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Chris Bishop, PBS KIDS' Digital Director

Daniel Wolfe is a graphic designer in DC who is motivated by purposeful storytelling. He attends our Washington, DC chapter.


On a tip from roommate Fawna, my Friday morning was spent at DC’s own CreativeMornings.

Though I’d heard about CreativeMornings/DC before, I had never a real impetus to go simply because it’s during work. This particular lecture seemed relevant. Chris Bishop, PBS KIDS’ Digital Creative Director, was going to speak. Briefly looking at his site, I knew he was someone I wanted to hear talk. But if you asked me before hand what I was expecting, I would have been dead wrong.

I assumed Chris would speak about his illustration work. What I instead received was an education on the lessons he learned from designing for kids.

“Kids deserve good design.” —Chris Bishop

Chris began by joking that when he graduated college with a BFA in Fine Art, he quickly realized there wasn’t a strong demand for charcoal drawings. In 2000, he interviewed for a position at PBS where they informed him the job was in Web Design. “That’s fine, that’s the job I want.” he said.

Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 10.19.57 AM PBS Kids Interactive

The dawn of tablets and smartphones put it upon PBS Kids to completely relaunch their web initiative to meet the growing needs of an ever less Flash-based world, and ever more responsive and touch based one. During the bid for a new website, Chris realized that the other design firms were simply going to migrate PBS’ content to a flavor-of-the-week CMS. I learned from talking with him afterwards, that he threw his hat in the bidding process and his team won the bid internally.

Chris’ talk focused on the lessons learned from testing, constantly testing and working with kids. He joked that the problem with adults is they never tell you how they really feel about your work. When a kid doesn’t like your work, “kids blame you, what you made, and that’s the way it should be.”

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His team encountered plenty of issues designing for kids. Chris said that their designs must always make sense to kids. In a one story, he showed an illustration of a girl with a magnifying glass staring at a snail. “Now this picture is really small on the page,” he said. But when he asked a little girl what she’d click when visiting page she said, “I’d click the snail.” “And what would you expect would happen if you clicked the snail?” he asked. “I expect a page telling me everything about snails.” The audience loved it.

While Chris’ lessons focused on such a specific design problem, his lessons were very approachable and universal:

“Nobody reads instructions. You probably don’t read instructions. So, don’t make your user read instructions.” —Chris Bishop

What I enjoyed most about the talk was perhaps the spirit and the energy of it. Not since last year at SXSW, did I feel so invigorated by my environment. To be surrounded by creative individuals felt very comforting that I am in the correct industry. This all became self-evident when Chris said, “this is something that I’m working on right now,” and the slide showed a caricature of himself driving a cheeseburger car.

You can watch Chris’s talk above or here. More of his work can be found here.

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