Wanna Figure Out If Your Product Is Any Good? Think Like A News Editor

Determining whether an idea is newsworthy helps you formulate the story you want to tell from the outset, writes Paddy Harrington of Bruce Mau Design.

In the last 10 years, the number of newspapers has declined by 20%, to 6,580. In the same amount of time, the number of blogs has reached 152 million. The result: The tools for spreading news quickly and widely are now abundant and available to many more people.

At first, all we heard was how the newspaper was dead and television was dying. While this is sadly true in some cases, the new media landscape is actually a boon for designers who now have more outlets for getting their ideas into the world. With the proliferation of design blogs, there is suddenly a thirst for content, and the best way for design studios to satisfy that thirst is to develop projects using what I call "news logic."

News logic is a simple filter applied throughout a design project that asks, Is this newsworthy? It is not design just to get noticed. It’s an inherent logic in the new technology culture. Blogs want to get the most views, and what gets views is great content. So working backward, if you design as though a design blog may cover your work, you’re embedding an expectation of quality in the work from the outset of the project, before you even start prototyping. The work benefits, because instead of working in the relative isolation of client/designer, you build in a level of accountability. If what you’re doing is not newsworthy, then why are you bothering to do it? The client benefits because if the designer does her job well, the work will get picked up by a blog and result in more publicity for the client.

At its heart, news logic is about value creation and the primacy of the design output instead of a story that traditionally gets applied after the fact. Where in the old days (i.e., five years ago), you designed something and then told a story about it in the hopes that it was a story worth telling, more and more of tomorrow’s design projects will have a story worth telling built into their hearts right from the get-go.

Some now say that it’s easy to get into blogs, because they’re so desperate for content that they’ll feature just about anything. Continuing that line of thought, if it’s published on a blog, it’s not necessarily an accomplishment in the same way that being published in a book or magazine would have been 20 years ago.

But the reality is not quite that simple. The increased competition between blogs means there’s a need for not just any content but for content that will draw readers to their blog over the others. Today, if you’re on a blog, it’s because the editors believe that people will want to learn more about your work and that there’s something intriguing about what you’ve designed. The cumulative effect is an overall increase in quality, which will only be strengthened once more designers take news logic to heart. At Bruce Mau Design, we often use future headlines exercises in our work. We imagine how a New York Times headline might read about our project as if it’s already finished and out in the world. By choosing the Times, we choose a discerning media outlet with a highly public face. And by imagining the future in such a tangible way it makes the work more immediate and real. It makes it better.

It doesn’t always have to be a direct link. For example, with our identity work for OCAD University, we used news logic to understand the long-term ambition for the university; that exercise, in turn, helped us figure out the logo that would support that objective. News logic means that if you have a story worth telling at the core of what you design, then you increase your chances of designing something meaningful for the world.

[Images: troyka, and Voronin76 via Shutterstock]

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  • Jimbo

    Designing with media in mind brought us The Kardashians and Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, New Jersey, Penn Yann, and East Podunk.  It did not bring us The Beatles, whose focus was more about music and consciousness.  

    I'm fine with media as a tool, a mirror, a filter even, if you know its limits and don't get distracted by it.  The problem is that it is basically just shouting loud.  If you design with that in mind, you run the very real risk of shouting often about shouting loud, and think you are saying something important.

  • Patrick Durgin-Bruce

    I agree 100% that accountability, quality, and having a good story or concept behind your work are crucial. Always were. But I have a problem with using the news editor as the lens for judging quality. As a device for imagining how the concept will live in the real world, and inspiring the design team to think big, sure. But to use it as the yardstick for quality is to miss the point of the client's objective. (If the client's objective is to get press, they might as well just hire a PR firm). 

    News coverage is a short-term high, in an endless cycle, with a short lifespan of awareness. Design (be it product design, branding, interactive, or any other field) lives in a complicated world of client objectives, audience needs and market forces that needs to take a long-term view. Should outstanding solutions get press? Definitely. But I think it's a gross overstatement of misguided priorities to say "If what you're doing is not newsworthy, then why are you bothering to do it?"

  • ThomasGaskin

    You have to be careful and remember who your audience is. 
    Designing for designers often results in work that doesn't connect with the real audience.

  • akay1

    "If what you’re doing is not newsworthy, then why are you bothering to do it?"

    To make the client money, to please the client's customers, to make us money, to keep our business going...

    Not all good design work is glamorous. Not all glamorous design work is good.

  • mc

    Something that's "newsworthy" doesn't have to be so to a geographically defined mass audience (as newspaper stories usually have to be). As long as they're newsworthy to the intended audience, the job is being done well.

  • Terry Glenn Phipps

    This idea sounds superficially good, especially when connected to the notion that higher quality from the outset is going to produce better results downstream.  Alas, the hypothesis is built upon the errant premise that what is newsworthy is good.  The best ideas, however, are often completely non-events from a news perspective.

    If anything the problem is exacerbated by the like driven culture of blogs, where editors tend to promote that which falls within their own narrow spheres of interest.  This leaves precious little room for ideas and creators that are outliers.  Likewise, the medium does not reward the complexity or nuance that transformative ideas often have in their early stages of development.   

  • Marythyarbrough

    Greetings-Happy Dragon Chinese New Years

    Yes is better than no...meaning think outside of the norm.

    Unique perspectives can inspire unique thoughts and dialogue, which can lead to better writing!
    Isn't that what makes for interesting reading with off the topic subjects way out of the box better than preconceived notions...!

    Mary T Andrews-64 Dragon

    Volunteer with the Editorial committee with Real Change Newspaper in Seattle
    Students at Everett Comm. Coll and Evergreen St. Coll.
    Mom of four, Grandma of two

  • Quinnbarry

    Great story, its a very overlooked dynamic in the design profession. 

    We have always calculated "free Media" into our work and we go one step further by prewiring and quantifying the "free reach". But the value goes beyond free media, it helps you know if you are in fact adding anything new to the world? Is your idea interesting? Will it have any impact on the world? 

    Good work is so ubiquitous, its no longer enough to make a splash.