Rodrigo Sanchez, art director for El Mundo, created a body of work for the paper’s legendary Metrópoli magazine that earned him his own art museum exhibit and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society for News Design. Just over two years ago, Sanchez was elevated from art director of the paper’s magazines to art director over the entire enterprise. Since then, he has brought his skills to news storytelling, helping to elevate the entire paper.
Rodrigo answered some questions for SND.org ahead of #SNDSF, his first appearance at an SND annual conference in the United States since 1998. He joins the lineup as the Friday keynote speaker and he’s hoping to join Mario Garcia as a karaoke fundraising legend. Have you ever seen a Metropoli cover and had it give you a little more courage to take creative chances? Was it worth a $10 contribution to SND Foundation in honor of Rodrigo Sanchez? Donate today and help support scholarships and training for future generations of visual journalists! Here’s a video Rodrigo made as a little encouragement and be sure to join us on Friday April 8 for the Angie’s List Karaoke Night for SNDF:
How has your professional life changed since you became art director for El Mundo, instead of just for the magazines?
Work has been multiplied times 10. I used to do art direction for a dozen publications — some weekly, some monthly, some annually — and a daily publication (a newspaper with medical information). Now, you add to that a daily national paper and all its weekly and monthly supplements. It’s impossible to pamper each page like I used to. I have to focus on special pages and big projects. That is why it’s so fundamental to instill the essence of design to the team, and the basics of well-done work; what is the minimum that we will demand from ourselves and what is our goal for excellence. To bring the newspaper designer to lose their fear of a blank page and for them to try to think about each page each time, each day. There are no two identical subjects, there shouldn’t be two identical pages. Each subject, each story, each exclusive, deserves to be treated in a singular and exquisite way.
Faced with the serialization of pages, we have to offer crafted journalism. Specialization and differentiation in the face of monotony and predesigned templates. Everything is doable, everything is changeable. The only thing needed is rigor and taste, good judgment and imagination. And of course, a lot of work, a lot of effort. We need to be part of the writing process, we need to be on the lookout and disposed to change ideas on the way. From the first minute up to last minute, from first page to the last page. The permanent interaction with the reporters and everyone responsible in the editing team enriches the final product.
Every newspaper has niches of information where it is possible to experiment graphically. The placement of graphic and typographical blocks, the relationship between them, and their sequence in space, modify the perception that the reader has of the story. We have to build the newspaper as if it were a movie made of short films, with a lot of individualized stories but that all of them tell the story of a day. A particular day, unrepeatable, like the newspaper of that day. The newspaper has to have permanent doses of surprise. A balanced mix of creative audacity and informative rigor. Definitely, be capable of creating a coherent product, but know how to articulate and harmonize the different rhythms, the speeds, that should coexist in a newspaper.
A smorgasbord of breaking news, a daily gem to spoil our best and most loyal readers. Make them to be proud to take us under their arm.
You earned a lifetime achievement award for your funny, clever and beautiful covers of Metropoli. You now have won major awards for your news storytelling in the pages of El Mundo, particularly in the masterful approach to the anniversary of the Madrid train bombings. How is your approach to art directing news different from art directing entertainment and lifestyle?
Metrópoli has been and is, a big bank of experiments. All the magazines I’ve worked on, have been one. I could say I have been training for the last 30 years for this moment. Now I can treat the daily information with the respect and dedication used for weekly or monthly stories. It’s like having a Metrópoli each day. Each page is a cover. The opportunity to make magic with live news, with current photographs, and sometimes, take the opportunities given when there is nothing to work with and illustrate just with typography. The story illustrates on its own.
It is not that different explaining an event graphically. Or to tell the synopsis of a noir film, or a cover dedicated to a Hollywood character. It’s all stories in which there are people involved. Some are fiction, these are real. But they are all stories. And we live to tell those stories.
How much time are you still able to spend on Metrópoli?
Same as before. I get time from were I can, and if necessary, from my free time. I still consider Metrópoli a gift from God, a toy, a passion more than a job. It’s a blessing to be able to use that space every week and collaborate with some of the best professionals of the world who want to publish in that piece of paper. I would envy any professional who would have the opportunity to work on those covers week after week… and it’s going on more than 20 years.
“Choose a job that you like, and you will never have to work a day in your life” — Confucius
What role does digital work (online and mobile) play in your daily life? Do you work very much in digital, and if so, what kind of work?
Digital design doesn’t occupy a high percentage of my time for now. I think it’s a world that offers an enormous field of possibilities but suffers from some typographical rigor, little control of the exact placement of informative elements and excess of advertising, a lot of it invasive. And add to that, with its internal and external design serving multiple digital media (responsive), the challenge is even greater.
The problem, like on all the websites, is that its design is still dominated by technicians and engineers without informative news knowledge and almost zero notion of typography and photography. Sadly, conventional digital design (newspaper websites) is light years away from printed editorial design. It lacks of hierarchy, lack graphic precision and relation between stories. They work more as a storage of stories than as an informative product created professionally. There is always a technical justification to say you can’t do this or that.
There is almost a physical rejection so that print designers won’t take part in the creation and development, in the shift from paper to web.
It’s two different foundations, two different containers, but they work with the same components: the information. The codes, the language, the method, they always need to be in the hands of designers, not technicians. Their job is to give solutions to the informational and aesthetic challenges given by content producers.
You are not capable of creating the snapshot of a day on websites. The older stories get mixed with the most recent ones, the genres are jumbled together, the sections get confusing. It’s urgent and displaced journalism. Stories are read as isolated items, not altogether. The ability to relate stories together is lost. As well as the hierarchy of the news. The informational design disappears. The cover loses its meaning.
It’s a consumption of “raw” news, because you get the stories directly through social media, out of context stories from the rest, just with enough editing and with lack of attention to detail. The news without its professional packaging turns into “raw material,” goes back to its origin and leaves behind on its way many decades of enrichment, graphic additions and valuation.
As art director, part of your job is the excellence and motivation and creativity of others. How do you keep your own motivation and creativity high?
You need to spread your enthusiasm for teamwork. Everyone needs to feel they are part of the product, co-authors, that they participate in the success. Also, you need to be generous with the mistakes, because it’s part of learning. The hardest part is to change mentalities. Make them see and believe that it is possible to do things a different way. That knowing how to work the basic principles of model-making is needed to create editorial design of high level.
We need to create very strict rules: rigid templates for any kind of contingency, with all possibilities taken in consideration and its corresponding systematized graphic solutions. Then, with these strict and unbreakable rules, you need to throw them to the trash and reinvent them every day.
Creativity improves with use. Continuous practice improves the means to relate problems with solutions and with that, a lot of resources arise, almost spontaneously. Creativity never decays, it improves with time. And it’s also contagious. The team gets soaked in it and makes efforts to bring ingenious solutions to banal subjects.
Follow the hashtag #SNDSF on twitter for more updates. To register for the workshop, which runs April 7-9 in San Francisco, click here. Space will be limited. To make a donation to SND Foundation in Rodrigo Sanchez’s honor, click here.