SND38 Individual Portfolio Winner Spotlight: Kelli Sullivan

Kelli Sullivan
Deputy Design Director for News & Projects

Los Angeles Times 

What is your current job title, and how long have you been in that role?
Deputy Design Director for News and projects. I have been in this position here at the Times since 2005, 11+ years. Before that, I was Deputy Design Director in our Features department.

What do you love about designing for print?
I like the limitations of print, like space, time, press issues, etc. I find it forces me to remove clutter and develop bold yet simple ways to enhance the reading experience without interrupting it. To pare down the elements to the very best.

Your portfolio has mostly inside pages. What are the perks of designing well for the inside of the book?
Inside pages give me room to breathe as a designer. You are able to design for single subject for the most part. I’m in a unique position to look over everything and develop the scale required for the project I’m working on. I view my role as to design a project how it should be at its best and boldest and then argue for that. Scaling back if the editors feel differently. Fortunately, they generally agree with me.

Kelli Sullivan particularly likes working on photo page design. “I enjoy the challenge of telling stories through photos and captions alone.”

Who in your newsroom do you enjoy collaborating with?
Everyone. I have a great relationship with the editors, writers, graphics team and photo department. I am at the center of the whole group for presentation and I really enjoy that unique position in the newsroom. I strive to have a good relationship with everyone in order to work together to develop the best elements for each story. Although, I must admit that I particularly like working with the photo department on photo page design. I enjoy the challenge of telling stories through photos and captions alone.

Which of these project was the most challenging?
Well, the most challenging was actually not in my portfolio but in a layout I sent you,”The Trump Nation.” Taking all of David Horsey‘s terrific illustrations he drew of Trump supporters from a rally he attended, and figuring how to scale and position them and how much space it all needed took a lot of trial and error. Then designing the typography to explain but not overwhelm his illustrations was another challenge.

”The Trump Nation,” features David Horsey‘s illustrations of Trump supporters from a rally he attended.

From my portfolio, I would have to say the live Prince layout was most challenging due to the time/space constraints and yet still finding a way to capture his life quickly yet with the most impact. Photo research is always the time consumer. I work with Photo but do a lot on my own too since I have an idea of what I’m looking for. And as always the “Lessons in India” photo spread was challenging, as many photo spreads are, to tell a story visually that has flow, impact and without repetition. When you only have 5-7 photos each one should propel the story in it’s own way. But they need to play off each other as well, using scale and contrast.

What do you feel is the most important part of your design process?
I would say collaboration with the folks involved and with our AME for Design, Michael. Soliciting feedback is essential on elevating mine or anyone’s work to its best. Working through multiple versions helps to filter out and refine my work, usually by simplifying. I may do as many as 10 iterations with large to small refinements. Often on photo pages I will do several iterations, run out proofs. I have discussions with several key people and then I make further refinements. Finally, I pitch it to top editors and sometimes make further refinements after that. Being open to other people’s ideas allows me to consider things I hadn’t thought of. Incorporating that into the layout makes the work better.


What does it take to do great print design? Former SND Competition Coordinator Andrea Zagata set out to find tips and tricks from the winners. Check SND.org every week for interviews with the best of the best!

About Andrea Zagata

is a news designer at The New York Times.

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