The rise of design in journalism suggests an increasing awareness of the need for a practice that helps journalists to head toward point B, even when they don’t know what or where point B is. Design is a practice that can aid journalists as they seek to create new products, new ways of telling stories, and new ways of engaging with the audience. Design is, after all, a practice of invention: It offers processes and strategies for grappling with the uncertainty and fear that come from working in hard-to-define problem spaces with as-yet-determined solutions.
It’s important to think of design as a way of tackling the new and unknown, rather than a way of doing any one specific thing. The future of journalism is still unknown. In coming years, we could see young people move away from the digital obsessions of their parents and older siblings, turning their backs on chat apps, alerts, and email newsletters. Or we could see people forget that analog ever existed, finding chat apps quaint as they increasingly consume media in immersive environments that nobody today can imagine. If design is the change “from existing conditions to preferred conditions,” as Herbert Simon wrote in 1969, it should always be useful, no matter the particulars. It is a process, not a prescription.
As our world grows increasingly complex, a systems perspective—which lies at the heart of design—becomes increasingly relevant. If journalists are to effectively tell the stories of the complex problems that threaten our future, whether about climate change, income inequality, or the instability of a globalized economy, they would be well served to become literate systems thinkers. Also, as news organizations continue struggling for survival, seeing how they fit into a larger media ecosystem seems of vital importance.
Lastly, as traditional walls continue to break down within legacy news organizations—and new organizations launch that never had those walls to begin with—the collaborative nature of design, and its democratizing effects, may be sufficient to justify its adoption.