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.
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.
A new commute is always a good reminder to (A) go for more walks, and (B) pull a camera out more often, even if it’s the one attached to the phone in your pocket. In that vein, a few quick Instagrams from ProPublica’s new neighborhood in Hudson Square.
This link’s been around for awhile, but new to me. Interesting post on the changing nature of the professional design practice. There are some points we’ve heard before about building dynamic systems instead of single, static artifacts, but starting from a broader point of view.
Design products are becoming increasingly dynamic, which makes it difficult to sustain a design process based on static prototypes. Design is how it works and sketching in code is the only natural way to prototype a dynamic system. […] One important aspect of modern design products is their increasing demand for temporal logic.
Point taken, though I do feel inclined to pull a “Well, actually…” on that bit about code being the “only natural way” to outline a dynamic system. It’s often the closest thing to final output in our current environment, yes. But there’s still plenty of useful, necessary space for legit, inexpensive prototyping GUIs.
A List Apart is celebrating the fifteenth (!) anniversary of John Allsopp’s formative column “A Dao of Web Design.”
John’s column outlined a framework for understanding the Web on its own terms back when that wasn’t popular or self-evident; when we still leaned on metaphors borrowed at high interest from other mediums, namely print.
But Allsopp set the stage for a Web mindset distinctly its own. One that recognized it as readily adaptable, highly communicable, and bounded by rules of information flow instead of physicality. It helped shepherd designers from a mindset of “controllers” to adapters and, ultimately, enablers. We still have a way to go to realize its full potential, but with Responsive Web Design (which is having an anniversary of its own) and the ever-expanding universe of devices, we’re already living the future it pointed to.
In my own work, I’ve emphasized the inherent flexibility of the Web as a virtue, not a hindrance. That line of thought owes a heavy debt to what John first outlined.
Three affecting photo essays by acclaimed photographer Ashley Gilbertson for ProPublica and Frontline’s “Firestone and the Warlord.” Tremendously proud to have collaborated with Ashley and editor Joe Sexton on this.
The broader package is a doozy, too. An unprecedented look at a US company’s role in the rise of one of the 20th century’s most notorious warlords, T. Christian Miller and Jonathan Jones’ reporting is exhaustive and harrowing. A lot of work went into pulling this story—the longest in ProPublica’s history—into a complete, reader-friendly package. Hope to write more on that soon.
In the meantime, there’s a writeup from Ashley over on the New York Times’ Lens blog about his approach to these subjects.
Some candid observations from Dan Saffer on the current state of design education. I’ve encountered a lot of the same issues Saffer describes. Each is worth considering, especially if you’re a hiring manager or participate in design education.
Quick link to a podcast I did the other week with Scott Klein, assistant managing editor at ProPublica and one of my new officemates.
We talk about what it’s like to be the primary owner of a project versus being an outside consultant, keeping users in mind as we build better designs for journalism, and how every article doesn’t (and shouldn’t) need to be presented the same way.
Case in point: our podcast coincided with the publication of Nikole Hannah-Jones’ affecting essay on race and the anniversary of Freedom Summer. We wanted to give Nikole’s work a look and feel better suited to the personal nature of the content than our standard news template. So that’s exactly what we did.
Also featured is the artful photo work of Edmund D. Fountain, as well ProPublica’s first go at a fully fluid, mobile-first responsive design.
Designing the Editorial Experience is a new book from Sue Apfelbaum and Juliette Cezzar, aimed at designers and students who, “would like to move toward shaping editorial content.”
It contains a series of well-constructed and digestible definitions, case studies, and interviews with industry practitioners, including the likes of Tom Bodkin, Paul Ford, Jeffrey Zeldman, Mandy Brown, and yours truly.
I sat down with Sue awhile back for a wide-ranging interview for the book, and I’m really thrilled to be included in a project that focuses on a topic so near and dear to my design heart.
When I first started out, I couldn’t imagine anyone calling themselves a designer and not being enthralled with setting text and laying out articles. Design is a big field, one with lots of room for specialization. I quickly found plenty of other rewarding pursuits inside design, but I’m happy to say the bug for editorial design has always stuck with me. I’m happier still to see books like this teaching it.
Last week Joseph Lichterman of Nieman Journalism Lab interviewed me about my upcoming role at ProPublica. We chatted about how the journalism landscape has changed the last few years, what it means for design in the newsroom, and approaches I’ll be exploring. The full Q&A is live now.