10 rules to work by

AT the Cleveland conference of the Society of News Design this week, I was honored with the SND Lifetime Achievement Award. I was surprised, since I am not one who has toiled in newsrooms my whole career. Which is maybe why I can keeping putting energy into news design. And I am truly grateful for this award. The SND is the one organization devoted to the idea of visual journalism, which is something I believe in.

I got to thinking about what’s worked for me in this field. It’s always been a struggle, never more than now, to get publishers and owners to understand that readers want visual content in their news publications, as well as text. And to get them to understand that the art director’s role is more than just “presentation,” important as that is.

Here are the ten work rules I’ve collected over the years that may serve the new generation of publication designers.

As Grocho said, “These are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others.”

1. Pages.
News design is not just about page design anymore.  I’ve been thinking about the design rules—the relationship between text and pictures, headlines and text, and the styles that mark different kinds of content.

2. Content.
As Lou Silverstein said, “Ask yourself what is the news content before you take a design to the desk.”

3. Information.
To succeed as a visual editor, you have to be as well- or better-informed on the news and political issues than the text editors. The way to stay ahead of changes in the media world is to be a reporter—observe everything as you go.

4. History.
I wanted to know the history of newspapers, printing, type and graphic design. By standing on the shoulders of others you can see farther, and avoid starting over.

5. Design equity.
Hold on to the good parts of a publication’s design. Some papers and sites have redesigned so much, readers can’t recognize them.

6. Inspiration.
Design ideas come from the real world—the city, art, and nature—not just the design world.

7. Technology.
Technology is your friend. A designer doesn’t have to code, but I had to know understand how code works, and what I can do with it, to make the transition to the new world.

8. People.
The best news design happens when the process is open and the best ideas get published. I never just handed out sketches, but worked with the team. And if the team is happy, you get great design.

9. Readers.
The best publication designers think of themselves as the agents of readers. They are in the newsroom to get the content across to the end users.

10. Life.
With all the stress around deadlines, the meltdown of the media and the economy, it’s easy to get lost in your work. Somehow I’ve been able get outside often enough—for me it’s to the ocean or the desert—to keep a little perspective, and have more fun. And to spend some time with my partner in life, Foster.

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