— Nina Mehta

Archive
Journalism

People. Regular ol’ people, all around the world, actually, more than 5 million people, are actually interested in journalism.

Well, Serial to be specific.

No podcast has ever reached that many downloads from iTunes so fast according to Apple. It’s even harder to ignore the podcast considering the 17k Soundcloud listeners Soundcloud and 37k Reddit subscribers.

When newspapers, television, and radio’s old business model didn’t fit the new world, it was easy to blame the selfie generation. It seemed like all kids wanted was sugary-sweet linkbait without any leafy green news.

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Tucked under warm blankets in below freezing Chicago weather on my birthday, I got on a video chat with two HCId students from my alma matter, Indiana University. I really enjoyed hearing about what they care about and want to know. Getting your career started can be hard and scary but I’m excited about how thoughtful and hungry the future of our design community
Listen here:  http://www.connecthcid.com/#nina-mehta

In this episode of ConnectCast, with Stephanie Poppe and Jordan Hayes. Poppe and Jordan speak with designer and visual artist Nina Mehta. Nina graduated from Indiana University’s HCI/d program in 2011 and currently works as a product designer at Pivotal Labs in San Francisco. In this segment, Nina discusses her graduate school experience, the challenges she faced as a young designer, her liberating foray into experience design through projection live visual art installations, her passion for social activism and the importance of creating real products for real people.

 

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New York Times Tower - Renzo Piano Building Workshop + FXFOWLE

Today the NYT released their redesign to all employees. It looks very much like their redesign prototype from earlier this year.

I remember when I saw the prototype. “Impressive,” I thought, here’s a company over a century and a half old practicing user-centered design techniques to rethink their site. With a semi-public prototype release, I assumed they were collecting both qualitative and quantitative analytics: user-testing and tracking data. According to Poynter, the public release is expected in “early 2014”.

article_news

According to a news release on Poynter.org, the redesign is available to all employees behind their firewall. However in the message to all employees, the authors wrote:

This employee preview includes nearly all of the same elements found on the article prototype we made available earlier this year, but rendered on an entirely new page serving platform which is both faster and dynamic.

Questions & Critque

This made me question the purpose of the prototype:

  1. Did they collect analytics and feedback on the prototype?
  2. If they did collect analytics on the prototype, why didn’t much change? Was everything perfect the first time? Did they ever intend to make any changes?
  3. Was the prototype a proof of concept for stakeholders?
  4. Was the prototype more of a service for the engineering teams to help understand what to build?
  5. Does the prototype serve to ease the discomfort of those in an industry general adverse to change?

The article pages are beautiful and keep to the spirit of the New York Times publication and brand while bringing it to actual modernity to digital content. I expected to see more change on the homepage: larger images and a layout closer to the modern web and further from 18th-century newspapers.
nyt-new-hp

Accolades

But, what they have done is impressive. This company, a content-not-software, company, mind you had their work cut out for them. They had to update a potentially 8-year-old codebase with conservative stakeholders, draining readership, work with short staffs, all while keeping the 24-hour news cycle moving. Not an easy task.

Activity in the Community

It’s been wonderful to see more news organizations adopting experience and user-centered design tools and techniques. Here are a few other examples from the last few weeks:

Experience Design Adoption

The author in the PBS article refers to prototyping as something “NASA” does for the Mars Rover and people who build software as “Silicon Valley Whiz Kids”.

  • How can we make Experience Design techniques adoptable to those who are not software people?Some argue we should not to keep our jobs in high demand–I disagree. Also check out Jeff Lawson’s talk on Software People.
  • How can news organizations without the resources, but with the desire, of the New York Times, to modernize their newsrooms? Some argue that we should bide our time and let new organizations and media outlets replace the old. However, many out there want to change but are experts in reporting and content, not products development.
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London-based Newspaper The Guardian redesigned their print product in 2005. It won multiple awards for its use of the Berliner format along with the ease of readability, consideration of readability, flow from section to section and brilliant use of color, photography, illustration and language.

Later came the website redesign and new advert campaign. I met Creative Director Mark Porter and Special Projects Director Mark Leeds for while in London internship, research and Uni courses. More on that meeting here.

What’s most inspired is how well the redesign and team translated the print vision to their website and marketing campaigns. Nearly 10 years later, their adverts still inspire me:volumecontrolgu81

the-guardian-fact-opinion-small-61493

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factandopinionex21the-guardian-restraint-small-84267the-guardian-plurality-small-77172

guardian-guardian-opinion-small-89860guardian-guardian-shout-small-47784

 

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Airports are among the most magical places on earth. By design.

Some say we’re in an age of ignorance. And why? We have more information than ever before. It’s just too much.

I’d like to revisit some thought’s I’ve explored about reinventing the news. Let’s discuss how I expect to see news storytelling taken out of the traditional vacuum of websites or apps and integrated into our lives when its most useful.

Though my days as a traditional journalist are over, I still frequently think about this problem. Well, that and how my reporter friends can get paid to report.

Why don’t people read? Why don’t I read? Why don’t people care? Why is it so hard to know what’s happening in the world? Why isn’t there more time? In fact I spent a year of graduate school working on this problem.

Context in storytelling

I made Newskite which collected audio snippets from people around the world. Each caller answered a question what they were hearing about a certain global event like the Earthquake in Japan or the protests in Egypt. What this did was give a global and real context to a geographically centralized problem–truly showing the human impact on world events.

Personalized News

What I’d like to see is something similar to News.me, a personalized news concept I made that predated Newsite. It leveraged the power of social feeds and individual data to write news stories for you. It did not recommend news your friends liked–that does not work in an age if ignorance. It figured out how you, the reader, are linked to some news story that any one of us might otherwise ignore.

Steve Crisp/Reuters

Today on the New York Times Front page I see Kenyan Part Says Vote Count Should Stop. An article that seems unrelated to my daily going-ons. But if smart machines could scrape my data and see I once participated in earth hour, am potentially concerned about energy conservation, the elections in 2007 led to power outages and it’s a risk again, what impact that could have on other energy resources and how that influences what happens in my backyard. There are infinite ways to draw links between what’s happening somewhere far away in the world to what happens in my daily life. I then wanted to use natural language processing to rewrite stories, using the inverted pyramid, actually personalized for each reader. And beyond that, have editors, actual people, prioritizing news topics and stories about what to display on the ‘front page’.

But now is not a good time for that. For people uninterested in news, they just will not visit your app or website. No matter how incredible your site. If people don’t care, they don’t care. In this case, we’re not in the business of changing behavior. However, integrating news into people’s lives where it’s useful and welcome is a smart thought.

Let’s look at the travel industry

It’s still quite difficult to get around the world. Flight costs, hotel prices, cost of food, etc. It’s getting easier, and in a few years transportation technology will change how we geographically move around the world. We’ve already seen this happen in lodging and flight bookings. Services like Airbnb, Tripit, Hipmunk all have a vested interest in making

  1. Planning a trip easier
  2. Going to a place easier
  3. Having a wonderful time while you’re there

Because of this, I see an opportunity for travel services to have a vested interest in integrating global news stories with truly personalized smart content into their products.

Perhaps my upcoming trip to Costa Rica has potential to be seriously influenced by the recent news about Hugo Chavez. Or if I’m choosing which dates to go to Buenos Aires, it’s great if they can tell me the wine season has been wonderful. There are so many tasks that come with planning a trip, reading the news rarely is a priority and it’s nearly impossible to even know about what to start reading. Knowing what’s happening in the world can help me decide where, when and how to go there.

A service to do this doesn’t exist yet and I’m not interested in becoming a founder right now, so please by all means, take this idea and run with it. And as always, if this idea is hogwash, I want to hear your thoughts.

Let’s get out of the business of shaming people for not being informed, but of making relevant information available when they need to know it.

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As female California transplant of immigrant parents, I'm still pretty exited about my right to vote.

I thank the suffragists and founding fathers who worked to the death so I have a voice today. These people worked to empower states the power to protect us from the State. The protected us from a monarchy and gave us the right to assemble. Because of their labors I have a right to speak for or against my government, I can enjoy a free press.

I am a woman. I am a minority. I am of immigrant parents. I am a newly registered voice in California. For me, voting is a gift, a right and a responsibility.

In journalism school, we were taught to think of the news profession as the fourth branch of government. The The Executive, Judicial and Legislative check on each other and the media, the news, the people, that is, checks on the government.

The government was supposed to be for the people, by the people. The press is supposed to be that too. But as the little guys get swallowed up, major media does not feel like us, the people. Then there is civic journalism, which has maybe evolved into our blogosphere. But now, unlike ever before, each individual (with an internet connection) has a media platform, a voice–an opportunity to exercise their first amendment right to speak, which I discuss in my conversation about David Nord’s book Communities of Journalism.

A free and prospering press shall offer multiple voices and perspectives, thereby checking on each other. We can debate whether or not that is still happening, but that conversation is tied up in discourse about ad revenue and reader apathy.

This conversation is about empowerment. I want to celebrate the democratized internet and the power to empower. I have the luxury and honor to work on a product that empowers people to build, make, enterprise, innovate and design the world in which we want to live.

When I turned 18 registered to vote and signed up to work at  my local polling place. I took classes on foreign policy , journalism writing and newspaper layout. I worked on election day again, but this time from the newsroom and I had the honor to be the voice of my community. Thankfully, I still get to make something that empowers a community. Today I celebrate my voice as a designer, a writer and civic participant.

Thank you to all the candidates running today who also believe a better society starts at home. Today it is my right and my honor to celebrate a most American holiday: Election Day!

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During the second and final year of graduate school I worked on a research and design project related to news, design and storytelling. I created a platform and UI called Newskite, to engage people around the world about major global current affairs. This project helps understand what people are hearing in our connected but disjointed world. What are people in Peru hearing about the earthquake in Japan? How is did the Arab Spring affect how people in China thought about policy? Newskite brings those answers.

Presentation Video

Scrub to 01:02:00 for my 15 minute talk. You can follow along with the slide deck below.

Slidedeck

Audio Stories
Below are the audio stories from actual people in other countries making calls and telling stories about what they’re hearing in the news about our global events.

Full stories

Poster
Newskite Poster 2.0

Gratitude
Thank you to very many many people but especially to professor Hans Ibold who pushed me hardest and mentored me more than anyone else at Indiana University.

Thank you to my trusted colleagues

Feedback
I also received constructive feedback written commentary.
Presentation Feedback

Tweets during and soon after the presentation
Newskite Tweetstream

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There’s lots of news today about the Russian region that’s worth your attention. The above is the image on Google.com of “Russia’s Yuri Gagarin on Tuesday, replacing the logo on its homepage with an image of the first man in space and a rocket that a visitor can launch with a cursor.”

Celebrating Space Exploration
The BBC reported Russian President Dmitry Medvedev says space exploration is still a priority for Russians. For the international community, we can argue important attention to further the sciences is good news. Celebrations for 50 years of space exploration. Great. However this anniversary for Russians comes with unfortunate reports from neighboring Belarussians.

Bombs in Belarus
In Belarus, security is extra tight today after a bomb killed 12 and wounded 150 people in a Subway Blast, a country otherwise known to be a relatively peaceful place. For those skimming past the little sister of Russia, attention is back on Chernobyl in the Ukraine.

Eyes on Chernobyl
The severity of the nuclear crisis rating in Japan at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant has risen from 5 to the highest level 7 today. This level has only been reached once before in the 1968 Chernobyl (now Ukraine, then USSR) disaster. Though, the amount of radiation leaks is on the decline, it’s unknown if the case is as severe as in the then USSR.

On Design
So how do these smattering of news stories  fit into this blog? Each bit in this roundup poses a design challenge. These are a serious, big, enormous design problems that really mean something. Industrial, communication, travel, information, experience, interaction, graphic, material design.  All of that and more. Well designed user experience is essential here. It counts–maybe even more–in a high risk scenario. Good design is not always  making people “feel good” but a holistic, felt understanding of complex individuals, groups, politics, constraints and environments we must consider when design something that effects people.

Designers, engineers, techies and media people alike, I bet something above has something to do with what you’re working on today. It’s your job to think about it even if the Soviet Empire’s fall lives in your history books. How unfortunate would it be if we closed our eyes to the rest of the world and dipped into a Rooseveltian Isolationism? *sniff* Do I smell a New Deal? Designers working on policy is a whole different (exciting) conversation. Food for thought. I hope I didn’t ruin your Tuesday.

The Chemical Brothers track Leaving Home just came on my Last.fm radio. What timing.

[Image via Google & AFP]

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There is an remarkable amount of opportunity to do game changing work in the journalism space. There always has been and there always will be. Why? Because there will always be uncovered stories, truths and narratives to be told.  There are always people, problems and more than two sides to an issue.

I’ll start by telling you about my transition from being a news designer to interaction designer. Then I’ll talk about visual.ly at large.

I’ve been asked how I made the leap from one field to the other. Really, folks, they are one in the same to me. Both roles share the same toolbelt:  sketch, iterate, prototype, reflect, tell stories, interview, explore, think big, collaborate, write and design at all fidelities.

People ask me why I made the leap

Why did I jump the journalism ship? For me, there really was no other choice. I wanted to improve the quality of how we learn about what’s happening in our world, what I think news does. To do this, I needed new tools in my tool design belt. So, I went back to graduate school to study HCI.

The other reason I jumped ship is actually quite sad. I tried and tried and tried to motivate digital approaches at various media organizations I worked for–not just one in particular. And my freshly graduated tech savvy peer/colleague journalist friends were all trying to do the same thing. Some have been successful. But most of us realized weren’t going to get anywhere until publishers were willing to invest in the future of digital, in a real, thoughtful, way.

Sure the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian and other major news hubs pump out fantastic digital work. But we don’t talk as much about solutions for readers of all the gazettes, journals and couriers across the country. That’s why creating a platform can be so powerful.

I wasn’t going to make progress any time soon in the old boys club, so, I jumped. I didn’t want to spend any more time commemorating the good ol’ days, I wanted to design for the future.

Do I look back? Of course. Do I want to go back? No. Am I obsessively grateful for all of the brilliant mentors and experiences I’ve had? Of course.

People ask why I went to graduate school

In my grad school application I said I wanted to work on the news problem. I  said I would graduate and leave the traditional news community for a while and arm myself with education and experience at smart tech companies. And when the timing and opportunity is right, I would work in this opportunity space again. I had a really nice metaphor with light and darkness.

People are doing things outside journalism that benefit media

I’m writing this post today because it relates to visua.ly which has me oozing with excitement.


Watch their demo at 500 startups. Scrub to about 34 minutes in.

What Visual.ly does

  • celebrates story + data +design
  • connects dataviz pros  + advertisers + publishers + compelling content
  • is a platform
  • a mix of design, journalism and analysis

Free Personal Finance Software, Budget Software, Online Money Management and Budget Planner | Mint.com (20091102) The cofounders, Stewart Langille and Lee Sherman come most recently from Mint.com, the infographic heaven for visualized data about your money. They are taking advantage of a space and area that has never been more important and had more opportunity. Watch the video and see how they view the future.

They are trying to solve the problem of “big data” and are “targeting publishing and advertising.” A publisher has a monthly with subscription with Visual.ly which connect them with third party data sets, designers, analysts and an an editor who oversees the creations of these visualizations.

I’ve said this many times before, and I’ll say it again, if journalists in newsrooms don’t take serious, thoughtful action to move the news industry forwards, other people will. Quoting myself:

Newspapers, radio and cable television should be taught in media history classes. Students should be taught to produce for and think about Mobile apps, Google and Apple TV, Ubiquitous Computing, Virtual Environments, Chat clients, Facebook, Twitter, Bloggers, GPS devices, etc. The list goes on and on. If the medium is the message, it’s time to open our eyes to everything else out there.

We should have invented Twitter. We should have invented RSS feeds. We should have invented Craigslist and Groupon and Youtube and the iPad and Google Search and Yelp. It’s okay to hire developers. It’s okay to take a risk. If people inside the news industry don’t change the model, people outside will.

10 August 2010

Visual.ly “gives publishers the horse power of a New York Times visualization team without the cost; New York Times has 40 people on their visualization.” It’s curated crowdsourcing. “Using our data, or their own, users can grab-and-go making amazing visualizations” the founders say.


Watch their interview with TechCrunch to learn more about how it works.

So, to my dear friends in newsrooms, fighting the good fight, every day, whatever you do, keep moving forward. If your editor is not taking advantage of your potential, work for someone who will. If no one will, start doing whatever you think needs to be done, yourself.

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Thoughts to tuck in your brain for the next time you’re thinking about intuitive, easy-to-use design. Print design is old. They have been iterating for a while.

[via Khoi Vinh]

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