Behind the World’s Best Designed: Excelsior
We began the interview in Mexico City at a restaurant with traditional food from the city where Alexandro is from, Monterrey.
He arrived 12 years ago to Mexico City after having been Art Director of “El Norte,” “El Sol” and “Metro” and “Palabra” of Grupo Reforma in Monterrey where he worked for 12 years.
“I came to this city to become a part of the 2000’s most important web news project owned by Televisa in the year 2000 esmas.com as productions director. Afterward, I was senior multimedia director at Editorial Televisa. It was a very interesting and cheerful time because, after having worked for newspapers for so long, to be involved in digital media and magazines was like becoming a kid again,” he said.
Back then, Excelsior was a newspaper lost on the shelves, its best years had gone by, it was going through a profound internal war for newspaper control and it was going downhill financially.
“I often went by Excelsior and to see the building and it caused me great sadness because I knew what was happening inside those walls. There were two newspapers I used to admire as a child which were El Norte and Excelsior. Ever since I was a kid, my goals were to be a part of those two projects and I slowly observed as my second dream vanished.”
In 2004, after having worked at Televisa, Alexandro arrived to TV Azteca, the second television network in Mexico, as creative concept director of the news area. “It was about creating animated computer graphics for television. It is one of the most enriching experiences of my career; television puts all your intellectual capabilities, expertise, clear thinking, and even patience to the test.”
I asked Alexandro “How did you go back to journals?”
“After TV Azteca I got contracts as a consultant. Among them, the newspaper “Impacto” included art directing as a part of consulting. The work done at Impacto got people’s attention and I was called to Excelsior on January 2006. I almost immediately agreed. I remember the incredible feeling of having materialized a childhood dream (he smiled). I love to still be on this dream.”
Excelsior had been bought by Grupo Imagen Multimedia, which today is the second most important media group in Mexico just after Televisa. Grupo Imagen Multimedia owns over 50 radio-stations in Mexico, an open television channel with national coverage, a network of 14 websites and the Excelsior newspaper.
Tell us what a day in the life of a designer at Excelsior is like? Describe the process of making a news page, a features page, and special supplements.
At Excelsior, a designer or artist’s average day isn’t very different than it would be while working at other newspapers when it comes to executing pages. They carry out a gathering of content in which they detect potential opportunities to be taken about in a visual manner. The difference lies in the philosophy which we work with: “Those of us who do things differently are those who make a trend.” This motto has dictated our way of working ever since Excelsior was re-launched in March, 2006. We take about projects according to the following parameters:
- Design for the readers, not for journalists.
- Leave aside any paradigm or rule.
- Be open to new ideas.
- Generate concepts.
- Offer vertical reading.
- Search for target market identification.
Everyday designers and artists at Excelsior face diverse problem-handling situations. We focus all of our efforts on those issues which present clear opportunities instead of wasting machinery on useless battles.
Even so, the rhythm is intense.
On the other hand, the great variety of choices and disciplines available in this area allow designers to have access to plenty ideas from various resources.
The evolution of the design area at Excelsior has influenced designers positively and encouraged them to participate in other divisions as well as mass media such as: TV with “Cadena Tres,” Internet with “Invent” (our most recent division with over 14 web sites which include excelsior.com.mx), and radio with “Imagen 90.5” and “Reporte 98.5.” We additionally work with supplements area which is under our charge, as well as Development, Innovation and Strategic planning. Therefore, there is a wide range of job and area opportunities.
A typical day for any member of the design team may start out by creating sketches for the pages of that day and may end up generating a publicity campaign for a new product developed by the Development and Innovations area by creating try-out versions of those products for commercial areas or generating a logistical overview for the Strategic Planning media group division.
The process for the design of a special page, report or supplement at Excelsior has to have a concept that tells the central message of the news. Generating a solid concept makes it possible to have a visual statement with the easy flowing of ideas. The next challenge is to not fall on common ground when you look to abide by all the rules which limit creativity and after the first idea, re-enforce it with a second idea and a third, even a fourth. I always say, if you follow all the rules you lose half the fun.
Once all of those involved come to an agreement, they are willing to make their best efforts in each of their respective areas. The formula is the following:
- Knowledge + Message= Concept.
- Concept + Execution of text + visual execution = Successful Communication.
How many people work in your staff and how do you organize the infographic area, editorial design and photography? Do you have a training budget?
We have a team at Excelsior of 26 designers on daily basis, 8 for supplements and 8 artists working with infographics and illustration materials. There are a total of 46 people.
The Multimedia Art team, where the infographics and illustration staff are, is organized in such a way that they are able to give out direct services to TV, Internet, Newspaper, Innovation and Design and Marketing areas. We bet in favor of creativity from the beginning and this group has the responsibility to raise the level of internal demand, they question and concrete concepts as well as provide the best options. We think a great step is useless if it wasn´t thought-out by true intelligence.
Twenty-six people integrate into the group of designers at Excelsior. They work on a 96-page newspaper on average. We concentrate our creative efforts in 20 percent of the pages, the other 80 percent is generated by pre-defined page lay-outs which make it easy for text editors to fill. This system has made it possible for a single designer to attend to 19 pre-defined pages simultaneously in extreme situations.
There are 8 more designers who generate more than 35 titles-a-year (magazines and supplements) which are published at different times. Some titles are weekly like the car supplements “Atracción” which have up to 25 standard pages, as well as the social section called “RSVP” which has 120 tabloid pages on average, but can also be up to 200 pages in the more popular editions. They also generate a tourism supplement called “Bon Voyage” and “Teve,” which focuses on news related to famous people.
There are also over 30 titles that are published on monthly, bimonthly, semiannually and yearly.
We have only 10 photographers on the streets which focus only on subjects that are relevant for the newspaper, 4 more for social media and three at the photographic studio. We additionally have a staff of freelance photographers which come in sporadically because they attend to special situations.
We offer an “active training” program which mainly has two approaches: the first consists in learning while we work and the second is shared knowledge.
The first approach arises when we detect the situation where a specific group requires training and a plan must be generated so the area coordinator can take it about under work daily basis.
The second approach of shared knowledge arises when one of the team members has a specific experience. When said talent is detected, training sessions are organized in order to share this given knowledge with the rest of the group leading to the exploration and expansion of abilities.
What are your approaches to keep a high level of quality and creativity?
In order to maintain a high level of quality we have generated tools on professional and personal levels which allow us to strengthen our philosophy. We firmly believe in creativity and constant effort, we have observed our competition — it is fierce. In Mexico City alone, there are more than 35 newspapers. Therefore, our constant efforts aim to be the best.
We have analyzed other newspapers, we know their strengths and weaknesses. It is incredible the amount of talent we get to see in our country. Having a complete overview allows us to learn from everyone.
The graphic and design style is well-defined and this information is known completely by each team member. Designers make proposals that fit perfectly with the publication’s philosophy and mentality. Basically the intake of creativity strengthens the unlimited thought process of designers and artists.
The strategic product proposal is:
- Generate a newspaper like a magazine, not to look like one, but to be one.
- Generate products not sections, each of the notebooks address a different market.
- A lot of color, modules and vertical Reading.
- Editorial genre diversity.
- Integrate a strong amount of opinion leaders.
- There is a sixth indispensable point: We propose that each written work be polemic. Honestly, I do not follow lukewarm results. Hot or cold, black or white, I need to offer something that will stay in mind.
How has the paper evolved since its reinvention a few years ago?
Excelsior was re-born in a creative explosion. This momentum held over a year and a half. Even so, this redesign required changes and adjustments in the graphic system.
We took about an “upgrade” where we put larger efforts in color, we generated a more distinct color pallet. We integrated a system of ribbons and onomatopoeias to be able to control the information avalanche. We improved resources avoiding even more so those used in every-day media. Nevertheless, trends over the years made us more aware of editorial needs and we drew special attention to the integration of both efforts. We feel we achieved, as a result, more impact as a product and the reader’s experience improved.
What inspires you?
To go beyond. I consider that a designer’s role is sub-utilized. Our structure of thought when receiving a message, codify it and deliver it works more than just to draw-out a design. This thought structure has made us absorb additional tasks in different subjects. We are multi-disciplinarians which allows us to think out of the box. Whomever arrives to Excelsior as a designer has a chance, first to be a part of a journal where you constantly learn to design limitlessly in a competitive way, and secondly it is a place where you can explore your capabilities in diverse mass media (TV, Internet, Radio and Printed matter). You can also aspire to manage an internet division, area of special supplements, area of Innovation and Design, operations, Strategic Planning or have a corporate job post.
The internal outreach is infinite. This whole opportunity area has been a source of inspiration to change every page at Excelsior. As designers, we have had outstanding outcomes in areas we naturally don’t know how to handle within our corporation. Therefore design, which is us in our element, appears to me as a world where everything is possible.
What would you tell a designer who wants to learn from what Excelsior has done?
The main lesson Excelsior has to offer is the ability it has had to easily adapt to change. Excelsior has renewed itself and has upshot which talks about an evolved newspaper. This lesson for young designers can be defined as talent. If you were born to design you will always find a way to strengthen and rearm yourself.
Personally, I am convinced that human quality, talent development and professionalism are success factors in any professional.