What UX owes to journalism

Published on the 25 avril 2023
Marie Kuter facilitating a panel #ux #journalism

User Experience design is an interesting mix between many work areas, including cognitive psychology, marketing, graphic design, coding and many more. Among those roots that still inspire me on an everyday basis as a UX, I wanted to focus today on my early days passion for journalism and what it brings to my practice as a consultant.

My personal history with journalism

When I was about 12 years old, I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to do later (and I still do, event if it’s evolved a bit): I wanted to be a journalist, a French teacher (French being my native language) or a writer. Today I am quite proud to say I have given each of these dreams a good shot, more or less successfully. I started being a local correspondent for a newspaper around 16 years old, covering weddings, ceremonies, sports competitions and any local topic that I found interesting.

Later, I combined my passion for journalism with my more recent discoveries around digital technologies, and I was lucky to be one of the first multimedia journalists at Agence France Presse in London. (It was a training period, it taught me so much, and I am so very proud of this experience.)

Today this website and my conferences are my remaining activities closest to journalism, but I still live this passion through my job as a UX Designer, and here is why and how.

Marie Kuter - My desk at AFP as a multimedia journalist trainee (London, 2003)
My desk as a multimedia journalist trainee at AFP (London, 2003)

Marie Kuter - Article L'Alsace / Le Pays "Le savoir-fer du maréchal"
My article for L’Alsace / Le Pays « Le savoir-fer du maréchal » (Mulhouse, 1998)

What journalism brings to (me as a) UX

I have learned a lot during my experiences in journalism, and I still use these skills in my everyday practice as a UX consultant. Here are the top 5 strenths journalism is helping me with:

  1. Getting people to tell you the interesting stuff
  2. Collecting, analyzing and synthetizing information
  3. Asking the hard questions
  4. Getting straight to the point
  5. Creating engaging content

⬇️ Let’s dive a bit deeper into these!

1️⃣ Getting people to tell you the interesting stuff

Being a journalist is all about meeting people and understanding their thoughts and opinion on a topic. It requires top interviewing skills. People you engage with need to feel safe in order to go beyond the easy and obvious statements. It takes empathy and natural curiosity to really engage in the conversation and get to the interesting, less obvious stuff.

My process during user interviews or user tests still relies heavily on my experience as a journalist, and includes:

  1. Starting with easy questions
  2. Creating a safe space for the 1:1 conversation, encouraging but not pushy
  3. Showing my real interest in and respect for what the person has to share
  4. Reformulating to confirm my understanding, show I am listening actively and use it as a way to dive deeper
  5. Taking notes in a visible way

With the power to create insightful conversations and encouraging people to tell you stuff that matters to them also comes the responsibility to represent and protect them. Whatever my opinion as a journalist or a UX, it’s my role to find the best way to tell their story truthfully. In that sense, I realized I follow more and more the « do no harm » principle at the core of the humanitarian activity.

Marie Kuter facilitating a panel #ux #journalism
Me as the facilitator to a Women in Tech panel (Geneva, 2023)

2️⃣ Collecting, analyzing and synthetizing information

Beyond being good with words, journalism is about being able to present an information in a clearly understandable and engaging way. During journalism school, we practice document synthesis a lot: reading heavy documentation in a limited time, being able to quickly underline what’s important, filter, group data and present it in a given number of characters or lines.

During the Empathize phase in the Design Thinking process (this is the 1st step), we broaden our horizons and try to collect as many useful insights as possible, to support the following definition and ideation phases.

Today as a UX, here are the key steps in my research that are inspired by journalism:

  1. Quickly scanning through documents to highlight what’s important and useful to my research
  2. Always being careful about keeping track of the sources and references
  3. A mistrustful approach by default to source selection and trust
  4. Social media as great sources for insights and research
  5. Taking notes in a structured way, including during interviews
  6. Summarizing findings as mind-maps

3️⃣ Asking the hard questions

One of the worst thing that can happen as a journalist is going back to your desk and realizing you did not collect enough useful material for your article. This includes identifying a debate but not having both sides of the story, missing quotations or references. To go beyond the obvious, you need to make it a habit to identify the hard questions and ask them!

It only works if you have created a safe space for the conversation beforehand (see « Getting people to tell you the interesting stuff » above):

  1. Always go beyond your biases and include both sides of the story you are trying to cover
  2. Be on the lookout for debates, challenges, pain-points, and ask about them
  3. Create a safe space where the persons you tak to feel like sharing with you
  4. Ask why questions several times (applying the 5 Whys)
  5. Get to know VIPs before interviewing them (I found out the hard way that it can prevent political manipulation)

To go beyond the obvious, you need to make it a habit to identify the hard questions and ask them!

4️⃣ Getting straight to the point

People usually see journalists as good writers, thinking long before selecting one choice of words. Actually, it can be quite frustrating to realize it’s rather the opposite: go beyond style and poetry and focus on conveying a message as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Many of writing rules applying to journalism also apply to writing for the digital technologies:

  1. Start with what’s important, then go to the details
  2. Structure content with titles and highlights
  3. Mix sentence constructions: questions and answers, quotations, key figures, etc.
  4. Use short sentences, straightforward words
  5. Avoid misunderstandings

5️⃣ Creating engaging content

I started studying new technologies and multimedia because I thought it was going to disrupt information and communication. It did, and it still does! Digital offers many great opportunities to transform and present data, including:

  1. UX Writing
  2. Mix formats: text, images, quotations, figures, to support your message
  3. Interactive data visualization (see below)
  4. User-generated content, including reactions and comments
  5. Generative AI like chatGPT or MidJourney as great resources

An interactive data visualization dashboard with Google Data Studio
An interactive data visualization dashboard with Google Data Studio

I am lucky and grateful for everything my journalism passion as a young girl has given me, still inspiring me in my UX practice daily. I think journalism is one of these super interesting backgrounds that make the UX world so rich today, and I think the present trend and need for UX Writing is a great opoprtunity for designers to also extend their expertise to words.

To conclude on my personal story with journalism, I discovered multimedia at school, and thought the possibilities for communication were so inspiring and endless that I finally specialized in communication and marketing, both also being strong pillars for UX today: a topic for a next article! 


For privacy reasons I hide everyone's faces except mine in all my content by default. If you recognize yourself in one of these pictures and would like to rather be visible and mentioned, feel free to write me an email: marie(dot)kuter(arobase)gmail(dot)com.
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Marie Kuter facilitating a panel #ux #journalism
Marie Kuter

Marie Kuter

is a UX expert & facilitator based in Geneva (Switzerland.)

Contact me