Human-centered design and news collaboration: Laura Cochran at #SNDDC

Designers and editors rely on transparency and collaboration to effectively produce the news. This becomes more increasingly important as new tools and approaches are developed. Last year, Condé Nast user experience lead Laura Cochran and Electronic Ink principal consultant Reggie Murphy worked alongside the American Press Institute to look for insights into how newsrooms can engineer changes in collaboration. Reggie and Laura will share their research and how human-centered design tackled this issue at SNDDC.

You and Reggie Murphy did research with the American Press Institute last year to answer the question “How might we help re-engineer how journalists, technologist and business leaders work more collaboratively together?” Can you share some background on the project and how it came about?

The American Press Institute asked me to design a research plan that would provide insights into the cultural, human and institutional obstacles that prevent local news operations from adopting new tools and innovative approaches. The research plan had to use human-centered design methodologies so I pulled in my human-centered design partner-in-crime, Reggie Murphy.

A three-phase human-centered design research plan came together. The first phase — discover — was an opportunity to learn more about the current problem and complementary research. During this phase we mapped out the ecosystem of news innovation and spoke to people in it — journalists, grantees, grantors, technologies, entrepreneurs and more. At the end of this phase, Reggie and I had honed in on the how might we statement: “How might we help re-engineer how journalists, technologist and business leaders work more collaboratively together?”

The second phase — inspire — was an opportunity to talk to people in newsrooms across the country so that we could gain empathy and deeply understand the goals and motivations of journalists, technologists and business leaders in these newsrooms.

The third phase — define — brought it all together. After synthesizing one-on-one interviews and preliminary and secondary research from the discover phase, we developed key insights. Then, we created personas, or hypothetical archetypes, representative of the needs, goals, motivations and desires of the people we met.

What were the key takeaways from your research?

We hope you will come to our session to find out!

What challenges and opportunities do you see in implementing this research into newsrooms?

Turning newsrooms into ant farms could have some logistical challenges.

In all seriousness, this piece of the project was about deeply understanding what was at the core — what is the right problem to solve? We hope attendees will be inspired to think about solutions based on the insights shared or possibly attempt a similar research project in your own newsroom.

How do you incorporate a human-centered design approach to your work as a User Experience lead at Condé Nast?

As the User Experience Lead at Conde Nast, I am the editorial evangelist on the platform team. Our team, the team building platforms for journalists, includes journalists in all stages of the design and development process. Last fall, we hosted a three-day dCamp, where journalists, designers, developers and business leaders came together to brainstorm ways the platform team could help provide a distraction-free writing, editing and optimizing experience. When a new feature is conceived, I prototype it and share it with the people using the platform, constantly iterating based on the feedback. When a feature is close to departure, I test it with the people expected to use it. You will also find the copilot personas, Stacie and Rick, hanging out in our space.

The American Press Institute research project is forward-thinking. What recent tools and approaches are you most excited about?

At SXSW, I got a chance to learn more about Google’s 5-day design sprints, which are designed using IDEO methods. These sprints are designed by a Sprint Master. This Sprint Master is the project manager, research designer, team builder, cheerleader and conductor of a 5-day session that takes an idea and gives it the necessary definition to access the goodness of an idea — is it good for the user, good for the business and technically feasible? Often, we all get stuck in the darkness — that place where an idea keeps swirling around and around. Two years later you are still talking about that great idea. I’m excited to test out Google’s design sprints as a way to build a common language and understanding around an idea so that we can quickly access the idea’s goodness.

Tell me about your background in the industry. You’ve worked at Project Thunderdome, Gannett and the Washington Post. How has your experience shaped your interests and design philosophy?

I’ve been so fortunate to have been surrounded by excellence my entire career. My diverse experiences in work and life have truly blossomed thanks to the amazing mentors I’ve had. I am a journalist and designer at heart. Making this world a better place through technology, storytelling and delightful experiences is where my passion lies and people are at the center of it all.

About Courtney Kan

is a designer at The Washington Post and the editor of

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