Spark Camp: Design – Recap and thoughts

Around the beginning of the year, I participated in a Spark Camp, this time themed around design and designers – which was the fourth in a series which has already covered themes like "real-time," "data" and "money" – and hosted in Palo Alto, Ca., on Jan. 11-13. at Stanford University
Lunch and the Spark Camp idea wall in the atrium – at Stanford University

Hosted in conjunction with the at Stanford University, campers were asked to focus the weekend's conversations around "all of the ways that design — from art, to multimedia, to photography, to mobile/ tablet form factor, to user experience, HTML5 and responsive design — impacts both how we tell stories and how consumers relate to that content."

We kicked off the weekend Friday night by bussing as a group over from the conference hotel to the evening's venue – The Googleplex – for dinner, meet-and-greets, camper introductions and an exercise for generating group discussion topics for Saturday and Sunday sessions.

That evening, campers gave a number of short five-minute presentations in the, now long-time Foo Camp tradition, of Ignite talks. A favorite from the evening was from interaction, visual designer and O'Reilly author, Jen Robbins' talk "It's 1994! There's this new thing called the World Wide Web" and I got up to advocate for designers who are skilled in both web and editorial design in "Your Survival is Designed" again, just like I did at News Foo in December.  If interested in watching some, catch them all on the Spark Camp YouTube channel.

Saturday was a long one, and I am still thinking about my favorite discussion from the day on re-designing our work place and work spaces. We spent about an hour dreaming big on physical (and non-physical) newsroom design, sharing our experiences on what's worked and not.

Prototyping, arts and crafts materials for rapid prototyping at the, Stanford University

Sunday morning, the's fellowships director, faculty member, and former Washington Post digital design director Justin Ferrell led campers in a crash course in design thinking. We interviewed each other while trying identify real needs, and develop a solution to “redesign the gift-giving experience” for our partner. This exercise allowed us to immerse ourselves for about two hours in all of the fun resources that had been surrounding us the

For the most part, Spark Camps are as good as the participants make it, with scheduling and management akin to News Foo: lecture free, unconference-style sessions and off-the-record discussions.

The team likes to say that they are striving for "a format that should make you feel like you're at a dinner party." However, with the strictly coordinated, ambitious schedule – early morning bus shuttling from hotel to venue, a very long day, few too many scheduled sessions, etc. – this weekend felt a bit more like "work" than a lovely, serendipitous "dinner party."

I feel quite fortunate to have been invited to participate and given the opportunity to meet so many fascinating new people, yet, I couldn't help but feel like there was a missed opportunity. How often will a group of creative makers like the ones gathered this weekend, be in the same room again? Perhaps we could have spent the weekend making something together, rather than talking, talking, talking …

You can follow Spark Camp: Design campers on Twitter.


About the author

Miranda Mulligan

Executive Director, 2012-2014

Latest Posts

  • With the 25th CAR Conference upon us, let’s recall the first oneWhen the Web was young, data journalism pioneers gathered in Raleigh

    For a few days in October 1993, if you were interested in journalism and technology, Raleigh, North Carolina was the place you had to be. The first Computer-Assisted Reporting Conference offered by Investigative Reporters & Editors brought more than 400 journalists to Raleigh for 3½ days of panels, demos and hands-on lessons in how to use computers to find stories in data. That seminal event will be commemorated this week at the 25th CAR Conference, which...

    Continue Reading

  • Prototyping Augmented Reality

    Something that really frustrates me is that, while I’m excited about the potential AR has for storytelling, I don’t feel like I have really great AR experiences that I can point people to. We know that AR is great for taking a selfie with a Pikachu and it’s pretty good at measuring spaces (as long as your room is really well lit and your phone is fully charged) but beyond that, we’re really still figuring...

    Continue Reading

  • Capturing the Soundfield: Recording Ambisonics for VR

    When building experiences in virtual reality we’re confronted with the challenge of mimicking how sounds hit us in the real world from all directions. One useful tool for us to attempt this mimicry is called a soundfield microphone. We tested one of these microphones to explore how audio plays into building immersive experiences for virtual reality. Approaching ambisonics with the soundfield microphone has become popular in development for VR particularly for 360 videos. With it,...

    Continue Reading

  • Prototyping Spatial Audio for Movement Art

    One of Oscillations’ technical goals for this quarter’s Knight Lab Studio class was an exploration of spatial audio. Spatial audio is sound that exists in three dimensions. It is a perfect complement to 360 video, because sound sources can be localized to certain parts of the video. Oscillations is especially interested in using spatial audio to enhance the neuroscientific principles of audiovisual synchrony that they aim to emphasize in their productions. Existing work in spatial......

    Continue Reading

  • Oscillations Audience Engagement Research Findings

    During the Winter 2018 quarter, the Oscillations Knight Lab team was tasked in exploring the question: what constitutes an engaging live movement arts performance for audiences? Oscillations’ Chief Technology Officer, Ilya Fomin, told the team at quarter’s start that the startup aims to create performing arts experiences that are “better than reality.” In response, our team spent the quarter seeking to understand what is reality with qualitative research. Three members of the team interviewed more......

    Continue Reading

  • How to translate live-spoken human words into computer “truth”

    Our Knight Lab team spent three months in Winter 2018 exploring how to combine various technologies to capture, interpret, and fact check live broadcasts from television news stations, using Amazon’s Alexa personal assistant device as a low-friction way to initiate the process. The ultimate goal was to build an Alexa skill that could be its own form of live, automated fact-checking: cross-referencing a statement from a politician or otherwise newsworthy figure against previously fact-checked statements......

    Continue Reading

Storytelling Tools

We build easy-to-use tools that can help you tell better stories.

View More