As 2014 draws to a close, you can relive the year in pretty much everything, including but not limited to Spotify, Seamless, and even Beyonce. But one of the more pleasant year-end experiences comes by way of NPR, which in addition to its usual (beautiful) Best Books of the year concierge has released a Songs We Love app.
Instead of a usual (boring) list of the best tracks of the year with links to a SoundCloud playlist, NPR put together an experience: a streaming music player of the year’s 300+ best tracks, according to NPR staffers. Users can listen to various mixtapes, sorting through the list by genre, editor, or a playlist of the entire catalog of songs.
The site works like Pandora, playing a radio-style playlist. Because of licensing rules, NPR had to build it like an online radio station. It can’t tell a listener what’s coming up next and it can only allow for a certain amount of skips. “It was kind of freeing,” explained Brian Boyer, the visuals editor at NPR. “That project started with a lot of parameters and it actually made it much simpler to execute.”
The app comes from the visuals team, which over the last year has quietly produced some of the most refreshing online multimedia experiences, starting with Planet Money’s app walking users through an epic story about how a T-shirt gets made. The group produces graphics for stories on a daily basis. Having streamlined the process, more ambitious projects, like the song app or this fun lesson on colors, now only take two to three weeks.
Unlike other news operations around the web, NPR doesn’t devote resources to only its weightiest stories. Think: the Guardian‘s highly produced treatment of its NSA coverage.
At NPR, even the smallest, fluffiest story is eligible for TLC from the visual team. Along with the editorial staff, the graphics department discusses what type of treatment will make sense for a given project. “We say who is our audience and what are their needs, and talk about what to make,” says Boyer. “It’s kind of a mind hack.” That conversation might result in a fairly standard photo and chart treatment for a story on New Orleans’ charter schools, while a story about ROYGBIV turns into an awesome, beautiful gallery.
Doing something for end-of-year music coverage was a no brainer. “Music stuff is always going to be well-loved,” said Boyer. “End of year music lists: people just love the shit out of that.”