Faces Of NPR is a weekly feature that showcases the people behind NPR, from the voices you hear every day on the radio to the ones who work outside of the recording studio. You'll find out about what they do and what they're inspired by on the daily. This week's post features Senior Interaction Designer, Wes Lindamood.
Name: Wes Lindamood
Twitter Handle: @lindamood
Job Title: Senior Interaction Designer, NPR Visuals
Where You're From: Denver, Colorado
An Inside Look:
You're a Senior Interaction Designer at NPR. What does that mean?
Stories are systems, and I'm a designer that loves to think about systems. In my role on the visuals team, I think about how all the pieces of a digital story fit together to form a meaningful whole. Working alongside reporters, editors, designers and developers, my work involves taking stock of all the content we have for a digital story (text, photos, audio, video, data), and figuring out how to design and build the story in a way that is going to make our audience care. Striking a balance between editorial goals, user needs and technical constraints is at the heart of what I do.
How did you get started here? Or what advice do you have for someone who wants a job like yours?
Everyone at NPR is ridiculously talented. To distinguish myself, I try to focus on being kind, responsible and flexible. Flexibility in this case means I try to branch out and collaborate on projects outside my area of expertise. In business jargon, demonstrating expertise in a core area, and a breadth of general knowledge about other disciplines is often called being T-shaped. Trying to be T-shaped in my approach to design puts me in contact with disparate ideas, and allows me to come up with novel and valuable storytelling approaches that I would not have come up with otherwise.
What's your favorite #nprlife moment?
My favorite #nprlife moments have come from participating in Digital Media's Serendipity Days. Serendipity Days is a 3-day event that provides employees with the opportunity to focus on a passion project related to their work at NPR. Through Serendipity Days, I've had the chance to meet amazing colleagues and work with folks I would not have the opportunity to team up with otherwise. If it wasn't for Serendipity Days, my collaborations with Claire O'Neill on stories like Lost And Found, and Bill McQuay on stories like Drowned Out would have never happened. I count these collaborations as some of the most rewarding of my career.
What are some of the coolest things you've worked on?
My first job at NPR involved working as a designer and developer on an awesome four person team dedicated to helping a pilot group of 12 member stations curate and report on news about specific topics of local interest. We provided editorial support and training to member stations, and built an open-source platform for that project that I'm proud to say continues to serve the network. Because what we built was open-source, the project took on a second life serving as the foundation for the Institute for Nonprofit News's Largo Project.
I was incredibly lucky to join the visuals team as production on this project was ramping up. The news apps team and the multimedia team that make up the current visuals team had just been merged, and the project presented us with the opportunity to work as a unified, cross-disciplinary team for the first time. Working side-by-side with Alex Blumberg, the project's executive producer, and the rest of the Planet Money team, we built a web-native documentary that tells the global story of the making of a t-shirt from seed to shirt. If you're interested in learning more about the project and how we made it, I wrote a detailed article about our collaboration.
The story we told in Life After Death was about the aftermath of Ebola. NPR wanted to return to Barkedu, Liberia after it had been declared Ebola-free to find out what life was like. Were things getting back to normal? What are the struggles that remain? So much media attention had been given to Liberia during the peak of the outbreak, we thought it was important to tell the story of the survivors, and remind folks that the story continues long after the outbreak is gone. To build this story, Tyler Fisher and I teamed up with John Poole, who was the writer and photographer of this story, Sami Yenigun, and the science desk to come up with an approach that felt direct and unmediated. Instead of telling the story from a 10,000 foot view, we wanted to take users to the village and give them a real sense of the place and the people who live there.
To see the approach we used to tell this story go on to serve as the foundation for such wide ranging projects as St. Louis Public Radio's project One Year In Ferguson, EWN's (South Africa) project, 'Through The Cracks' and Le Temps's (Switzerland) 'Syria' project is beyond gratifying.
What were you doing before NPR?
Before coming to NPR in 2010, I was a designer at USA TODAY, where I focused on platform design, and enterprise story design for USATODAY.com.
Favorite Tiny Desk?
Haha. There's no way I can pick just one favorite Tiny Desk Concert. In brief, here are 4 of my favorites.
Chuck Brown (2010)
Chuck Brown is a D.C. legend. Seeing the Godfather of Go-Go at NPR, two short years before he died was an incredibly special experience for me.
Minutes before this rare Saturday Tiny Desk Concert started, Jeff Tweedy sternly warned my one-year-old daughter not to get too rowdy during the show. She obliged, and the show was amazing.
JEFF The Brotherhood (2011)
As a father of two young kids, I don't make it to as many shows as I used to. Getting the chance to go to Tiny Desk Concerts means I get to discover great bands like JEFF The Brotherhood that I wouldn't otherwise know about. I think this is the only Tiny Desk I've seen in which the whole band played shirtless.
Dirty Three (2012)
Watching Warren Ellis scream and kick into the air while playing violin on top of Bob Boilen's desk was beautiful and inspiring. I was transfixed. It's so amusing to revisit the video, and see how calm everyone remained during the show. Why didn't we break into a frenzy? The power of social norms. Back to work.
Favorite places in the city?
My favorite place in the city is the National Arboretum, a 446 acre oasis just off New York Avenue in Northeast D.C. The Arboretum is home to one of the best bonsai collections in the country, including a 391 year old white pine that survived the bombing of Hiroshima, the Washington Youth Garden, the National Capitol Columns, the DC Eagle Cam and a hillside of azaleas that erupt in color every spring. After spending a day at the Arboretum, check out Panda Gourmet just a few blocks away for some of the best Szechuan cooking around.
What are you inspired by right now?
I read a book over the summer by Robert Macfarlane called Landmarks that I continue to think about almost every day. It's a book about the power of language and place. In the book, Macfarlane looks at how the words we use shape our perception of the land and our relationship to it. In one chapter, Macfarlane examines edgelands, which are transitional areas of land between the city and the country. They are the forgotten and neglected spaces that you pass on the way to somewhere else. When you stop to notice these spaces you discover that they are diverse, incredible and full of life.
I've been training for a marathon, and have been spending a lot of time running along the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail. Macfarlane, gave me a name for the places I pass on my training runs and a deeper connection to the green spaces I find myself in every day.
It's also through Macfarlane, and his exploration of the cultural ramifications of the anthropocene that I have a renewed interest in land art pioneers like Michael Heizer. I'm looking at Heizer's work now in a whole new light.
What is a question you wish you could be asked? Also, give us your answer.
What's your favorite documentary? I'm glad you asked. It's Errol Morris's film Fast, Cheap & Out of Control I saw this film at a festival in college, and in a single viewing it completely changed my perception of what a documentary could be. Since then, I've had an unrelenting obsession with documentary film.
What do you love about public radio?
NPR has evolved a lot since its early days, but there is an experimental thread that runs through it that continues to inspire me. Take Radio Net for example. In 1977, NPR gave artist Max Neuhaus control over a network of 200 NPR stations to broadcast a live two hour experimental sound work. Using sound from incoming telephone calls to stations as an input, Neuhaus created a giant sound loop on the back of the NPR network. Wild! If you're interested, there was a documentary made about his effort, and an episode of 99% Invisible.
You can find another good example of experimentation in Larry Massett's work on All Things Considered. Stories like Masset's story about his trip to the dentist challenged conventions, and led listeners and producers to consider new possibilities for what a radio story could be. David Isay's brilliant work as an independent producer for NPR on the American Folklife Radio Project in 1992 paved the way for StoryCorps. And last but not least, Radio Expeditions, a groundbreaking series about the natural world, demonstrated the power of sound-rich stories to transport listeners to exotic locations, and make them care. Without a spirit of experimentation, it seems unlikely that any of these projects would have ever happened.
While all this work was long before my time, one of the things I've always loved about working here is the willingness of my colleagues to cross boundaries and try new approaches. I have to think this experimental legacy is a part of that. I've found a fluidity in the thinking of reporters and editors at NPR that I haven't seen at newspapers or other media organizations. Perhaps it's because audio is such a flexible format, or perhaps it's because as a visual designer working in a place primarily known for audio my collaborations have been novel. Whatever the case may be, I feel lucky to be here.