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.”

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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.