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 Winter 2022 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 Winter, it meets Tues/Thurs, 2:00-3:50pm.

Applications for Winter 2022 are closed.

Questions?

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 November 12th 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 (November 12th at 9AM).
  • When is the class held?

    Tues/Thurs, 2:00-3:50pm
  • 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

Projects that have run in the Knight Lab Studio.

Upcoming Projects

Knight Lab Studio projects running in Winter 2022.

Democratizing and Decentralizing News MediaExploring how DAOs might help Journalism with diversity and representation

Traditional, centralized news organizations are failing the emerging majority of Americans. The current average age of cable news viewers is 60 and the racial diversity of newsrooms has not budged since the 1970s. Yet most Americans are now under the age of 40 and members of either the Millennial or Z generations, the two most heterogeneous in American history. Imara Jones

What do Bitcoin, democracy and journalism have in common? Not much at the moment, but as blockchain technology is really taking off and decentralizing power in finance, the potential application of those models and tools in other industries and governments is getting a lot of people excited. The concept of programmed organization and rules has people excited about how that can be used to curb bias and create more reflective representation and allow a diversity of voices to help drive the organization. The idea of DAOs (Decentralized Autonomous Organizations) is still a utopian dream at the moment but the idea is catching fire in finance and government operations. We think journalism should be one of the early use-cases as the idea and technology develops. Even if it addresses just a fraction of the systemic inequity we see in our industry today, it would have been worth it.

NFT FTWExploring NFTs for Journalism

You may have heard of NFTs. You may even know that NFT stands for Non-fungible token. Most of the hype around these digital assets is in the digital art market, but Time Magazine, The New York Times and others have sold NFTs of their articles and photographs. The New York Times Buy This Column in the Blockchain! originally sold for 350 Ether, which is around $1.5 Million dollars at the time this description is being written. The Associated Press's collection of 24,000 Unique Moments NFTs sold out in just over one minute! The demand from collectors is there. This project seeks to explore how NFT digital assets can leverage assets from other types of news organizations: quite literally proving the value of journalism. There's a lot to be excited about here.

Journalistic Diversity Dashboard

In recent years, much attention has been drawn to the social and cultural identities of journalists, and the ways in which those identities are often quite different from those of the audiences those journalists cover. From race and gender to education level and economic class, audiences and even the news organizations are looking for data to help them put stories into perspective. For this project, students will focus on the design of a system which could help track and convey this information. They will research how underrepresented communities perceive different news organizations as well as what people in the field of journalism have already been exploring in this area. They will identify key identity types or other traits that advance this understanding; they will explore what it would take to gather and sustain a database like this; and, they will explore and test multiple data visualization concepts to see which are the most effective for making sense of the data. If students identify promising paths to building and sustaining a tool like this, Knight Lab is interested in the future possibility of developing this into an ongoing public project.

Tinder for Freelancers

Freelance journalists struggle to connect with editors, land assignments and establish steady cash flow. Meanwhile, news organizations need freelancers with diverse experiences and subject matter expertise to contribute a broad array of articles, photographs and other content. The Center for Independent Journalists (The CIJ) launched in September 2021 aiming to bridge the gap between these groups by providing support, community, education, tools and advocacy to freelancers and by offering editors access to a diverse group of independent journalists. For this project, the team will seek to better understand the barriers of information, trust and communication that prevent editors from hiring diverse freelancers -- which ultimately often ends up pushing freelancers of color out of the field. In consultation with the Center for Independent Journalists, students on this project will conduct design research and develop concepts and prototypes of a matching system which may inform future development by the CIJ.

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.

Product

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.

Sensors

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.