Sanette Tanaka, product designer at Vox

The Society for News Design is excited to announce that Sanette Tanaka is joining our lineup of speakers for the SND Charlotte workshop on April 19-21 in Charlotte, N.C.

Tanaka works on Vox Media’s publishing platform and content management system, which empowers Vox’s editorial brands to do its best storytelling. Previously, she covered real estate for The Wall Street Journal, and continues to report on a freelance basis. She believes her journalism background has been instrumental in shaping her investigative, user-centered approach to design.’s Greicy Mella chatted with Tanaka about how being a reporter helps her as a product designer and what it’s like to design an interface for voice-based products.

TELL ME ABOUT WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO TRANSITION FROM BEING A REPORTER TO BEING A DESIGNER. I decided to move into design about three years ago. Up until that point, most of my professional career revolved around reporting. I liked the work, but I felt that the impact I wanted to make was outside the scope of what I could accomplish as a journalist. I wanted to shape the way news is crafted and presented, and help readers better navigate and experience stories. I wanted to do this work at scale, and not just for a single story. In my mind, design is the best way to accomplish that.

CAN YOU SHARE A LITTLE BACKGROUND ABOUT THE ORIGIN STORY OF YOUR ECHO BOT PROTOTYPE AND THE COLLABORATION WITH NORTHWESTERN? Last spring, Emily Withrow from the Northwestern University Knight Lab reached out to my product manager with the idea of creating a news bot for the Amazon Echo. She and her team had already conducted a wealth of research on voice UI, and so it made sense for our two teams to work together. We flew to Chicago and held a three-day hackathon to get us all up and running. Over the next several weeks, our teams worked together to design and develop a minimum viable product.

WITHOUT GIVING AWAY TOO MUCH OF YOUR SESSION AT SND CHARLOTTE, CAN YOU SHARE SOME INSIGHT INTO CREATING A DESIGN PROCESS FOR AN INTERFACE THAT ISN’T TACTILE? The important thing to remember is that a good design process is a good design process, regardless of interface. I found that with a few minor tweaks, I could apply tried-and-true design practices, like sketching and testing, to creating a voice product. Even so, there are definitely factors that you need to account for when designing for voice. For instance, you can’t rely on the user being able to see a navigation module to orient themselves at all times. In my session, I’ll go through the ins and outs of how I tailored my process to the product.

DO YOU THINK YOUR BACKGROUND AS A REPORTER HELPED YOU NAVIGATE THIS PROJECT AS A DESIGNER? IF SO, HOW? Definitely, I think my background actually informs a lot of the work that I do. The most significant way it has impacted me is how I view my editorial responsibility as a product designer. The words that I choose, the way I shape navigation — all of this influences how the end-user ultimately consumes and engages with a reporter’s content. I need to be cognizant of that and ensure that I do right by that reporter and the story.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE DESIGNERS WHO MIGHT BE INTIMIDATED BY DIVING INTO PROJECTS THAT INVOLVE EMERGING TECHNOLOGY? I find it comforting to know that no one has figured out all the pieces of emerging technology yet, so there is a lot of room to make mistakes and try new things. My team, prior to this project, had no experience designing or developing for the Amazon Echo, but still managed to create a working prototype in a few months. Keep in mind that the basic design principles still apply, and I think you’ll come up with some pretty fantastic results.

Register now

About SND Charlotte

• Don’t miss your chance to UNITE & REBEL, register today: Register
• Book your hotel room (before they run out!): Use the SND discount link
• Check out the lineup of speakers we’ve announced for the workshop. What a team!
• Don’t miss the Think Before You Make pre-conference day at the U.S. National Whitewater Center