As an assistant professor at Northwestern University, Jeremy Gilbert uses a human centered design process to help students create media products. Prior to joining Northwestern, Gilbert served as design editor for online/marketing at the Poynter Institute, and as design director for the St. Petersburg Times. For more than a decade, Gilbert has been involved with the Society’s digital and print competitions.
What classes do you teach?
Interactive Producing and Design (a.k.a. The Unclass*) — An immersive, interactive, long-form narrative course that has students reporting, writing, recording, coding, editing and designing a dynamic, multi-platform story, gaining a wealth of immediately applicable experience. The “Unclass” pushes students to explore narrative, technology, visual storytelling, and design as they craft their own educational plan from a series of hands-on workshops and team-based storytelling.
Journalism & Technology * — Undergraduate journalists and technologists work in agile project teams, each developing a system or tool aimed at the creation, consumption and/or distribution of news and information. The goal is to fuse technology and journalism in an experimental context.
Media Design Research and Testing * — Design research and usability testing help media professionals understand and interpret user behavior, enabling them to make digital content easier to navigate and more desirable to use. This course balances concepts and hands-on practical learning as it introduces students to skills like information architecture, low-fidelity prototyping and performance measurements, all of which help designers, reporters, editors or producers understand user needs and goals.
Interactive Storytelling — Students learn theories and techniques for structuring stories and sites in an online environment. They use multimedia elements such as audio, video, timelines and quizzes to augment basic text stories. Students also think about the role of social media and managing a digital identity. All students should learn how the web is structured and understand how to guide users through information online.
* = Courses I created
What do you think is the most significant challenge facing the current state of journalism education and how can that challenge best be addressed? The biggest challenge facing journalism education is moving beyond the ‘faux-newsroom’ model of education. The ‘faux-newsroom’ model theorizes that journalism students need to be immersed in a simulated-professional environment working with real patients. In theory this makes sense, but only if the professional environment is basically unchanging. The challenge for journalism students is that it is not enough to learn established tools and techniques of practice. This next generation of journalists will have to help shape the media they work in. For some, emulating large newsrooms makes sense but for many others it won’t. We need an experience-based educational system that is flexible-enough to constantly adapt and evolve. Experiences can tailored to students’ passions and ideas. The students and faculty need to shape the structure of the education — not try to mimic large newsrooms that evolved from print or terrestrial television news.
Tell us about a project you’ve worked on — from any stage of your career — that stands out as something you’re especially proud of, and why it’s significant to you. I’m thrilled that one of my current projects, Headliner, will be launching this fall. The idea is simple, it’s an app that allows users to check into the news they read, watch or listen to. There are gaming mechanics to encourage user behavior but the overall experience is about encouraging awareness of the user’s media consumption and literacy. The project is particularly satisfying because of the incredibly talented collaborators I’ve been able to work with: Katie Park, Sisi Wei, Emily Chow, Katie Zhu and Dave Stanton. Each person who contributed to the project improved the idea — which is exactly how I like a project to go.
How did you first get involved with SND? I was a young designer working on my college newspaper and my worldly design editor (one year older) and one of my journalism professors, Susan Mango Curtis, convinced me that I needed to get rigorous critiques and start meeting people in the industry. SND helped me do both. I remember the first professional critique I got was from Steve Dorsey. He convinced me how much more I needed to learn but encouraged me enough that I did not give up.
How has your involvement with SND helped you grow professionally or personally? For more than ten years I’ve been part of SND’s print and digital design competitions. It is not easy to constantly push your own work and to constantly find new inspiration. I love that the contest help me see the best work in the world, let me talk to some really talented people, the judges and assistants, and to meet incredibly eager students who want to help and learn.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received? Dr. Mario Garcia, arguably the most prolific and talented news designer ever, convinced me that it is ok to stand in front of an audience and have an idea fail. He tells great stories about presenting to the world’s most storied news editors. Not all of the pitches connect with his audience, but rather than give up or flee he pauses (and on one occasion poured himself a glass of Tío Pepe) and tries again. I think of his stories every time I stand up in front of a class or a group of professionals.
What typeface would you be? Retina — I love the specificity of the Hoefler & Frere-Jones typeface that is meant to do one thing and one thing only: Make agate print well. Too often designers try to take a signature typeface and make it work for everything. Just like we pretend that there is a reader who wants everything we publish in print or on the web. We should know better. Good design is specific and targeted.