One of my newly-discovered passions is looking for ways to bring greater empathy into the media world. I was fortunate enough to make it to the first SRCCON (“source-con”) here in Philadelphia this week. These are a few of the really interesting questions I encountered at the intersection of media and human-centered design:
- What if, instead of assuming your users aren’t smart enough for your design, you assume your design should be changed to meet their needs.
- How might we pivot from "what do we want to give readers" to "what do readers need from us"?
- If you had $2 million, how would you design a news business with the ability to scale and with a realistic budget that takes space rental, hardware and compensation for highly sought-after talent into account?
There was an entire panel dedicated to human-centered design this afternoon, and the way it was applied to the creation of censusreporter.org. That was followed by a discussion with media experts from a variety of different sub-domain areas around the challenges to empathy work and human-centered design. The project started with the following questions:
- Who are your users?
- What do they need?
- What could we build?
If you're familiar with the design thinking process, these should look pretty familiar, since they establish the user as the most important element in the process. Now, when thinking about applying this in newsrooms. Here were some of the challenges I heard from participants:
- It is difficult to find enough time in the process to undertake empathy work.
- Bringing senior leaders along and getting buy-in for human-centered design work can be difficult.
- Disrupting bureaucracy to make space for the risk-fail iterative work necessary in human-centered design can be too much to take on in addition to the project itself.
Since this is the whiteboard, her are just a few of the ideas and concepts that have really intrigued me so far:
- Multi-disciplinary team formation should not be underestimated as a source for not only inspiration but permission to do new and radical things.
- Start analog to go digital. That’s to say, talk face-to-face with people, immerse yourself in their worlds or flatten their organizations before you start putting your head down to begin digital work.
- Maintaining a flat organizational structure is hard work. If you can’t do it consistently, it may be worth bringing in a third-party to do it for you in order to produce fresh insights and reveal assumptions worth testing.
- User research isn’t the same as empathy work. A feedback form and an immersive experience or long-form interview aren’t the same.