SND Digital: Behind Matt Callahan’s Award-Winning Portfolio

This week we take a break from print design to look at some of the digital work being done by our members. Matt Callahan is a designer at the Washington Post, working in both print and digital projects. His digital portfolio was given an Award of Excellence this year in the SND Digital Competition.

The Washington Post design team isn’t print first or digital first, but instead asks how can a story be told across many platforms. How does this impact the way you design?

What stands out to me is that it’s kind of a story first mentality. We’re really going across platforms and telling the story in the most effective and efficient way throughout your different platforms. Sometimes a video will tell the story better than anything else. Sometimes an interactive graphic can explain something you would otherwise need 8 paragraphs of text for. But then in print sometimes a photo is what’s going to tell the story. A big part is being able to identify which elements of the story can really tell it and then putting everything on an equal playing field so that the words aren’t more important than the photo or the video. Everything speaks together. Being able to find a way to streamline that, and finding a way to make sure everything speaks to each other. That’s one of my favorite things to do.

Is there ever something that you’ll do with a story for one platform that you want to do on another and cannot?

We had this story that was a 360 video about the Galapagos Islands. Our reporter filmed 360 videos at four different locations. We also had a brilliant photographer along for the ride. For our digital coverage, we wanted to highlight the visuals and have the story exist alongside these very colorful and very bright images and videos. What we decided to do for print, knowing we had these videos, was a stereoscopic. Basically lay them out like what they would look like if they were flat on a piece of paper. It had all these crazy bulges but it really gave it this extra feel to it that you you wouldn’t have otherwise.

Check out The Galapagos Islands: Out of the blue

What are the key differences between designing for print and for digital?

There’s less of a divide than people think. It ultimately comes down to having an idea, and being able to create the idea and being able to conceive the idea. It’s all about being able to tell a story in the most effective way possible. A lot of times that’s exactly what we do. We lead people through a story. We guide them.We give them places to breathe. I think that digital design is really the exact same thing. It’s just bringing it to you in many more ways across platforms.

We actually get metrics back on it. We know what is successful and what is not. Which we don’t always with print.

Tell me about how one of your winning projects came together?

At the end of 2015, we realized we were coming up on the 100th Anniversary of the National Parks. We decided we wanted to highlight each of the parks. So we had a freelance writer put together test blurbs, saying “this is the idea of what we want”. Then I worked with the editor to pare it down to decide which bits we wanted to include in it. We kept talking about how we could do this online and how we could make it interesting.

People who care about National Parks are rabid National Parks fans. Which gave us the idea of allowing these people to check off which parks they had visited and to take it a step further by allowing them to share that information. If you are given the opportunity to tell a personal story, you are more apt to click on it and to share it. It was fun to work on and to enable people to tell their own stories. We didn’t have a gauge of how successful it would be until we had over a thousand people involved. That’s when we realized we had to start adding commas to represent 1,000. And that was an exciting moment, realizing the project was getting that many responses.

Check out National Parks: America’s natural heritage 

Who do you collaborate with?
I love working closely and in a collaborative environment. Specifically, to work directly with the reporter and the editor. So they understand that I am also trying to tell their story. That you care just as much and understand it in the same way that they do. It helps bolster a sense of camaraderie and makes collaboration much easier. 

Where do you find inspiration?
It’s interesting to me to pull inspiration from places that aren’t necessarily the news, and trying to design an experience that’s a little more seamless with other places where people are already spending time.

Check out the rest of Matt’s winning projects:

Congo: Cobalt mining for lithium ion battery

A Marine’s convictions

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