SNDMakes: Nine good reasons to attend SNDMakes

Earlier this month I was lucky enough to rep Knight Lab and Medill at SNDMakes-SF, a rapid prototyping event that preceded the Society for News Design’s annual workshop.

Over the course of two and a half days, 28 media and tech professionals formed seven teams — appropriately named after San Francisco neighborhoods or landmarks — and swiftly conceptualized, designed and developed prototypes aimed at answering the central question:

“How might we grow the news and information design community through tools and digital experiences?”

I consider myself neither a designer nor a developer, but the experience was incredibly rewarding, even for a total newb like me. No matter your skill level (or lack thereof), there are valuable lessons to be learned in a collaborative opportunity like Makes, whether you’re an interactive news developer, an engineer or a journalist.

In between prototyping, and listening to presentations and lightning talks, I asked a few of my fellow Makers what they were gaining from the experience, and why others should consider taking part in an event like this, too. Here’s what they said:

  1. You’ll be introduced to a whole new world of news, design, and development

    Aliya Mood

    Aliya Mood, 24, Phoenix, Arizona

    Gannett Newspapers features designer and Arizona State University associate instructor
    First-time attendee

    “I’ve gained some overall knowledge about how vast and expansive digital design and digital developing are. A new frame of mind for design, in general, and how design is in every aspect of all of our lives, even if we miss it. My mind is blown every second by what people can do here, and the skills they have. It’s definitely been a good experience that has broadened my horizons to what else is out there and deepened my interests in some of these areas.”

  2. You’ll dive right into the process of conceiving, designing and building a prototype – in just two and a half days

    John Osborn

    John Osborn, 33, Oakland, California

    Front-end developer + data journalist + game designer
    Second-time attendee

    “I never really was in this kind of setting, where you’re really hashing out design ideas right from the get-go, figuring out how to implement that, iterating, implementing, etc. I find that to be really useful to better understand that design process. That’s what I like about these workshops. I never really dabbled much in the design world, and so it’s really nice to be within a community of people who really understand these issues, and learn from them, and learn about the process. That’s been really interesting; that’s why I came back for this one.”

  3. You’ll meet an amazing variety of smart people in different fields

    Simon Galperin

    Simon Galperin, 26, Fairlawn, New Jersey

    CUNY Graduate School of Journalism student
    First-time attendee

    “At SND, there are journalists, there are developers, there are product people, there are UX/UI people, there are people in civic tech, there are people in media. That sort of cross section of people in a structure that is being driven by a mission is really cool to see, and really informative. If you want to be in media or any sort of field where you have to have some sort of technology, I’d say go to at least one SNDMakes to dip your toe in the process and see what it’s like so you can understand your colleagues better.”

  4. You’ll feel like you’re back in school (in a good way)

    Daniella DeVera

    Daniella DeVera, 26, San Francisco, California

    Code for America designer
    First-time attendee

    “It’s really good to take a break from normal work and be able to meet other people – especially people of all different skill levels – and interact with them, find out what they’re doing in their own lives, and see how all of our ideas mesh together. It’s just fun. It’s kind of like being back in school. As you get a little bit out of school, and especially coming out of a design background, there are things like this, like critiques and group work, that you miss a lot. You miss the creative bounceback. I mean, what other spaces exist for us to talk about stuff like that? How do you find groups of people to talk about these things with?”

  5. You’ll walk away with a brand-new portfolio piece

    Jenny Hanlon

    Jenny Hanlon, 30, San Francisco, California

    UX designer
    First-time attendee

    “I feel like I’ve gotten a lot from it: connections, a sweet project for my portfolio that I got to work on in person. To have worked on a project so quickly and to be able to see how it doesn’t always need to take so long to get something to come together, is really impressive.”

  6. You’ll be reminded of how far you’ve come and how far you have to go

    Melissa Riggs

    Melissa Riggs, 36, Baltimore, Maryland

    Ohio University VisComm Master’s student
    First-time attendee

    “For me, it’s given me an idea of the areas where I need to continue to build skills to be able to really play in this field. I think I had some idea before, but this is helping cement the importance of various aspects – being able to make sure I can jump on Photoshop, or Illustrator, or do a little coding, whatever different programs and ways of thinking for solving the same problem. Keeping those tools sharp, I think, is pretty critical. This was a reminder and a verification.”

  7. You’ll learn that practice makes perfect

    Aidan Feay

    Aidan Feay, 21, South Bend, Indiana

    Vox Media storytelling tools engineer
    Third-time attendee

    “I’ve become a better hackathon attendee through attending hackathons. The more I learn about attending hackathons and how to succeed at attending hackathons or a boutique prototyping event, the more I enjoy my time, the less stressed I feel, the less inadequate I feel, the less imposter syndrome I have. I’m like, ‘How are these people doing such great things?’ And it’s because they’ve gone to these events, they’ve put in their work, they’ve learned what it takes to create something great and creative within a very short timeframe – and to do so without stressing themselves or their collaborators. Just spend as much of your time as you can being creative and thinking creatively. Take principles that you use on a daily basis in your work and translate them into newer modes of thought, something that will inform your work in the future. I think I’ve done all of those things more successfully this time.”

  8. You’ll start a conversation you can continue even after Makes

    Romla Mahmood

    Ramla Mahmood, 25, Washington, D.C.

    Vox Media senior product designer + SND diversity director + SNDMakes co-director
    Fifth-time attendee (third-time co-director)

    “The topic that we chose for Makes now, we found that there’s a lot of talk around community, and how can we help foster that, how can we connect people to other people? There’s a lot of talk happening now in the current industry, so we thought, how can we take that kind of topic and bring it into a place like Makes, which has a lot of smart people, and get them talking about it? So hopefully people can come to Makes, talk to other people who they haven’t worked with in the past, and take that back to their place of work or school and try to come up with more conversations to think about it.”

  9. You’ll pick up better working habits

    Katie Briggs

    Katie Briggs, 27, Los Angeles, California

    KPCC (Southern California Public Radio) digital product designer
    First-time attendee

    “The really tight timeline has pushed me to be more assertive. When you only have two days to make a product, you have to be harsh – not in a mean way, but in a business way. So hopefully the pressure that has been put on here, I can take back to my office with me.”

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