Twitter’s David Wright Jr.: Platform ≠ content

This morning, David Wright Jr. of Twitter presented “Platform ≠ content” a session about the importance of improving experiences by designing platforms with a user-centered model.

Here are five keys points from his talk:

1) Content design and platform design are different beasts

Wright stressed that understanding the differences between platforms is essential to creating good work. Some of the distinctions he drew between content and platform:

Content: Exploratory, specific, custom, storytelling, pacing

Platform: Rigid, general, template-driven, distribution, wayfinding

“If content is the water, the platform is the hose that the water flows through,” Wright said.

2) Digital news design is still broken

Wright said that many story pages still feel the same because of ad placement. “Display advertising is a completely failing business model,” he said, calling it a race to the bottom. “We were not good stewards of the relationship with our audience.” Other concerns with digital news he discussed are that pages are filled with unnecessary junk and things don’t work on mobile.

3) Design thinking can help

Putting the user at the center of the design process can help you arrive at better solutions, Wright explained. Through research, designers can understand the context in which the user interacts with their platform. Gaining this understanding requires viewing users in their natural environment (not in your office). Once you as a designer sufficiently understand your user, you will be able to put yourself in their shoes and understand their struggles. Synthesizing all of these observations can provide insights that guide your design decisions.

4) Good experiences thrive in organizations where design is respected

The old model of news organizations puts a firewall between the “distribution-focused” web developers and the content creators. The dilemma Wright outlined is that the distribution side is naturally averse to taking risks. By creating teams of product shepherds, user experience designers and technologists, all sides are accountable for the success of the platform.

5) If you’re not agile, you’re doing it wrong

Wright stressed that platform development happens in small, multidisciplinary groups that are empowered by their bosses and held accountable for delivering on their tasks. The goal of these teams is to work in a typically two-week period to solve a tiny problem related to a much larger story. This is accomplished by establishing a clear strategic direction, the co-location and cooperation of the team and mutual understanding among the members.

He concluded the presentation stressing that improving the digital news experience requires starting small. Some points he outlined:

» Little experiments

» Skunk works can be cheap

» Google is free

» Show, don’t tell


“If you launch a product and you’re not a little bit embarrassed by it, you waited too long,” Wright said emphasizing that the web allows for iterations and improvements to be made later.

About Kevin Uhrmacher

is a student at UNC-Chapel Hill and a 2013 SNDF travel grant recipient.

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