From idea to product: lessons learned at Online News Association's design camp

byMargaret Looney
May 16 in Miscellaneous

When inspiration strikes, it’s tempting to jump in with both feet. But aspiring news entrepreneurs can benefit from learning a design approach to creating media projects.

Digital leaders from the Online News Association led a packed house through the process of designing a project at the recent ONA dCamp at the Washington Post.

The day-long ideation session spawned ideas like a mobile app to deliver news to people who can't read, intranet platforms to eliminate email in the workplace, and a Twitter app that automatically crafts hashtags and tweets.

IJNet attended and found these takeaways on designing a concept from start to finish:

  • Create a human-centered design. Reggie Murphy with Electronic Ink gave a few pointers for keeping the user at the focal point of the project. Be empathetic. Don’t just think about what the user might want from a product, but how the project and its services would make the user feel. Build to think, rather than thinking to build. In other words, in the early stages, don't spend too much time on strategy. Instead, come up with ideas based on human instinct.

  • Build a persona to pinpoint your audience. Kennedy Elliot of the Guardian suggested creating an imaginary archetype based on what you know about your actual target audience. Create a tangible visual of the imaginary persona. Personas connect you with your target audience and enable you to better empathize with your intended users. This archetype should be based on demographic data, and not just the basic age, gender and location.

    Paint an incredibly detailed portrait of your persona. What are their worries, guilty pleasures, eating habits, hobbies and personality traits? Don't create your project for an audience you hope to reach, but rather one that will realistically use your service.

  • Brainstorm like a kid. Yuri Victor of the Washington Post pushed participants to step out of the box -- and into the sandbox. Don’t let the fear of blurting out a stupid idea halt the creative process. This is no time for judgments or devil’s advocates. There will be time to narrow down ideas later. At this stage, just focus on jotting down as many crazy or wild ideas that come to mind.

  • Make prototyping a "back of a napkin" process. After you’ve honed in on a problem you’d like to address and who could benefit from it, it’s time think about how. Create a rough sketch of what your idea is going to look like. Murphy explained why prototyping is essential: it’s a way to fail quickly, safely and cheaply. It gives you a chance to get early feedback and gain insight on what works and what doesn’t. By crafting, designing and simplifying your concept, prototyping early gives you a chance to adjust and adapt your product.

  • Create a scenario for your prototype. Once you’ve received your initial feedback, you can begin to tweak your design. Laura Cochran with Digital First Media suggests envisioning a scenario where your persona is interacting with your new design, tool or service. Imagining a specific situation like this helps ensure your product hasn't wavered too far from your original idea and intended audience.

    IJNet Editorial Assistant Margaret Looney writes about the latest media trends, reporting tools and journalism resources.

    Image of participants at ONA dCamp, courtesy of Jennifer Mizgata.