Shawn Parkinson knows a thing or two about digital storytelling. From working on visual design at Hootsuite to being part of the creative vision behind tourism brand Super, Natural British Columbia at Destination BC, Shawn has experienced every aspect of creating stunning visuals that are captivating enough to demand eyeballs on the internet.
It was seeing a photo story on The Narwhal that sparked Shawn’s curiosity about how his skills could complement the work of journalism. Now, as The Narwhal’s first-ever Artistic Director, Shawn is already rolling up his sleeves to help our team beautifully tell some of Canada’s most important stories. From creating custom illustrations to working closely with some of the most talented photographers in the country, Shawn hasn’t missed a beat since joining our team in January (and that includes his passion for sharing gems newly released musicals or the suggestion of the perfect artist to compose our Friday afternoon work atmosphere).
We spoke with Shawn about his love of design and his penchant for ping pong so you can get to know him better.
Where was your love of design born? Were you the kind of kid who made magazine collages in your spare time?
My mother is very creative and I think she passed that on to me. There were hints of my love of graphics from the start, but I can only recognize it looking back now. When I was about three years old, I was crazy about flags. I wanted flags for birthday presents and had a bunch of them in my room. As I got older, I hand-recreated National Hockey League team logos, album covers, and comic books. I don’t remember any magazine collages!
I hadn’t realized that graphic design was a job anyone could do until college and the early days of the internet. Once I knew this could be a career I wanted! I moved from Calgary to Vancouver for digital design at the Vancouver Film School and have had some great opportunities since. I have been very privileged to see the power of great art, design and stories creating change and I want others to have the same opportunities and sense of possibility as I do.
What attracted you to Narlandia?
The photography put The Narwhal on my radar and the quality of the reporting and stories covered drew me in deeper. Protection of the natural world and decolonization are very important to me. I love that The Narwhal covers Canadian stories about the natural world that you won’t find anywhere else.
Also, I’m a big fan of people-oriented organizations. I’m in awe of what The Narwhal team and its members have built since launching in 2018. I’m so excited to contribute to all the good they do for the Canadian media landscape.
How do you think good design leads to good journalism?
Design and visuals are important to enrich stories where appropriate and help good journalism find its audience. We all learn and process information in different ways, the right graphic at the right time can communicate information or an idea that someone might have otherwise missed. I’ve read about experiments that have shown that presenting information visually increases the accuracy of people’s beliefs about loaded issues, which I think is very much needed in 2022.
Do you have big dreams for what you will accomplish with The Narwhal team this year?
Narwhal has always presented stories beautifully and I’m happy to contribute as much as I can.
I am currently researching how our stories appear on social media to help them find a wider audience. I look forward to launching video projects and working with photographers to showcase their great work in new ways that serve the stories they tell. I look forward to creating layouts in the print magazine that aren’t possible online. I have my first illustration online for The Narwhal and look forward to producing more with infographics and visuals to support the stories our excellent journalists share.
What excites me most is engaging new and diverse creative talent to contribute to The Narwhal as photographers, illustrators and filmmakers.
Tell us three random facts about yourself.
My path to a creative career has been long and winding. I started physics and chemistry at university. I surprised many of my colleagues when I was pissed off that A/B testing was not empirical.
I love ping pong. It’s so much fun for me and I think the game itself is a good metaphor for sharing ideas. The pandemic pushed me towards outdoor tables but I just got a Christmas present that turns our dining table into a ping pong table. I read an article about the health and mental benefits of table tennis a few years ago and since then I can’t stop.
I am a very good person to have on your team for an evening that bears the name. My dad has the same talent, I remember he always won x-rays so it must be genetic. My partner is messing around with it and quizzing me on obscure songs that were on random compilation CDs from the 90s.