Mobile designers must also become as integral a part of the editorial process as desktop designers have become, helping editors and reporters figure out the best—and most realistic—treatment for their stories. At the same time, they must acknowledge that not every news story lends itself to an infographic, and not every infographic will work on a smaller screen. Quartz tries to make every graphic mobile-friendly, but “sometimes we decide that the specific thing we’re making is inherently not mobile-friendly,” says Yanofsky. Mobile devices are, after all, still more limited in terms of processing power. And while they’ll get faster, there will always be a new form factor (Google Glass, anyone?) that introduces new limitations.

Once they figure out the basics, newsrooms can start looking for clever ways around those limitations, just as Veltman did when he came up with an algorithmic way to guess a user’s intention. Still, the emphasis must remain on the story and the information, not on programming tricks.

“Designers need to embrace their lack of control in a device-diverse world,” says Veltman. “Yes, painting when you don’t know the size of the canvas is hard, but when you worry less about the paint and more about what the painting is trying to say, it starts to make more sense.”

 

Barrett Sheridan , a former senior editor at Bloomberg Businessweek, is a Knight-Bagehot Fellow at Columbia University. He can be reached at sb3425@columbia.edu.