#SNDSF speaker Mark Porter on creating visual identities
SND recently announced the first part of the lineup for the upcoming conference in San Francisco, April 7-9, 2016. It’s already shaping up to be a great look at our evolving craft, so register today if you haven’t already. Space will be limited. In the coming months, follow the hashtag #SNDSF on twitter and look for announcements and in-depth previews of some of the topics and speakers here at SND.org.
To kick things off, Mark Porter is an award-winning designer who now leads his own studio, Mark Porter Associates. Mark’s studio prides itself on bringing a global perspective and years of experience to editorial design across multiple platforms. Many of their projects go beyond simple redesigns to developing unique visual identities for their clients.
Tell me about your design background, including your 14 years at The Guardian where you led a highly regarded redesign. What has changed and where do you see the industry evolving?
I started in the magazine business, art directing some iconic titles like Colors and Wired (UK). I joined The Guardian as art director of the Saturday magazine, then became design director of the whole paper. At the Guardian, I was responsible for a major print redesign, and moved straight in from that to a relaunch of the website and the first smartphone and tablet apps. Five years ago I left the Guardian to start my own studio, Mark Porter Associates, doing content-driven design for every type of media.
Somebody recently described the Guardian print relaunch as “probably the last great newspaper redesign!” The reason, of course, is that most news publishers are now more focused on their digital products, and print is no longer the main concern. A modern newspaper publishes through multiple channels and that range will only continue to expand. The strong news brands will survive but will become detached from silos like “print” and “digital.” The future is text, audio, still and moving images on every kind of surface.
While I know each project is different, can your share a bit about your overall design philosophy and your brainstorming process?
Whether in print or digital, we start by really trying to understand the client. We look at their market, their competitors, but most of all what do they believe in, what motivates them, what makes them unique. It’s tough for media organizations now, and if you don’t stand for something, the audience will pass you by. Our job is to express that unique personality in design. We also care deeply about accessibility and usability — creating intuitive pleasurable experiences, and making sure that even a design with strong character never gets in the way of the content.
What inspires and influences you, editorial or otherwise, when you approach a new project?
The research is the key starting point. Understanding the environment the client exists in, their history and most of all their relationship with their audience. Once we have a good grasp of that, inspiration can come from anywhere. We like to keep up with whats happening in editorial design and digital design, but we are also inspired by classic graphic design, fine art and architecture. Most of our work is outside the UK, so we also try to immerse ourselves in the design culture of the country we’re working in. Even a walk around Copenhagen or Barcelona can provide a lot of food for the brain and the eye.
Your recent projects have ranged from print redesign to developing new digital news platforms. What are the biggest obstacles when designing across platforms?
Each medium has its own challenges. The digital world changes so fast that it’s a full-time education just keeping up with the latest developments. But probably the biggest challenge is helping clients to think beyond the newspaper, the website, the TV channel. The design projects we do nowadays are about creating and developing identities that can transcend the individual products, and even adapt to platforms that don’t even exist yet. This is a new kind of thinking for publishers and broadcasters and it take some getting used to.
How are you planning ahead for future opportunities in an ever-changing media landscape?
We make sure that we are ready for anything. I spent the first half of my career in print, then came the web, followed by mobile devices. In recent years we have got involved in broadcast design too. Of course we need to keep up our technical capabilities and our understanding of the different platforms in order to work like this. But the heart of the projects is always the same — it’s about telling stories and creating identities. We are bound to face new technical challenges in the future, but the essence of what we do will always be the same.