What you missed: Top three design highlights from #ONA10 in D.C.

From Thursday through Sunday, about 900 journalists from throughout the United States and abroad joined in D.C. for our annual explosion of online news geekery, otherwise known as the Online News Association 2010 Conference. Unlike your typical journalism conferences, ONA was flooded with fresh ideas on design, data, multimedia, revenue and distribution. These are some of the highlights that pertain to online storytelling.

1. Designers and Coders: Let’s all get along

One of my favorite sessions from the conference, Coders are from Mars and Designers are from Venus, was led by the New York Times’ Tyson Evans and NPR’s David Wright Jr. It focused on the intricacies of the relationship between designers and developers and techniques for helping the two work in harmony.

They based their session on the book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, replacing men with coders, women with designers, and gender with discipline — a metaphor that worked surprisingly well.

A few tips, as curated from the twittersphere:

  • Designers: Don’t assume that minor or low-priority site updates/fixes will take less time. They add up. (via @Twheat)
  • A well-written piece of source code should read like an essay. A well-designed interface should offer a clear path.(via @kcorrick)
  • Not all code is created equal. Realize, consider and adapt to edge cases. Ambiguity and programming don’t mix. (via @greglinch)
  • Stop talking about it (wireframes, documentation) and build it (via @yurivictor)
  • Coder’s least favorite words: “It shouldn’t take long.” (via @yurivictor
  • Designer’s least favorite words: Make it pop, jazz it up, add another ad (via @yurivictor)

2. Treesaver’s web design “revolution”

Legendary Roger Black gave a session on the next revolution for web design, which was really more of a pitch for his latest project, Treesaver. Interfaces for Treesaver designs are based on print-style column layouts with big photos and clean text, rather than the typical column/sidebar combo used by most news orgs for displaying news.

From the student newsroom:

Treesaver runs like a webpage as opposed to an application, Fortes said. There is nothing to download, which means users can do the same things with this program as you can with with a regular webpage. This includes opening multiple tabs for multiple stories, just like you could do in a normal web browser.

Although I wouldn’t exactly call it revolutionary, I would say that it represents a shift in how news designers could start approaching web design. There’s a lot of really mindblowing print design out there, but mindblowing web design for news isn’t happening yet. This could be the start of a revolution, although not an ideal solution by any means.

Tweets (the good and bad, you judge for yourself):

  • Treesaver: One UI, one code base, usable on multiple platforms, full-screen ads. (via @yurivictor)
  • Not seeing Treesaver as a revolution in web design. Seems gimmicky and limited in application. (via @jeffsonderman)
  • Reminding us how beautiful #html can really be. With @treesaver. “It’s all about lowering the barrier of entry to reading.” (via @meg_e_martin)
  • “If @trsvr is as clean and simple to implement as demo appears, could revolutionize reading on all online platforms.” (via @mikeorren)
  • “So… Treesaver, not convinced at “revolution” aspect. Reminds me of Readability with extras.” (via @slongenecker)

3. Deadly Sins of Data Visualization

In an awesome, visual presentation and discussion led by USA Today’s Juan Thomassie, Washington Posts’s Hannah Fairfield and Stanford University’s Geoff McGhee, the speakers outlined examples of data visualization and told anecdotes of their creation of said visualizations.

Check out some of the visualization examples they showed:

New York Times Netflix Interactive: A map that visualizes community entertainment preferences based on Netflix purchases and views

Twistori: Visualizes emotions on Twitter based on keywords

USA Today’s Basketball coaches’ poll: Visualizes week by week display of the USA TODAY/ESPN Top 25 men’s basketball coaches’ poll.

USA Today Holiday Travel Cutbacks: Visualizes how flight cutbacks by airlines could affect travel choices during select dates around Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The tweets:

  • First off- what is it? Data + Design + Development = Data visualization (via @hbillings)
  • When trying to show everything you lose the sense of story. In data visualization, less is more. (via @kcorrick)
  • Transparency: Allow the audience to download the data themselves or see where you got it. (via @annatauzin)
  • Think about partnering with a university or other experts outside of your newsroom if you don’t have a whiz on staff. (via @annatauzin)