Rachel Schallom on why designers travel

In summer 2012, I was a print designer working on daily London summer Olympics sections. The designers were in the office in Los Angeles, and the reporters and editors were in England, 8 hours ahead. Everyone involved produced good work, but it was nearly impossible to coordinate doing anything other than text-based journalism.

Fast forward three years, and I’m in Rome, Italy for The 19 Million Project. The summit sponsored by FUSION and Univision this past November gathered 148 people representing 27 countries for two weeks to create innovative ways to tell the story of the refugee crisis and explore potential solutions.

The event was unlike anything I’ve attended or read about in the journalism community for a lot of reasons, but the most unique aspect was the variety of skill sets that were included on site. FUSION sent a team of more than a dozen including four editors, three reporters, two interactive designers, a developer, a social media specialist, an art director, an illustrator and two videographers.

Photo by Kent Hernandez

Photo by Kent Hernandez

Before we left, I told friends and colleagues how impressed I was that FUSION “let” designers travel. It was a sign they were invested in all types of journalism, not just the word kind. Now I realize that it wasn’t something they “let” our department do — it was crucial to bring together a multi-faceted team to take on such a big topic.

The summit was organized by FUSION’s Mariana Santos, the director of interactive and animation. Because of her experience leading our interactive team and her history of working with all types of journalists, she had the vision to know how a variety of roles would be beneficial. Everything you read on newsroom teams says that bringing people together with different strengths is an absolute necessity to create high quality journalism. We took that concept on the road.

Photo by Rachel Schallom

Photo by Rachel Schallom

By having a multidisciplinary team on the ground, we were able to brainstorm, make quick decisions, change directions and build products in the most efficient way possible. If the team had been split, communication would have taken much longer, and it would have been nearly impossible to get everyone on the same page while dealing with unexpected roadblocks in such a timely manner. For example, we were able to get the most visually even with limited access to refugees who wanted to share their story with us. By having designers and developers on the ground, we were able to meet refugees and gain insights directly into this complex issue. We didn’t have to rely on reporters being our sole point of access. Since both reporters and designers had conversations with experts and refugees, our work was much more collaborative, and we were able to be more efficient and creative in telling the story best for different mediums. The results can be seen in our work in Rome, and the experience will continue to guide our work as we take on follow-up projects throughout the coming months.