Tag Archives: design

Hacks/Hackers NYC: Download Investigative Journalism Icons for Free

Hacks/Hackers NYC Noun Project investigative journalism iconathon drone
SuperPACs. Drones. Gerrymandering. Dark Money. How do you quickly illustrate these concepts in a way that is meaningful and impactful to an audience of different education levels and cultural backgrounds? That was the challenge set out before a group of 60 volunteers at the February Hacks/Hackers NYC Investigative Journalism Iconathon led by The Noun Project in partnership with ProPublica.

Hacks/Hackers NYC Noun Project iconathon
Journalists, editors, graphic designers, web developers and engaged citizens brainstormed and sketched ideas for icons frequently needed throughout news editorials and applications. The goal of creating these symbols is to help guide readers through the in-depth stories investigative journalists help uncover, to provide a graphical shorthand that helps navigate readers through complicated concepts, as well as to help illustrate infographics that help people better understand important facts and correlations.

The final set of 22 investigative journalism symbols are now included in the

Thanks to Knight-Mozilla OpenNews and The New York Times for supporting the event.

(Cross-posted at The Noun Project blog)

Design Thinking taught by Hong Qu at Hacks/Hackers NYC

Hong Qu at Hacks/Hackers NYC

The Design Thinking hands-on workshop with Hong Qu, one of the first designers at YouTube, took place at the CUNY Journalism school. It led the attendees through the premise behind user persona testing. Then Hong had us get together with teams and create user persona scenarios and wireframes for 5 ideas submitted by attendees; first on paper, then with Omnigraffle.

The team topics:

  • Finding medical price info
  • Gourmeet
  • Penpal news
  • Event sign-up
  • Videogames: mobile mall stats page

Hong explained that taking the time to identify users and iteratively build from paper to wireframe and onward minimizes the risk of making something unusable. The foundational step of the design process should be research on the user of the product you intend to build. First step is to come up with probable user personas for your product. Next is interviewing the user you’re targeting your product at in order to understand their life, their goals, and how your product solves a problem in their life.

  • Criteria to help identify a user persona, which Hong had us flesh out and even act out in our groups:
  • Name
  • Age
  • Profession
  • What kind of computer/tech they have
  • Possibly a quote
  • Goals
  • What primary tasks or goals do they have (i.e what paths are they trying to accomplish with this tool.)

One participant asked how he, as a designer, can know he’s achieved a representative set of persona categories before even testing. Hong explained that while designers may have to just identify something probable and then test the premise, once they begin to test and receive data, analytics logs become immensely useful indicators of visitors’ experience on the site, and of the most prominent tendencies of visitors.

Hong walked us through how he and the team working on the Knight Foundation website achieved the goal of creating a searchable grant platform:

First, he went through the Google Analytics and circled existing pages with the most clicks. “Apply for Grant”, “Contact Us” and “What Are We Not Looking to Fund” stood out as especially hot links, and one of the more popular search terms was “journalism grant”, which lead the team to identify that a lot of visitors were coming to the site looking for information on funding, and pointed to a clear “grant seeker persona” as well as the need to make the “Contact Us” tab more prominent.

This data together pointed to a good opportunity to turn content relating to grants into a searchable grant database platform to allow grant seekers to easily see past projects funded by the foundation. The data driven treatment of user personas provided a useful feedback loop for the designers and allowed for a more accurate and evolving picture of user needs and frustrations over time.


  • Omnigraffle: “very much like powerpoint but with more advanced tools.” Designers can easily create clickable simulations for their product with html image maps.
  • Graffletopia and Konigi: provide handy stencils for user personas, with enough pre-built shapes to design a whole site with, and a big user community with plenty of tutorials on youtube.
  • Silverback: records user testing of sites.
  • Hong’s wireframing slides

In order to get the most accurate picture of current usability each group had a visiting tester come over and try out the rough wireframes without any context or info beforehand.

Testers then came to the front of the class and answered the following 4 questions:

1. How would you explain it to a friend?
2. How often would you use it?
3. What design elements made impression?
4. Tell a story of a scenario in which you would use it.

Useful questions for anyone building a platform, and together with delicious spring rolls and good company, a great evening all around.

The art of data visualization: Stamen Design event wrapup

Eric Rodenbeck, Stamen Design

The art of making sense of data — and it is truly an art — is a key element in building the future of journalism. Interactive presentations created from data can be personalized by the reader, giving a more engaging news experience. Data-based applications can also lead to new business models, through paid or subscription-based applications that give extra value to readers by providing a new dimension on news coverage.

One of the leaders in data visualization is Stamen Design, which has worked with news organizations and museums alike to help make sense of the world through its unique views of data.

Speaking to a Hacks/Hackers event this week at the Gray Area Foundation For The Arts, Stamen founder Eric Rodenbeck discussed some of his firm’s work and philosiphy.

Some highlights from the presentation:

Create maps as tools for exploration

Stamen doesn’t have any preconceptions for what they want their visualizations to show. They aim to create interfaces that allow users to come to their own conclusions about what they see. Part of this is insuring that the data they use is as complete and accurate as possible. They also don’t try to clean up outliers in their data that might appear to be unexpected noise cluttering up a visualization.

Issues of data access

When Stamen was about to release their visualization of crime data in Oakland, the city shut off access to the data pipe. Access to open data is obviously essential for these applications. This is one area where journalists and developers can work together. With their experience finding sources and doing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, reporters can help obtain the right information in the right format so that designers and developers can build a complete visualization. That takes an understanding on both sides of what’s available and what format is required.

The best data come from human actions

Data that come from actual human activity is best starting point for creating visualizations. This means information based on how people behave in the real world, not doing something like filling out surveys.

Data that come from actual human activity is best starting point for creating visualizations

Current tools are complicated and expensive

There are some easy-to-use tools for doing this work, such as Google Maps. But when you want to go beyond just sticking red pins on a map, it can get complicated very quickly. Stamen’s projects require complex and expensive tools that aren’t easily usable by non-techies. Perhaps this will change and there are some people working in this space, such as IBM’s Many Eyes project.

Print-on-demand as a way to bridge the digital divide

Print media through small on-demand runs could be a way to bridge the digital divide and bring some of the information gleaned from data analysis to a wider audience. There have recently been some efforts to use downtime on big presses for short runs.

Want to hear more? The video of the event is embedded below, and here are some photos.

Hacks/Hackers as contact sport

Things got a little heated at the Hacks/Hackers event on the Future of Personalized News.

After founders Dan Olsen of yourversion and Ethan Gahng of lazyfeed talked about providing relevant stories to readers, some in the crowd pressed them about how to pay the creators who craft all that quality media that audiences want.

But as Dan and Ethan pointed out, they aren’t making any money themselves and are still trying to figure out their business model. Ethan said he didn’t think advertising would pay the bills.

Freddy Midi of Netvibes said he’s now cash flow positive, helped by a move to sell dashboards to companies who want to monitor their brand online.

Dan Cohen, a veteran of Google, Yahoo and Pageflakes with years of experience in Web personalization, pointed out that there’s only one content aggregator making big money at the moment: Google.

What if news organizations themselves offered a more personalized experience and better user interfaces: Could that create news applications that readers would pay for, especially on a device like the iPad?

We’re all trying to figure this out. We need to combine the technologists’ laser focus on user experience with the great writing, photography, video and other media produced by skilled journalists. That’s really what Hacks/Hackers is all about.

One thought that comes to mind from the panel is whether there would be a way to take the personalization technology from yourversion or lazyfeed and incorporate it directly inside a news site. What if news organizations themselves offered a more personalized experience and better user interface: Could that lead to news applications that readers would pay for, especially on a device like the iPad?

Something we didn’t get to at the panel: Serendipity and getting away from the echo chamber.

With all the talk about personalization and giving readers what they want, what about the pleasure of finding something unexpected? We didn’t touch on how to enable the joy of discovery. (As an amusing aside, here’s the background on the origin of the word “serendipity.”)

Audiences are also increasingly going to partisan information sources whose positions they already agree with. That could lead to more polarization and extremism in society, a phenomenon known as “group polarization” that is discussed in this New Yorker article.

What do you think?

I hope we’ll continue the dialogue in the comments below — I’m sure the panel could have gone on for hours last week.

Panel on Future of Personalized News

Thanks to all who attended the Hacks/Hackers meetup on the Future of Personalized News! I’ll be writing more about the event in a separate post — things got a bit heated at times and there was some good debate about how to ensure quality content survives in the aggregation age. The archived livestream is below, and here’s a written summary on Google Buzz by Abe Epton of Google News. (thanks Abe!)

Photos from the event are here. (Thanks to Todd Lappin for helping with this!)

And here are Tweets from the event.

Welcome to the online home of Hacks/Hackers

Welcome to Hacks/Hackers, the online community for discussion around real-life meetups of the same name.

This site will be a group blog about journalism and technology from the epicenter of the media revolution. We will talk about new tools and solutions, highlight best practices, and celebrate innovators and entrepreneurs working to build the future of news.

In this new era, the power is in the audience’s hands. We have only begun to see how the news and information will change from the equalizing power of the Internet. Mobile and wireless technology has made media even more a part of our lives at every moment. Meanwhile, traditional media are struggling to adapt as their monopoly on distribution slips away. By choice or necessity, journalists are becoming entrepreneurs and building personal brands, starting sites focused on niche topics and local beats.

We have only begun to see how the news and information will change from the equalizing power of the Internet.

Where this leads us will incorporate some of journalism’s well-worn traditions, like fact checking and critical thinking. But the new media age will be built in greater collaboration with audiences, who can now all commit acts of journalism.

News has always fundamentally been about “social media,” giving people common stories to share and connecting them to others far away. News is now more social than ever, with friends acting as de-facto editors and conversations blossoming on social networking sites.

I look forward to following this journey with all of you and fostering a community of people deeply engaged in not only talking about the future of media, but also actively experimenting to push things forward. There will be stumbles and failures along the way, all of which will help us figure out where we’re going.

Hacks and Hackers panel on future of online magazines, Jan. 7, 2010. (Photo by Patrick Donohue)