Blake Hunsicker 🇺🇸

Senior designer, Washington Post

About

A modal note.

I am driven by the idea that design, automation and information architecture can make complex, changing news stories fun to explore and easier to understand.

See my resume and feel free to reach me at blakehunsicker at gmail dot com.

Design

Notes

Notes is the Post's annotation app. I designed the admin and front-end card design.

Details about on Trump's property in Uruguay.
A note card on an MLB player.
Goal

The original idea, which was too ambitious to do all at once, was: personalize article content to A) show readers more of what they find interesting, and B) add context to topics they don't know much about.

Process

We broke down the project into small chunks-- first, we tested embedding rich annotations in a single article. Then, encouraged by good results, we created an annotation tool for the newsroom to experiment with, which they used on their Zika and technology coverage. We captured analytics on annotation open rates. Then, we decided to focus on auto-writing and -embedding. (The newsroom hates manually writing, updating, and embedding these things, after all.)

So we redesigned it-- made an admin that accomodates APIs, richer designs, and more sophisticated grouping and information maintenance. We tested the new design and automation in sports, where we had access to rich stats that we could automatically update and embed in stories using in-house technology. Our in-house bot Heliograf created and maintained 2,000 NFL player annotation cards, and our in-house Contextual Linking tool embedded those cards in countless articles.

Details about on Trump's property in Uruguay.
A note card on an MLB player.
After thoughts

We have barely scratched the surface here. I want to work on this until I retire.

Press:

How The Washington Post built — and will be building on — its “Knowledge Map” feature - Nieman Lab

Context is built into a story in The Washington Post’s experimental “Knowledge Map” - Nieman Lab

The Washington Post adds context to the news with ‘Knowledge Map’ - Poynter

‘Structured journalism’ offers readers a different kind of story experience - Columbia Journalism Review

March Madness Brackets

Our March Madness brackets are an attempt to incorporate sports stats we license but don't get much use out of.

Goal

To make a fun bracket that surfaces team stats and live game information.

Inspiration

Super Mario World. No joke-- I love how the plants wave in the fake wind, and how there's a trail to follow.

via GIPHY

Process

We wanted to exploit any advantage we might have over the sites that do brackets every year and are known for their sports coverage-- i.e. ESPN, CBSSPorts, SBNation, etc.

It turns out we don't have much. But we played to our audience, who we can't assume are sports fans, and focused on surfacing interesting and useful information to them while they fill out their bracket-- like, for example, the scope of the tournament and the dizzying number of games played (so we added TV scheduling), the insane odds that make the odds of winning astronomical (so we added odds), and the best the team has done in the tournament.

Article Translate

Recent example: Here’s what it’s like to be a Russian TV political talk show host

Early case: Why do American elections last so long?

This project came together in the best way possible-- spontaneously, by conversation. And editor told me that she wanted to be able to translate Zika stories into Spanish and Portuguese. I made a quick mockup and, after getting it approved, found developers and the project took off. I ended up playing a small role here, in the beginning. But I am very proud to have been at the groundfloor of this project, which didn't just get used for Zika stories-- it was ready in time for the Post to translate some of our early election coverage coverage into, at times, up to 5 languages.

Press:

The Washington Post is dabbling in translations to reach a growing non-English speaking audience - Nieman Lab

SyriaFAQ

SyriaFAQ is a FAQ page about the Syrian war, made up of video interviews I conducted in Turkey with Syrian refugees in October, 2013. I was a grad student and research fellow at News Deeply at the time.

At the Öncüpınar border gate.

News Deeply's pilot site, Syria Deeply, had just launched and I was tasked with researching article templates. I was interested primarily in how they could flesh out their background sections that explained the conflict, the modern history of Syria and the context of the Arab Spring.

Goal

Explore how design and story framing can help introduce a topic as complex as the Syrian civil war. News sites aren't encyclopedias, but they can present intimidating information in a visually interesting and narrative way.

Process

I wanted to build a template and do the original reporting-- I was (and still am) interested in how design can inform the questions you ask sources, camera angles, b-roll, and so on.

I had a number of ideas, but settled on using a FAQ to frame the conflict around several big questions. I then raised the money to go to Kilis, Turkey to interview Syrian refugees in October, 2013.

I was inspired by Snow Fall, a huge interactive article that had come out several months before. But because it was only me, I chose to focus mainly on video, and edited the videos to stand alone, answering one question each.

Afterthoughts

I think this design has promise, but I don't like that the user has to open the videos individually-- if I could do it again, I'd design the page to play the videos one after another, and think more about how the three can be watched together. I'd also build a second page with further reading, photos, maps, and so on. It feels more like a companion piece or section of a larger story in hindsight.

Deepreader

Deepreader was a template I made for an explainer that allowed users to dive into sections of the story they found most interesting. I was a grad student and research fellow at News Deeply at the time.

News Deeply's pilot site, Syria Deeply, had just launched and I was tasked with researching article templates. I was interested primarily in how they could flesh out their background sections that explained the conflict, the modern history of Syria and the context of the Arab Spring.

Goal

Create an article UI that allowed users to focus on the subjects that most interest them without leaving the page.

Process

After much trial and error making overly-extravagant templates (think parallax, sideways scrolling, etc.) the best solution was the simplest one— an expandable outline. I was heavily influenced by early bloggers like Dave Winer and Doc Searls, who both offered me feedback and advice as I researched article UI ideas during my last semester in school. Dave Winer's own software, Fargo (RIP) blew my mind when I first saw it.

Afterthoughts

There's a ton wrong with this one. For one, you can't update it without sending shivers through the rest of the document. This would have worked if A) only one person ever updated it, and they knew it intimately (which is totally unreasonable), or B) if it was more of a nested list, and the nested content wasn't so directly reliant on its parents, as the heavy paragraphs in my Deepreader tests undeniably are.

That said, I think the outline is a sublime design, universally understandable and visually simple. I love it and use it whenever I can.