NPR Dream Team Explains “The Art of Crossing Boundaries”

Claire O’Neill’s and Wesley Lindamood’s Friday afternoon session, “The Art of Crossing Boundaries at NPR,” felt less like watching a two-person presentation, and more like witnessing a successful collaboration come to life.

An NPR colleague introduced O’Neill and Lindamood to the standing-room-only crowd by saying, “They share an undying curiosity that makes them such a great pair.”

Lindamood’s 15 years of design and development experience — coupled with O’Niell’s visual, audio and written production talents — create phenomenal chemistry that produce exceptional multi-platform content for NPR. When describing their focus on mixing mediums and pushing the envelope of visual design, “We attempt to integrate multiple file types in our projects that work together,” said O’Neill.

The pair shared their secrets for crossing boundaries and incorporating interdisciplinary thinking in story design, a task overwhelming for some. They explained in three simple steps.

Step 1: Think like a beginner.

Open yourself up to change and possibility when designing stories. “Thinking like a beginner isn’t necessary complicated, and this may sound counterintuitive, but it dose take practice,” said Lindamood. O’Neill and Lindamood elaborated on how they encourage their visual design team at NPR to think like beginners.
• Know the story.
• Declare your assumptions.
• Prioritize ruthlessly.
• Learn to improvise.

Step 2: Trash your cookie cutters.

O’Neill spoke about how Marianna McCune’s “Anti-Cookie Cutter Manifesto” inspires her to avoid falling into comfortable and overused approaches in design. “Not using cookie cutters, but instead building blocks to grow upon” is crucial to avoiding boring news design, Claire said. The pair presented various projects they’ve worked on, saying the key to successful design was mixing mediums. O’Neill said, “There’s interplay between the pictures, the images, there’s a real integration of the text and the images,” when presenting their project

Step 3: Fake it, genuinely.

Lindamood began by asking the question everyone was thinking; what does it mean to be an authentic designer? The answer the duo presented was simple — there is no such thing. “One of the most liberating things I can do is admit that I have no idea what I’m doing, and there is no perfect design,” he said. The collaborative powerhouse concluded by saying trusting the people you work with and effectively working together makes the whole “faking it” thing less scary.

This dynamic duo had a clear message: when designing stories, approach it as designing “not just on the web, but of the web.” The art of crossing boundaries is achieved by taking advantage of the lack of boundaries present in today’s various mediums.