A free, open-source image generator tool for newsrooms has been released on GitHub by The Times and Sunday Times digital development team.
CardKit was inspired by Vox Media's Meme tool, also open-sourced on GitHub, which allows the outlet's journalists to easily create socially shareable image cards compromising a picture, a logo and a line of text.
It is the brainchild of Times newsroom developer Chris Hutchinson, who told Journalism.co.uk one of the main aims of the project was to create something which "journalists would feel comfortable with".
"There are lots of tools out there that do similar things to this," he said, "but we wanted to make one that was really easy to use, was flexible and gave control, but also added the most appropriate restrictions in terms of making sure it stayed to a consistent design".
CardKit was originally built on the same code base as Meme, which Hutchinson expanded to create additional layers of configuration such as the ability to adjust layouts, themes and card dimensions.
The resulting tool, previewed on GitHub here, allows journalists to create images for Twitter, Facebook or YouTube video previews. Images are added via a simple drag-and-drop and, in a nod to Instagram, can be enhanced through a choice of five different filters.
CardKit works in the same vein as NPR's Quoteable tool, also open-source on GitHub.
Independent journalists and smaller newsroom without in-house developers might still find it easier to use off-the-shelf image creation tools such as Canva or Pablo.
However, Hutchinson noted that CardKit is "very quick to get up and running with as long as you've got someone who's capable of writing the config file [sic] and doing a build".
"With CardKit, from a technical perspective, there's one configuration file and you set up all the elements you might need, so images, text – you can set them to be draggable – you can set which elements of those you want editable, so the text, the colour, the text alignment, those sort of things, and it automatically builds the interface for you."
Internally, The Times and Sunday Times is running its own build of CardKit which has "appropriate style - fonts, images and layout, as per we need in the newsroom," explained Hutchinson.
There are different CardKit themes for each section of the newsroom and also various versions for different uses, including email bulletins such as Times Woman – the first of which went out last week – and Red Box, the outlet's political newsletter.
"It was really important for the design to fit The Times style, and that was the primary reason we implemented theming," said Hutchinson", so you can set up default themes."
The first iteration of the tool was in development from September last year, and version two – released this week – made improvements including a cleaner, more user-friendly interface, developed through feedback from The Times' journalists and wider digital team.
In the long term, Hutchinson hopes to write a "configuration builder, so if someone doesn't know how to write the config file, we'll have a tool that can write that for you, and so you'll be able to get up and running without even needing a developer".
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