TechRaking 7: A Design Sprint to Redesign the Newstand for the Digial Age

The Center for Art & Public Life (The Center) and the MBA in Design Strategy program, both at California College of the Arts, last month co-organized TechRaking 7, an annual hackathon series put on by The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), which focused on the intersection of journalism and design.

The Center's core mission is to provide opportunities for students to work collaboratively with outside partners and their extended communities, so the opportunity to partner with CIR and reach out to the community was both strategic and opportunistic.

TechRaking 7, the first within the series to work exclusively with college students (and CCA as its official partner), had CIR CEO Joaquín Alvarado reaching out to CCA to pose the question: How can we rethink human interaction around the news within our communities?

CIR enlisted colleagues from two of its local media partners -- Bruce Koon of KQED and Martin Reynolds of the Bay Area News Group (BANG) -- to challenge CCA students with some of their toughest community-engagement issues. For example, how might:

  • CIR create new ways for people to communicate about the role of guns in their neighborhoods?
  • BANG offer a more participatory model that empowers residents to share overlooked topics?
  • KQED develop cross-regional tools to communicate better the personal effects of the growing technology industry?

Far be it for anyone at CCA to turn away a challenge, thought leaders at The Center decided to enlist the help of CCA students -- working in small teams representing a wide range of disciplines -- to collectively come up with innovative solutions that could encourage greater public participation in today's changing news gathering and distribution policies and procedures.

In short, TechRaking 7 challenged students to give the concept of the traditional newsstand a much-needed facelift.

"TechRaking 7 was a tremendous opportunity for students to both practice and to realize the practice of collaboration in the real world," said CAPL Design and Strategy Manager Aaron McKenzie.

Do it Digital, Do it Together

It's no surprise that with the advent digital publications, traditional printed newspapers and magazines are far less in demand today than they were a decade ago. Yet the content is no less relevant; it's how we access news today that is in a flurry of constant change.

And as the demand for digital, on-the-go platforms increases, the human interactions that Alvarado and others associate with the newsstand have given way to comment threads, Twitter conversations, and so forth.

Such models have been criticized for fostering both echo chambers and trolls, leaving readers hungry for critical dialogue, or even feeling left out of the conversation altogether.

So partnering with The Center, whose work promotes collaboration and community engagement, was a logical approach. CCA students are at the forefront of using creative problem solving to think outside the box -- or in this case outside the printer.

CIR Engagement and Distribution Manager Cole Goins said, "Hearing the students workshop innovative design approaches for community-oriented journalism was incredibly rewarding, and we came away with some powerful ideas that we're excited to help prototype." 

Two Winning Teams

At the end of the design sprint, each group delivered a five-minute presentation to share its solution. Jurors then evaluated each presentation based on criteria such as accessibility to diverse communities, ability to encourage and facilitate citizen participation, and viability for the media partner.

First Place

"Story of the Gun" was awarded $1,500 to work with CIR to refine and pilot their proposal, which was based on the need to create a more empathetic dialogue around guns in the Bay Area. Team members included

  • Kinto Diriwachter (Glass)
  • Madeleine Maguire (Graphic Design)
  • Damian Wolfgram (DMBA)
  • Ivan Yip (DMBA)

Diriwachter, a senior, summarized the event: "It was a crazy whirlwind of a weekend that left me knowing so much more about [creative] processes that are so foreign to me​.

"I'm still pretty blown away by the efficiency and the pace of the design sprint and the huge number of incredible people who came to talk to us and help refine our ideas. I look forward to working with our partner to put our proposal into action." 


"The Whisper Hunters" was awarded $500 to work with the Bay Area News Group (BANG) to refine and pilot their proposal to build.

  • Tom Davis (Animation & Illustration)
  • Marimar Suarez Penalva (DMBA)
  • Jorge Torres (DMBA)

Nineteen undergraduates and 23 graduates comprised the 12 interdisciplinary teams.

See the full list of student teams »

The Jurors

Sarah Bonk, Apple senior manager of interaction design and Team Democracy cofounder
Cindy Butner, The Press Democrat of Santa Rosa marketing director
David Cohn, AJ+ executive producer
Cole Goins, CIR distribution and engagement manager
Allen Meyer, New America Media creative director
Erin Polgreen, Symbolia cofounder
Martin Reynolds, Bay Area News Group senior editor of community engagement
Jessica Watson, Facebook product design manager
Colleen Wilson, KQED executive director

"I found the students to be incredibly talented and diverse," exclaimed Colleen Wilson, a jury member and executive director at KQED. "It was thought provoking to hear their perspectives and approaches to solving the macro challenges we face in the news business."

Read the full recap at the CIR website »