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Meet Shawn Parkinson, The Narwhal’s first-ever art director

From a long love of logos to being a nerd about A/B testing, Shawn’s detail-oriented passion for visuals is going to bring our award-winning team to the next level

Shawn Parkinson knows a thing or two about digital storytelling. From his time working on visual design at Hootsuite to being a part of the creative vision behind the Super, Natural British Columbia tourism brand at Destination BC, Shawn has experienced all sides of crafting stunning visuals that are captivating enough to demand eyeballs on the internet. 

It was catching sight of a photo essay on The Narwhal that planted the seed of curiosity for Shawn about how his skill set could complement the work of journalism. Now, as The Narwhal’s first-ever art director, Shawn is already rolling up his sleeves to help our team tell some of Canada’s most important stories beautifully. From crafting custom illustrations to working closely with some of the country’s most talented photographers, Shawn hasn’t missed a beat since joining our team in January (and that includes his passion for sharing newly released musical gems or suggesting the perfect artist to dial in our Friday afternoon work vibes). 

We chatted with Shawn about his love of design and his penchant for ping pong so you can get to know him better.

Shawn is already rolling up his sleeves to help our team tell some of Canada’s most important stories beautifully. Photo: Alia Youssef / The Narwhal

Where did your love of design start? Were you the kind of kid who made magazine collages in his spare time?

My mother is very creative and I think she passed it on to me. There were clues about my love of graphics all along but I can only recognize it looking backwards now. When I was around three years old I was crazy about flags. I wanted flags for birthday gifts and had a bunch in my room. As I got older I re-created National Hockey League team logos, album covers and comic book art by hand. I can’t remember any magazine collages!

I didn’t understand graphic design was a job someone could do until university and the early days of the internet. Once I knew it could be a career I wanted in! I moved from Calgary to Vancouver for digital design at Vancouver Film School and have had some really great opportunities come my way since. I’ve been very privileged to see the power of great art, design and stories creating change and want others to have the same opportunities and sense of possibility that I did.

What drew you to Narlandia? 

Photography put The Narwhal on my radar and the quality of reporting and the stories covered drew me in deeper. Protecting the natural world and decolonization are very important to me. I love that The Narwhal is covering Canadian stories about the natural world that you just can’t find anywhere else. 

Also, I am a big fan of people-powered organizations. I am in awe of what The Narwhal team and its members have built since launching in 2018. I am so excited to contribute to all the good they are doing for the Canadian media landscape.

In what ways do you see good design leading to good journalism?

Design and visuals are important to enrich stories when appropriate and help good journalism find its audience. We all learn and process information in different ways, the right graphic at the right moment can communicate information or an idea that someone might have missed otherwise. I’ve read about experiments that found presenting information visually increased the accuracy of people’s beliefs about charged issues, something I feel is very necessary in 2022. 

It was catching sight of a photo essay on The Narwhal that planted the seed of curiosity for Shawn about how his skill set could complement the work of journalism. Photo: Alia Youssef / The Narwhal

Any big dreams for what you’re going to accomplish with The Narwhal’s team this year?

The Narwhal has always presented stories beautifully and I’m excited to contribute however I can. 

I’m currently digging into how our stories show up on social media to help them find a wider audience. I can’t wait to fire up some video projects and work with photographers to present their great work in new ways that serve the stories they are telling. I’m looking forward to creating layouts in the print magazine that aren’t possible online. I have my first illustration online for The Narwhal and I’m looking forward to producing more along with infographics and visuals to support the stories our excellent reporters are sharing. 

The thing I’m most excited about 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 was long and winding. I started out in physics and chemistry in university. I have surprised a lot of my colleagues when I get fired up about A/B tests not being empirical. 

I love ping pong. It’s so fun to me and I think the game itself is a good metaphor for sharing ideas. The pandemic has driven me to outdoor tables but I just got a Christmas gift 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 back and have been pretty unstoppable since.

I am a very good person to have on your team for name-that-tune night. My dad has the same talent, I remember him winning things from radio stations all the time so it must be genetic. My partner has fun with it and quizzes me about obscure songs that were on random ’90s compilation CDs.

Like a kid in a candy store
When those boxes of heavily redacted documents start to pile in, reporters at The Narwhal waste no time in looking for kernels of news that matter the most. Just ask our Prairies reporter Drew Anderson, who gleefully scanned through freedom of information files like a kid in a candy store, leading to pretty damning revelations in Alberta this spring. Long story short: the government wasn’t being forthright when it claimed its pause on new renewable energy projects wasn’t political. Just like that, our small team was again leading the charge on a pretty big story

In an oil-rich province like Alberta, that kind of reporting is crucial. But look at our investigative work on the Coastal GasLink pipeline to the west, or our Greenbelt reporting out in Ontario. They all highlight one thing: those with power over our shared natural world don’t want you to know how — or why — they call the shots. And we try to disrupt that.

Our journalism is powered by people just like you. We never take corporate ad dollars, or put this public-interest information behind a paywall. Here’s the thing: we need 300 new members to join this month to meet our budget. Will you join the pod of Narwhals that make a difference by helping us uncover some of the most important stories of our time?
We’ve got big plans for 2024
When those boxes of heavily redacted documents start to pile in, reporters at The Narwhal waste no time in looking for kernels of news that matter the most. Just ask our Prairies reporter Drew Anderson, who gleefully scanned through freedom of information files like a kid in a candy store, leading to pretty damning revelations in Alberta this spring. Long story short: the government wasn’t being forthright when it claimed its pause on new renewable energy projects wasn’t political. Just like that, our small team was again leading the charge on a pretty big story

In an oil-rich province like Alberta, that kind of reporting is crucial. But look at our investigative work on the Coastal GasLink pipeline to the west, or our Greenbelt reporting out in Ontario. They all highlight one thing: those with power over our shared natural world don’t want you to know how — or why — they call the shots. And we try to disrupt that.

Our journalism is powered by people just like you. We never take corporate ad dollars, or put this public-interest information behind a paywall. Here’s the thing: we need 300 new members to join this month to meet our budget. Will you join the pod of Narwhals that make a difference by helping us uncover some of the most important stories of our time?

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The Narwhal’s reporters uncover energy stories that send shockwaves throughout Canada. But they can’t do it alone — we still need to add 90 new members this month to meet our budget. Will you support crucial climate reporting that makes an impact?