Michigan State’s Madison O’Connor named 2019-20 SND Foundation Scholarship winner

Madison O’Connor, a senior at Michigan State University, is this year’s winner of the $2,000 SND Foundation scholarship. O’Connor, who is planning to graduate in December, 2020, is the Editor-in-Chief at the Michigan State University’s The State News and a student chapter member for the Society for News Design (SND).
A panel of five SND leaders selected O’Connor for the award based on her answers to two essay questions, the quality of her portfolio, the breadth of her experience, her professor’s recommendation and her strong academic performance. I asked her to share some details about her design journey:

Flowchart of President Trump’s adminstration

Tell me your SND story and how did you first learn about us?
I had first heard about the Society for News Design from one of my professors here at Michigan State University, Rick Epps, who has been involved in the organization for years and is the adviser for MSU’s student SND chapter. Last spring, Professor Epps encouraged me to attend the SND Annual Workshop in Chicago along with other MSU students involved in our university’s chapter.

I had first heard about the Society for News Design from one of my professors here at Michigan State University, Rick Epps, who has been involved in the organization for years and is the adviser for MSU’s student SND chapter. Last spring, Professor Epps encouraged me to attend the SND Annual Workshop in Chicago along with other MSU students involved in our university’s chapter.

I was skeptical — I thought the conference would simply be about page design and graphics, and I thought because I’m interested in user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) design that I might be out of place. But the opportunity to go with other students to learn more about design within journalism was something I couldn’t pass up.

The conference was everything I could have asked for and more. There were sessions on interactive design, data visualization, voice user interface design, UX design and more. I’m pursuing degrees in journalism and in UX design, and for the first time, I saw how I could put my two majors together. I talked to people who were actually connecting these fields every day through the work they did and I learned about career paths I didn’t know existed within journalism. It was eye-opening, and I felt this connection with the workshop attendees and with SND as an organization.

Since the workshop last April, I’ve become more active in our student chapter at MSU. I’ll definitely return to the annual SND workshop this spring, and for years to come after that. It’s a community where many types of design work are celebrated and where innovation and new ideas are brought to the forefront. I’m excited to get more involved!

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When moving from print design to new media, how have you approached these new design outlets?
I had always been interested in graphic and print design, but when I learned about emerging design outlets, I approached them with a lot of curiosity. As I learned more about things like UX design, data visualizations, web design, interaction design and more, I focused on exploration and learning. With a background in hard news reporting, I also thought about how these new design outlets could be used to tell stories.

But the biggest thing has been for me to just jump in and try things that are out of my comfort zone. Approaching these digital areas of design requires an open mind and a willingness to fail — especially when you’re still learning, like I am!

Media guide cover

When working on deadline, you are able to think on your toes and still create quality, innovative content. Are there any lessons you can share from this process?
I think the key to creating quality, innovative content on deadlines is to maintain a critical eye, even down to the last minute. Making sure your work doesn’t have errors, glaring or subtle, is one of the most important tasks when working on deadline, and having others look at your work before it’s submitted can help minimize those errors. I also think it’s important to embrace last-minute changes if they’re needed and to choose your sourcing wisely (whether your sourcing is a person or a document or a dataset).

Any plans after post-graduation?
Not yet! I’ll be graduating with two degrees — one in journalism and one in UX design — so I’ll be taking a fifth year to continue learning and finish required classes. After graduation, I’d love to continue working in journalism in either a reporting role or a more design-oriented role.

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