Using design thinking to reimagine mobile news in Seattle

By on July 29, 2015

How might we better design the news experience for mobile consumers? This was the central challenge for over 50 reporters, designers, developers and others passionate about journalism at ONA Mobile dCamp: Seattle on July 17. Hosted by Breaking News and organized by ONA, this free daylong workshop was a crash course in design thinking that spurred brainstorming new approaches to creating mobile experiences for news consumers.

We started by creating a collaborative environment so that everyone could draw on the support they needed from their teams. That required some advance prep:

    • We invited Tran Ha and Daniel Stringer, experts from Stanford’s d.School, to explain practical ways newsrooms can use human-centered design to create products that respond directly to user needs.
    • We asked participants to apply to the workshop so we understood their areas of expertise and their experiences creating mobile experiences.
    • We built teams to take advantage of diverse skill sets and backgrounds — journalists, designers, developers and product managers.
    • Each team member got a toy animal when they checked in at registration to mark their team identity. We brought art supplies and other toys to foster creativity and playfulness for the protoyping phase.
    • We brought in team leaders from a range of local and national newsrooms to work closely with groups throughout the day, guiding them through identifying user needs, brainstorming, prototyping and refining their vision.

To better understand how to use human-centered design, Tran and Daniel led participants through “The Gift-Giving Project,” to share the full design cycle before digging into their news challenges. This practice round had them pair up to interview each other about how they might redesign the gift-giving process. Bbsed on their partner’s feedback, they designed a prototype, shared it with their partner, then refined it to address feedback.

The d.School’s human-centered design cycle has creators empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test as they build new products and experiences.

Groups at the ONACamp interviewed each other about how and when they use their phone for news and updates and used that information to design better ways to get that information. See examples of the specific news challenges that three of our groups sought to answer:

After brainstorming lots of ideas, teams created a physical prototype, then got feedback on what worked and what could be improved. With this in mind, they iterated on their ideas, creating better products.

Prototypes from ONA Mobile dCamp: Seattle included:

  • Snooze Feed, an app that aggregates several feeds into one with a narrative emotional arc that helps you catch up and then get into the mindset to rest and go to sleep.
  • News Club, which allows you to share links and create a scheduled appointment to talk about a news topic with people you know — similar to a book club.
  • Pocket+, a hardware accessory that adds a screen to a mobile phone that allows users to access a full-browser story experience on a mobile device.
  • Regit, a podcast app that connects news content to opportunities to affect change: volunteer, give and learn more. (Team Tiger)
  • Hippo, which provides the content most relevant to you in the format you want it in. It’s a home for seeing both what you saved and what you missed.
  • Seven Seconds, a social rating and sharing app that can be compared to a Tinder/Pandora for podcasts.(Team Rhino)
  • Bucket List, a personalized offline content aggregator for Twitter.
  • Jailbreak app, which allows you to plug all of your news sources and social networks into one platform and displays content in real time using metrics and filters.
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Photos by Jen Mizgata

A special thank-you to our facilitators at ONA Mobile dCamp: Seattle, who volunteered their time, to Breaking News for providing a beautiful venue and to the Gannet Foundation for generously funding our ONACamp across the country.

ONA Mobile dCamp: Seattle guides
Cory Bergman, Co-Founder and General Manager, Breaking News
Dean Betz, Executive Producer, MSN
Kim Bui, Deputy Managing Editor,
Andrea Burton, Senior Product Manager, Urban Airship
Tom Carmony, Design Director, Black Pixel
Sharon Chan, Director of Journalism Initiatives, Seattle Times
David Cohn, Executive Producer, AJ+
Tran Ha, Media Experiments Lead, Standford d.School
Trevor Knoblich, Digital Director, ONA
Daniel Stringer, Standford d.School


Jennifer Mizgata

Jennifer Mizgata is Director of Programs at the Online News Association, where she leads the Women's Leadership Accelerator. At ONA, Jennifer focuses on identifying talented digital journalists and innovative journalism projects and providing them with support. Jennifer is a business and design strategist with over a decade of experience creating industry-changing training programs, investing in award-winning projects, and managing key relationships with journalism partners and tech stakeholders. She regularly coaches managers, senior leaders and entrepreneurs on challenges related to their careers and launching new ventures. Jennifer shares advice for navigating tough work challenges in Work Space, a monthly column for Fortune.