The Washington Post director of digital, mobile, and new product design brought an insider’s perspective on the transition from print to digital media to Northwestern University in Qatar recently, in a weeklong guest lecture engagement with students.
“The real issue is not print versus digital. It is not about the merging of print and the digital. It’s about the merging of content and technology,” said Ferrell. “The digital future is really about how you create relationships between the content and the technology. Either through the relationship between content creator and program producer, or through the use of technology to tell stories,” said Ferrell, who is hailed as a digital design maestro and routinely lectures at top US universities from Stanford to Northwestern on the subject.
NU-Q dean and CEO Everette Dennis said: “Never has the effectiveness of journalism and storytelling been more intertwined with, if not dependent upon, advances in technology. Mr. Ferrell is a practitioner whose work lies at the heart of innovation, and we are thrilled to have hosted him here to engage our students and faculty in discussions on the latest developments in today’s digital, global media.”
In his lectures and discussions throughout the week, Ferrell examined the intersection between different media platforms and the way forward for news organizations.
“You have to think about design beyond simple aesthetics,” Ferrell told students in the NU-Q “Writing and Multimedia Storytelling” class, part of the university’s Journalism degree program. “Today you have to think about how you go after stories, the design of the reporting process, and of how those stories are then presented to your readers.”
The difference between print and web design, Ferrell explained, is that print design is about narrative whereas web design is about behavior. As a print layout is static, the crucial design feature is a flowing relationship between text, photos, placement, and design elements, all presented as one “piece.” The reader browses through the layout of the paper, skimming through stories for the one that catches his interest. The interactive nature of digital, on the other hand, requires the designer to first capture the reader’s attention, and then allow for that reader to “follow his interest” by consuming, reacting, and sharing the story elements, then discovering another intriguing story.
Ferrell speaks from his own, proven experience. The redesign of The Washington Post’s new website, according to Ferrell, was a year-long process focused on integrating the digital and print side of the paper to improve reader engagement and discussion.
“You have to put the users first, the people who are going to use your mobile app or navigate your website,” said Ferrell, “When you do, when you think about how people will feel when they encounter your product, then your stories will have a real impact.”