Strange Native


NYTimes Breakout App

Jan 09, 2010

Khoi Vinh, design director at the New York Times Online, taught a 5 week course titled Designing the Conversation. We were charged with designing a new way to deliver the quality content it produces on a daily basis. He said (and I’m paraphrasing), “Imagine you had all of the content and resources of the New York Times, but you were starting a business from scratch. How would you deliver the content?” It was really an exercise in finding a unique embodiment for content in a contemporary atmosphere where print media is declining and people demand immediate and relevant information on a whim.

Teaming up with Katie Koch and Stephanie Aaron (team name: Mathletes), we approached the problem with one particular idea in mind. Readers are asked to digest too much information on a daily basis. Readers are feeling a bit harried. The New York Times can deliver real value by finding ways to sift through that mountain of information and only pass on the stories of interest to readers on a individual level.

We created The NY Times Breakout to foster a renewed connection to the news. Breakout creates a filtering ecosystem that makes getting relevant content an effortless, positive experience. The app uses image recognition and the camera on your smart phone to unlock the content in the print media and the world around you. If you photograph an article in the Times about the war in Afghanistan, or perhaps take a snapshot of the Empire State Building, you can instantly get relevant infographics, timelines, breakdowns, and recent stories delivered to your phone about what you’ve photographed.

What’s more, the application takes note of your interests and links them with you online NY Times account, so that your experience online is as streamlined and relevant as your Breakout application. Imagine taking a photograph of a story in the paper and getting instant interactive infographics and breakdowns on that subject. Sounds like fun to me.

As part of the assignment we actually had to present our concepts to the Eliot Pierce, VP of Strategy and Operations for The NY Times. Quite nerve-racking. Feel free to download and take a look at our presentation document.

presentation document.


  1. Nice work, Russ. I just thought it funny for a NYTimes staff to recruit all these brilliant creative students to come up with a business idea for them; after all, the entire print industry is plagued with how to design “a new way to deliver the quality content it produces on a daily basis.” And to think that you had to pay for the class *and* fully present ideas to them for free! They should give you free subscription to their iSlate edition. Pronto.

    • admin

      You know, I felt a little funny about it myself. It was a project very close to the professor’s heart (not to mention wallet), but the opportunity of having a very real and specific criteria set, as well as access to the folks at the NY Times, including Khoi, Eliot, and others, brought the it into a wider context of doing real client work. But sure, I’ll take a free iSlate and NY Times subscription! Ha. Thanks for the comment!