Journalism + Design, the latest program at the The New School in New York City is teaching journalists how to think like designers, and designers how to think like journalists. With a curriculum co-developed by Ideo, the undergraduate program kicked off this semester teaching students how to harness design and design thinking in news.
This interdisciplinary collaboration between Parsons, the New School’s design college, and the liberal-arts-focused Eugene Lang College, will be the first-ever undergrad journalism program at the New School. “The idea was to combine the rigorous critical thinking of a great liberal arts college with the creative design thinking of a great design school,” Program Director Heather Chaplin tells Co.Design. The experimental new program was funded in part by a $250,000 grant from the Knight Foundation, which funds innovation in journalism.
The program–which the creators refer to as being in beta–launched with six classes on topics like “Visualizing Data,” though for the time being, students can also take applicable classes, like web design, at Parsons or at Eugene Lang. In addition to regular faculty, guest editors and designers participate in classes, and each semester more informal “pop-up classes” will taught by working journalists like John Keefe, a data news editor at WNYC who’s teaching a class–in the style of a cooking show–on how to make maps. (Full disclosure: Fast Company senior editor Anjali Mullany is a guest editor for the program.) So far, 94 students have signed up for Journalism + Design classes, and 12 students have declared it as their major.
At a two-day workshop over the summer at Ideo’s New York office, Ideo Location Director Ashlea Powell and fellow designer Alex Gallafent helped brainstorm the program’s curriculum by teaching the New School’s journalism professors about design thinking and Ideo’s own process. “People have a wide ranging understanding of what the word design means. Initially, for this small set of professors, design meant something really superficial–whereas design thinking is really an approach to problem solving,” Powell explains.
Design education has long played a part in journalism and journalism education–the nonprofit Society for News Design has existed since 1979–but frequently, it’s more of an afterthought than an core part of the curriculum. Design thinking, some journalists have found, can help spark creativity in storytelling methods, and improve the way journalists think about catering to their audience. As digital media plays an ever-expanding role in how we consume news–and is ushering in an era where we’re rethinking what journalism is and how it should be presented–design is becoming a more important a part of the conversation around how journalists are trained.
“We’re realizing there are certain gaps that need to be filled in terms of educating journalists about design, and educating designers about journalism,” Irwin Chen, an associate professor at Parsons The New School for Design and design lead for the program, tells Co.Design. “There’s usually a wall–literally–in newsrooms and a lot of publications, that on one side is the editors and the writers, on the other side is the designers. We’re trying to build something where they’re collaborating from the beginning.”
The program isn’t necessarily about churning out students who are equally journalists and designers, but more the ways that design skills can better equip journalism students for the realities of working in a modern newsroom. As Chen puts it, that journalism “is not just submitting a typed piece of paper,” anymore–it’s also about working with photography, video, data, and code to produce a story. The program is, at its core, about expanding the way journalists think, preparing students for a new media landscape where innovation is profitable and even the more successful old-school media operations are struggling to stay alive.
We’re already starting to see the influence of design with the rise data visualizations in media. They’re becoming a huge part of how people consume complex news in an easy-to-understand way. With good design, big, important topics like the WikiLeaks Cables or the geopolitics of carbon emissions become way more accessible. But with bad design, it can go really wrong. And with mobile news apps gathering steam, designers are the ones figuring how to appeal to younger audiences who can’t imagine having to sift through the massive pile of dead trees that is the Sunday New York Times.
Chaplin, who covered video games as a journalist for 10 years, is even more emphatic about the role design can play in the rapidly changing media business: “Everything I needed to know about the future of journalism, I learned from game designers.”