms, where any form of user research is still a lot less common than in the average tech startup or product shop.
The less intimidating and cheaper research is to get into, the more likely people will actually do it. And that’s what really matters. (No less than Karen McGrane says words to that effect in the intro, so I’m in good company here.)
Honest and affecting photos documenting Baltimore in the midst of the Freddie Gray protests. The photography and audio recordings are the work of Edwin Torres, a reporting and photography fellow who’s been working with us in the ProPublica newsroom this summer.
Speaking personally, I find myself particularly drawn to Edwin’s photo of a press corps cordoned off by police just after curfew. Venturing outside the cordon meant risking arrest. Staying inside meant submitting to a restricted point of view.
To me, this photo captures a power dynamic between “authority” and “media” so succinctly it might just constitute one of the best media commentaries of the year.
Credit on production for the accompanying audio goes to Emily Martinez, ProPublica’s first-ever design fellow. It was her suggestion to incorporate Edwin’s recordings, and I’m so glad we did. They add an extra texture and dimension to the work, reinforcing a sense of time and place.
I’m incredibly pleased with how this piece came together, and how much our visual and design vocabulary has grown in the past year—not to mention the groundwork we’re laying for what’s to come.
The New York Times Opinion Pages on the myth of Hollywood-style “Aha!” moments in science and technical discovery:
The oversimplification of discovery makes science appear far less rich and complex than it really is … Every day we are challenged to make judgments and decisions about technical matters like vaccinations, financial investments, diet supplements and, of course, global warming. If our discourse on such topics is to be intelligent and productive, we need to dip below the surface and grapple with the complex underlying issues. The myths can seduce one into believing there is an easier path, one that doesn’t require such hard work.
It’s a favorite film cliché. The camera slowly zooms in as our hero, the irascible but misunderstood genius, drifts off into a thousand-yard stare over some some deceptively mundane object or thought, then suddenly—Eureka!—dashes off to the lab to crack The Big Case.
Flashes of blinding insight make for great scenes, but more often it’s a ton of hard work, necessary setbacks, and painstakingly incremental progress that gets us there.