Pushing media into new spaces.

Knight Lab Studio is an interdisciplinary class where Northwestern students, faculty, and professional staff work together at the intersection of storytelling, design, and technology: all media and platforms are fair game. As we work on these problems, we produce cutting-edge digital work, research, and thought — innovating across every part of the media-making process.

Our process combines user and audience research, design thinking, critical and analytical work, iterative building, storytelling, new technology, and a healthy dose of experimentation--often within the confines of a single, specific problem.

Applications for the Spring 2021 Studio class are closed. We can let you know when we announce the next round of projects!

Zach Wise
The Podcast Discoverability group present their findings to the rest of the studio class.

Join Us

Build new tools and tell new stories.

Each quarter, we pull together multidisciplinary teams of Northwestern students, faculty, and professionals to collaborate on projects we believe are important for the future of media. That could mean everything from making obscure data more available to journalists to solving questions around how to best navigate space in virtual reality. The Lab places students at the center of these important problems for 10 weeks. We work together to identify problems and to find solutions.

The Podcast Discoverability group discuss design options.

The class is a team-based, cooperative lab experience for students who want to create and explore new tools, stories, story forms, and physical devices.

Our most successful students are driven and motivated; they possess the curiosity and determination to drive and sustain a project from start to finish. They are comfortable with ambiguity, and have a strong desire to identify lines of questioning and paths to find the answers. We expect students to spend at least six hours a week on the project outside of class times. Synthesizing the work you do and communicating it clearly to your teammates and to the instructional team will be crucial; you should expect to spend a portion of each week doing this.

The class is cross-listed as JOUR 342 and EECS 397/497. For Spring, it meets Tues/Thurs, 2:00-3:50pm via Slack and Zoom.

Applications for Spring 2021 are closed.


Reach out to professor Zach Wise. Want to stay in the loop? We can let you know when we announce the next round of projects!

Frequently asked questions

  • When are Applications Due?

    Applications are due by March 5th at 9AM.
  • When will I know if I got in?

    Students will know if they are accepted before Northwestern registration opens. Typically we contact students 1-2 days after the deadline (March 5th at 9AM).
  • When is the class held?

    Tues/Thurs, 2:00-3:50pm via Slack and Zoom
  • What does this count for?

    You can take this course for JOUR 342 and EECS 397/497 credit.
  • I’m not sure I’m technical enough.

    Some, but not all, of our projects require technical know-how. And all of our projects have important non-technical roles.
  • I applied last time but didn’t get in.

    Ugh, that sucks. But we’d love for you to try again! We admire tenacity, and a new round of projects requires a new round of people.
  • How long is your application?

    It’s low-key and takes about 8 minutes to fill out.
  • How do I apply?

    The link to the application is on each project page. Below is a link to the application, just make sure you read the project descriptions first.

    Apply to a Project

Project Results

Prototypes, research, guides and presentations from projects that have run in the Knight Lab Studio.


Projects that have run in the Knight Lab Studio.

Upcoming Projects

Knight Lab Studio projects running in Spring 2021.

Da Concierge!Developing a chatbot to support Chicago tourism

Chicago is a big city. And for many visitors, Chicago is the big city. Whether it’s for work or pleasure, when visitors travel to Chicago it means figuring out how to experience a city that’s both large and diverse. That can make it challenging for visitors to discover and enjoy all of Chicago’s unique neighborhoods and experiences. For this Knight Lab Studio project, students will partner with Choose Chicago (the official destination marketing organization for Chicago) to develop and deliver a conversational A.I. (“chatbot”) with a distinct and memorable personality that helps visitors find and experience more of Chicago.

Data Streaming

Automated live streaming data dashboards and curated video mosaics of other live streams have become popular on platforms like Twitch. Stock checkers, inventory checkers and multi-streams of protests have all done well on Twitch. They inform their niche audience with real-time data and video in a way that other journalism organizations can’t. What other types of streaming data might meet the needs of an audience on Twitch? For this project, a team of students will research and identify real-time data sources that could meet the needs of a potential audience. The team will then build a dashboard using web technologies that could be streamed to Twitch. Some collaboration with the Live Streaming the News project will occur throughout the quarter in an effort to find the right audience for the stream and foster a community.

Journalism and Democracy AppliedProviding context to government and politics reporting

Many newsrooms crank out a steady flow of government and politics stories. Behind the daily stories is a lot of history and context. How might newsrooms better organize their publishing to provide this background information? How should that background information be organized to support the casual audience who is trying to catch up? How should it be organized to serve the “political junkies” who want to see how all of the pieces connect?

Live Streaming the NewsExploring opportunities on livestreaming platforms

Platforms like Twitch are growing audience at break-neck speed thanks in part to covid lockdowns. But we haven’t seen as much interest among most news organizations. When we do see legacy news organizations streaming to places like Twitch or YouTube live, they simply stream their broadcast instead of creating native content that allows user engagement. The form tends to be much more casual and success tends to come from interacting with the audience to a degree we rarely see from a news organization. For this project, a team of students will build on the results of the previous quarter in which students experimented and prototyped news live-streams and created guides and insights into streaming on Twitch. The goal for this project is to create workflows, tools and resources for journalists to leverage Twitch as a platform for journalism.

Design Research

Inspiration and Ideation

Auditing the NewsEvaluating News Quality on Smart Speakers

Alexa, Siri, Google Home, Cortana—smart speakers and agents are now used by about 20% of US homes. People use them to ask about weather, set timers, play games, get information, or listen to the news. But are these devices delivering high-quality news and information or could they be misinforming and sharing “junk” news? This project aims to find out. By developing an audit method that defines what queries to audit and systematically collects data on the results over time for those queries from several different smart speakers, the project will allow for an assessment and comparison of news quality from these different devices.

Civic Engagement with City Bureau

As local news organizations shrink, many civic advocates fear that no one will be monitoring the day-to-day processes that make city governments run. As part of their innovative approach to closing news gaps and promoting civic engagement, Chicago’s City Bureau has developed their “Documenters” program to train citizens to observe and record public meetings. As they develop this team of citizen journalists, they are now considering the complementary question: what is the most effective way to make the work they produce available and useful to Chicagoans?

For this project, the Northwestern student team will conduct design research and prototyping to explore solutions. Students will be expected to be in close contact with City Bureau’s team, with current documenters, and with engaged citizens who want to stay informed about what’s happening at the heart of these civic processes. Students should be prepared to go out into Chicago to meet with these people face to face for interviews, observations, and prototype testing.

ProPublica Illinois

Students will design, develop, prototype and test one tool for community engagement, with a likely focus on the listening and information gathering stage.

Mixed Reality

Virtual, Augmented... It's all Reality

Augmented Reality Visualizations

An experimental design project that explores visualizing data in three dimensions for augmented reality. Visualizations that can be examined and inspected by physically getting closer or understood by walking around them, open up exciting possibilities for how we communicate complex ideas and data that reveals hidden truths.

Exploring Data Visualization in VR

An experimental design project, in which we students are analyzing methods for communicating data visually and exploring how those principles might be transferred and transformed in a 360 environment.

Photojournalism in 3D for VR and Beyond

In this project, students will use modern approaches to making 3D images both with hardware and software processing.


Our most solution-oriented projects.

Creative Co-Author

Creative Co-author is a creative writing enhancement tool that focuses primarily on pounding out the first draft. It is type-ahead cranked up to eleven. It types ahead, lurks behind, and generally peers over your shoulder while you pound out words in a speed-draft writing reverie.

Storytelling with GIFsFacilitate simple visual social sharing.

This project will build upon prototypes and research conducted in the Fall 2019 Studio class, but participation is open to any interested student. As the open-web continues to die, storytellers need tools that help them create sharable artifacts suitable for a variety of social networks and platforms. Brevity and portability are of the utmost importance. This project is concerned with designing a tool that allows novice storytellers to create simple 5 frame (5 images) GIFS that when combined with text for the post, are sharable on a variety of platforms and social networks. This iteration of the project will be focused on UX and UI design and building a sustainable application for the creation of visual stories saved in the GIF file format.

Storyline: Charts that tell stories.

One of the most common problems we see in data storytelling is how and when to introduce an editorial layer onto a visualization. Mobile devices afford us very little real estate to work with, and interactivity must be limited. But without a “story” layer, users are left without the context to understand what events might impact or inform a trend. They see something going up or down but don’t see why. “Storyline” will be a tool for creating stories around line graphs.


Using sensors to collect information about our environment.

Environmental Reporting with Sensors

Sensor journalism uses sensors to collect information about our environment. It opens new possibilities for journalists enabling them to collect and process data that might not be available or at a level of detail not previously available.

Privacy Mirror

The average person today that has a smartphone, walks around leaking information about themselves over radio signals. WiFi, bluetooth and NFC radiate personal information into the public airwaves. These signals can tell you a lot about a person without their knowledge. To raise awareness around privacy and security for digital devices, this project will seek to create a “mirror” that reflects back information that is radiating out from anyone who stands in front of it. Frequencies include: RFID cell phones, WiFi, bluetooth, Misc RF at 900Mhz 2.4Ghz 5Ghz

SensorGrid API and Dashboard

SensorGrid is Knight Lab's experimental prototype environmental sensor wireless network system. This project will focus on the design and development of the web API and user dashboard for SensorGrid data management and presentation.