SND + H/H event this weekend: Design for coders in Cambridge, Mass.

On Saturday, SND’s web publications director Miranda Mulligan is organizing a workshop for coders who want to improve their design skills. We ask Miranda a few questions about SND + H/H:

Q: Who is this workshop intended for?

A while back, a couple colleagues and I started brainstorming on actionable activities that might help get visual designers more engaged in making stuff on the internet.

Everyone’s heard the drumbeat: Designers need to code. Yadda, yadda, yadda. We thought it might be fun to engage some of the classically trained visual designers to teach coders and programmers on visual literacy. Eventually we came to an idea around partnering with local Hacks/Hackers meetup groups to create visual literacy workshops. Here’s an abstract of the initial idea: What if we created a SND + H/H design workshop?

Far too often our professional hacker-journalists are also expected to be the visual designers, interface designers and the software engineers. However, most lack training in design principles. They refer to themselves as ‘color-blind’ and have no idea when or how to use different typefaces.

So, over the last couple last years, we hit everyone over the head with a persistent “visual designers need to learn code” mantra. However, training visual designers to understand and write code is not enough. The time is now! to start giving our programmers some training in design principles, color and typography. A fundamental knowledge of visual design allows for more significant conversations about digital presentations ultimately leading to better, more meaningful, online storytelling. Understanding your medium makes you better at your craft, and, if nothing else, attendees will leave this workshop with techniques and communication strategies allowing for designers and developers to work in harmony.

Q: Not everyone in SND is aware of Hacks/Hackers. Who are they exactly?

I have been an active member in the Hacks/Hackers community for a couple of years now. This grassroots journalism-based community of journalists (“hacks”) and technologists (“hackers”) who are rethinking the future of news and information. For those a little wary of technology, the main site has a wonderful crowd-sourced Hacks/Hackers Survival Glossary, in addition to other great resources tuned to the intersection of journalism and technology. If you haven’t already, take a moment to see if you have a local chapter. If you don’t, start one … They make it pretty easy.

Q: If I’m not a programmer or coder, but want to learn more about design principles, is this workshop for me?

Sure! For this first run, I have noticed the RSVPs include a range of interests from product managers, to hard-core newsroom programmers, to MIT students, to local data-nerds. Its gonna be fun!

Q: What’s the biggest misunderstanding about design you find among coders and programmers?

I have been known to liken the relationship of design and content – as well as the relationship of visual design and development – to the popular sand ceremony often performed during weddings. In this ceremony, a couple pours various colors of sand into a vessel symbolizing their union. Like the grains of sand, once combined the relationship between content, design and development is very difficult to separate. By now, I would hope that we have all learned that designing in a vacuum is a big “No-No.” Design systems defined without real content tend to fall flat. Content, visual design and code should be besties … Working seamlessly as a unit, not silos.

The work of the typical web designer goes well beyond pixel-pushing beautification and rare is the project that has no need for a designer. At one point or another, nearly all departments cross paths with the design team in order to execute a project, and the most successful ones engage the designer from concept to completion. Therefore, a designer is uniquely positioned to be one of the most informed people in an organization, knowing most of the idiosyncrasies of all the moving parts.

The designer who can have meaningful conversations with developers can only enhance the end result. I am not arguing that every single designer who learns some code should end up becoming a software engineer. The end goal here is not code/programming fluency. However, there is a lot of value in understanding how browsers read and render our content. Reporting and writing a story, writing some code (HTML, CSS and Javascript) and programming complex applications and services are all collections of skills. Understanding our medium makes us better at our craft. And “digital,” my friends, is our craft. “Print” will be our hobby soon enough.

Q: Is this a lecture/presentation, or do I have to roll up my sleeves at this workshop?

I believe the only way you learn how to do something is by getting your hands dirty, so we’ll be jamming on real projects. I have asked all participants to bring a project with them. Part of the exercise is in the elevator pitch: The ability to describe a project in under 90 seconds, means its ready for sketching. You cannot begin to propose design solutions if you don’t know your goal.

Q: What’s one thing I’ll be able to do, that I couldn’t do before, after attending this workshop?

The hope is that attendess will have their horizons widened … but that is the goal of every workshop. At the very least, we can give everyone new words, and new ways of communicating with designers PLUS some resources for working on their own.

About Lee Steele

is design editor of the Hearst Connecticut Newspapers and 2015 president of the Society for News Design.

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