Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Think like a designer

The people who figure out the future of news are going to have to think like innovators or, alternatively, like designers.

An old Fast Company article I clipped long ago and came across recently cited two key designer qualities that probably don't come naturally to most newspeople but that will be essential for figuring out the future:

-- There are no perfect solutions
"The work style in conventional companies is to seek the perfect answer. That's inefficient and slow. Designers 'try it, prototype it, improve it'--and move on."

Similarly, newspeople aren't comfortable with the old "throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks." We're trained to get it right. Get it fast, of course, but get it right. When it comes to figuring out what new forms of journalism are going to attract and retain readers, however, we need to toss that mindset out the window. Instead, experiment. Accept that about 70% of your experiments will flop. Get over the idea that a newsperson should never be wrong in public and instead get used to the fact that your flops will all be public. But your flops will also help you move forward, faster. You'll quickly learn what works and what doesn't--knowledge you can use to inform your next experiment. Which leads to the next point.

-- Don't wait for the proof
"Traditional companies reward those who 'prove that something actually operates or that something must be.' Design shops reward those with the foresight and courage to act on what 'might be.'"

Same as above. Have a reasonable intuition about something that might attract or retain readers? Give it a shot. After all, it's the Web. It doesn't take a huge amount effort to throw something up. And if it doesn't work, it's just as easy to take it down.

From "The Business of Design," by Bill Breen, Fast Company, April 2005

Photo courtesy of Craig Anderson

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