Big fish in a small pond: Vince Chiaramonte

Where did you grow up? Go to school? … Any other pertinent info about Vince.

I’m a native New Yorker, born in Brooklyn and raised on Long Island. I attended Daemen College, a small private school in Amherst, NY (a suburb of Buffalo) and graduated with a BFA in Design and Illustration.

You didn’t take a typical path to newspaper design stardom. How did you end up in Buffalo and at the Buffalo News?

After graduating from college I decided to stay in Buffalo and try to be a big fish in a small pond (translation: I didn’t want to move back home and live with my parents). My first job was as a designer at New Era Cap. Yes, the sports cap company. I stayed there for 18 months and designed caps for the NFL, MLB and NHL. It was pretty cool to see teams wearing my designs after clinching the LCS and World Series.

My claim to fame from there was designing the logo on the back of all minor league caps. I then took a job as an art director for Gelia Wells and Mohr and created print and television campaigns for clients like RCA, Trico and Bell & Howell, while learning how to direct photography. I also did freelance work for the Buffalo Sabres, Bisons and Bandits, designing their magazines. That gave me the editorial itch. After years of temptation from The Buffalo News, I finally decided to give it a shot. One of my college professors, John Davis, had been promoted to design director and had a plan to improve the visual presentation of the paper, so after six years in the ad business, I made the leap.

How long have you been there?

I’ve been at the News since December 1998.

What is a day like for you at the paper?

Working at The Buffalo News has been a rewarding experience. It’s nice to be a part of something that has been built from the ground up. Because our design director trusts my decision making, I’ve been given a lot of freedom and responsibility. I feel it’s my job to push the envelope and create pages that are informative and engaging to readers. A typical day can be pretty diverse. I’m usually involved with a least two different sections, Sports/Features or Sports/A1. Communication is something I preach as a key to doing successful work. I like to receive as much input as possible and read any and all stories that are available. Then I’ll start sketching out ideas and go from there. Involving the section editor early in the design process and making them feel comfortable with the direction is another key step. By doing this I can limit the number of surprises that can show up at the end.

You have done more than just sports design at the Buffalo News. What other sections have you worked for? What are the benefits of working in another section?

I’ve done work on a regular basis for A1, Features, Sports, Special Projects, Viewpoints and I was art director for our monthly magazine. Diversity of content is the biggest benefit to rotating in and out of sections. Each section has its own voice and it’s up to us to design for it. Sports can be a predictable cycle. Super Bowl in February, NCAAs in March, Baseball in April, etc. Features forces you to be versed in many areas, some of which you might not be an authority on. The unique subject material allows you to use a different set of techniques and then apply them to other areas of the paper.

Would you ever consider leaving sports?

Not really, but I’ve already had my workload cut down quite a bit since last June after being promoted to assistant design editor. I’m pretty sure the managing editor and sports editor wouldn’t be a big fan of that move. At the very least I’ve been able to mentor some of our younger designers and help them in that area.

You had a great 2007, winning 13 SND awards including a JSR. What inspires your creativity?

Ultimately one’s influences as a designer must come from within. The strongest, most emotional work comes from using your own background, personality and experiences. When you combine these with observations from the world around you, your supply of influences and ideas is limitless.

How do you come up with some of your ideas?

Idea generation is often instinctual. Sometimes I’ll be sitting at home and spend a few minutes thinking about an upcoming project and get the urge to sketch an idea out. I’ve also been known to just throw a photo on a blank page or start with a headline and see what comes to mind. Each page calls for a different method.

You were a judge at SND29. How was that experience?

It was exhausting but very rewarding. I had a tremendous team and we all meshed together very well. After everything was all said and done, I left Syracuse a better visual journalist than when I arrived. I think everyone in this industry should experience this competition at some point. It will humble you and make you realize how difficult it is to win an award of excellence. It was a real honor to be selected and I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.

What advice can you give to people who enter pages?

Please be honest when editing your work. Ask yourself, “Do I honestly believe this page is among the best in the world? Does it have a concept? Is it executed flawlessly? And does it have impact?” Remember this the World’s Best of Newspaper Design contest, not your paper’s greatest hits or a state contest. On the flip side of that, the contest shouldn’t be viewed as validation for any designer. I noticed a ton of quality work in the “out” pile.

What commonalities did you see amongst winners?

Emphasis on idea generation, bold use of photography and illustration, restrained use of typography, limited color palette and strong editing.

What consistent mistakes or overused trends did you see?

  • Clutter! Many entries were overloaded with unnecessary info or one too many photos that caused the page to lose its focus. Better editing by all involved would have helped.
  • Poor typography: Whether it was poor kerning, incorrect sizing or the wrong weight, this was clearly an area of weakness.
  • Finish the job: Many pages had centerpieces that rocked but the rest of the page fell way short.

Which other papers do you think raise the bar in visual journalism?

Each of these papers consistently set a high standard for design and/or photography: The Boston Globe, Columbus Dispatch, Plain Dealer, San Jose Mercury News, New York Times and Los Angeles Times.

Which designers?

There are way too many to name but I’ve always enjoyed seeing the work of this talented dozen: Scott Minister, Brian Gross, Lesley Becker, Chin Wang, Martin Gee, Wayne Kamidoi, Emmet Smith, Andrea Levy, Nicole Dudka, Todd Bayha, Rodrigo Sanchez and Hugo Pinto.

What do you do away from the paper? Hobbies? Activities?

Free time is hard to come by these days. I usually spend a lot of time with my wife, Lorri, and our 18-month-old daughter, Alexa. Things should get real interesting in early May with the arrival of our second child (a boy). I enjoy music and movies (I’m a home theater freak). Obviously, I enjoy sports and still have some game left in me to play softball and golf. I’ve also taken an interest in the art of bartending, although I keep getting distracted when practicing.

How often does someone actually pronounce your last name correctly?

(Kara-monty) About 2 out of every 10. It helps having a first name most people can remember.