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.

Now Accepting Applications for Fall 2019 Projects. Application deadline is May 17th at 9AM.

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, preferably with your team, preferably in the Knight Lab space. 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 342/442 and EECS 397/497. For Fall, it meets Tues/Thurs, 2:30-4:20pm. Applications are due by May 17th at 9AM.

Projects running in Fall 2019.

Conversational Interface for News

Using a combination of raw search and the collections of regular expressions, build a system that would allow a user to ask questions about what is happening in the news and get back answers and pointers to sources. In the vein of Watson, multiple approaches to matching against text for different types of questions would be used to find answers.  This is envisioned as text (rather than voice) driven system.

Storytelling with GIFsFacilitate simple visual social sharing.

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 upmost 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.

Contrasting Forms Of Interactive 3D Storytelling

3d technology gives us the opportunity to tell the story of an object from all angles. With 3d scans we can examine tiny butterfly wings, visit distant archaeological sites and get up close to objects too fragile to be examined in real life. While 3d gives the viewer the ability to see the whole story, it’s often difficult to know just what to look at and how to construct meaning from this wealth of information.

Rethinking Election Coverage

In the popular imagination of American democracy, the press informs voters so that they can make the best choice at the polls. However, many citizens feel as though that contract has been broken. People are frustrated with “horse-race coverage” of elections—that is, journalism focused more on who is “electable”, who is “winning” and the mechanics of campaigning than on policy and helping voters make the best choice. Rather than seeking a technology-first solution, this project proposes to begin with Jay Rosen’s suggestion that journalists ask "what do you want the candidates to be discussing as they compete for votes?" and work to make the coverage about that.

Visual Recipes

Cooking often seems harder than it really is. The literature doesn't seem to help us here either. A lot of modern cooking instruction seems to be written in an overly-narrative style, often emphasizing prose aesthetics as much as practical instruction. Obscure techniques and exotic ingredients can leave one to wonder, what is essential to a recipe? What must be replicated and what can be simplified?

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 May 17th 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 (May 17th at 9AM).
  • When is the class held?

    Tues/Thurs, 2:30-4:20pm
  • What does this count for?

    You can take this course for JOUR 342/442 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.

Project Results

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

  • Oscillations Audience Engagement Research Findings

    During the Winter 2018 quarter, the Oscillations Knight Lab team was tasked in exploring the question: what constitutes an engaging live movement arts performance for audiences? Oscillations’ Chief Technology Officer, Ilya Fomin, told the team at quarter’s start that the startup aims to create performing arts experiences that are “better than reality.” In response, our team spent the quarter seeking to understand what is reality with qualitative research. Three members of the team interviewed more...

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  • Comparing Motion Capture Techniques for Movement Art

    With Oscillations’ connection to the movement arts, it made sense to experiment with existing motion capture technology to find accurate, consistent, and scalable ways to obtain three-dimensional motion data for purposes such as animation or machine learning to augment performances in virtual reality. An additional motivation to learn more about motion capture was connected to our early experiments with spatial audio (read more about them in our spatial audio blog post). Apart from using ambisonic...

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  • Prototyping Spatial Audio for Movement Art

    One of Oscillations’ technical goals for this quarter’s Knight Lab Studio class was an exploration of spatial audio. Spatial audio is sound that exists in three dimensions. It is a perfect complement to 360 video, because sound sources can be localized to certain parts of the video. Oscillations is especially interested in using spatial audio to enhance the neuroscientific principles of audiovisual synchrony that they aim to emphasize in their productions. Existing work in spatial...

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  • How to translate live-spoken human words into computer "truth"

    Our Knight Lab team spent three months in Winter 2018 exploring how to combine various technologies to capture, interpret, and fact check live broadcasts from television news stations, using Amazon’s Alexa personal assistant device as a low-friction way to initiate the process. The ultimate goal was to build an Alexa skill that could be its own form of live, automated fact-checking: cross-referencing a statement from a politician or otherwise newsworthy figure against previously fact-checked statements...

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Projects

Projects that have run in the Knight Lab Studio.

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.

Story for YouWriting stories for people who don’t want to read them

Studies have shown that people on opposing sides of political issues use fundamentally different language to discuss their views. One of the effects of this is that people living in News Filter Bubbles can immediately notice and then discard stories that use the terms associated with their opposition.

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.