SND’s president on design regardless of platform, Hacktucky, and Zestas

2013 Student Symposium in Syracuse, NY.
2013 Student Symposium in Syracuse, NY.

With SNDLOU days away, Rob Schneider gives us his thoughts on SND, its members, and its future.

1. What are you looking forward to at SNDLou?

I’m really excited about a lot of things.

  • Our speaker lineup and programming is amazing. Ryan Hildebrandt has done an exceptional job of putting together relevant, interesting topics that our members are going to love! And I love how many of our sessions have evolved into talking about design regardless of a specific platform or a preconceived idea of “this is a print topic” and “this is a digital topic.” The greatest compliment you can give the schedule is it’s going to be really tough to decide which sessions to attend in a lot of those Friday and Saturday spots.
  • I love that we are doing our own hackathon (Hacktucky). Initiating this idea could only come from someone like Chris Courtney, who is unafraid to just say “what the hell” and just try it. We are lucky to have someone with his energy, passion and courage doing this for us and recruiting such amazing team captains and members. We have a lot of great traditions with our workshops and this is one that I’m excited we are starting now and I can’t wait to see where future hackathons will take us in the future.
  • Having events in places like the Kentucky Derby Museum (our opening reception) and the Muhammed Ali Center (workshop site) is so freakin’ cool! I urge everyone coming to explore those two places as deeply as you can.
  • I’m also really pumped our about Saturday night awards party and the programming around it. We’ll celebrate our rich history at our 35th annual workshop, recognize our best print and digital design work and honor one of our best people. It’s a great way to finish things off!
  • Most of all, I’m really excited to have this fantastic workshop in Louisville and see the culmination of all the hard work Ryan Hildebrandt, the Courier-Journal and the Louisville Design Studio have put to this event. We’ve radically changed our workshop model the past few years to make it better for members and the visual journalism community. And I think SNDLOU will be our best event yet!

2. What advice do you have for folks who are attending the SND workshop for the first time?

Find someone attending that is doing work you admire (work that you want to do.) Find them. Introduce yourself and ask if they have time to critique some of your work. (there’s 15 minutes between sessions, that’s enough time because you’re only going to have them look at three things.) Expect the feedback to be critical. Talk about your process and what you learned and what you could do better but don’t try and explain away the things they are critiquing. Be gracious. Thank them. Make eye contact. Ask if you can contact them in the future. Nine times out of 10 the person is going to be nice and if they aren’t than you know everything you need to know about them anyway. Wait a couple of years and pay that forward when someone asks you.


3. Everyone knows that times are tough in our industry right now. How is SND doing? And what is SND doing to help members?

SND is doing well but we still have a lot of work to do. Stephen Komives and the officers have done a great job over the past five years of radically restructuring our financial model, notably with the workshop and our competitions. Stephen was able to get the largest grants in SND’s history and all of that money went directly into training for members (at our successful iPad Quick Courses we’ve been holding across the country, our Graphics Garage events, and the SNDLOU workshop). The final piece to that puzzle is to come up with a long-term, viable economic model for the future in terms of how we pay for the membership side of things, especially keeping our international mission in mind (and paying for that in a way where we break even). That’s still a work in progress for us.

Another piece of that puzzle is reaching out to visual journalists around the world that we don’t traditionally cross paths with, as well as students who could really benefit from our help (high schools are an area where I think we can grow a great deal, for example). We need a better corporate membership model that reflects the way journalists are employed today (our original mission was more built to serve individual members at publications, not lots of people in design hubs, to give another example). We also need to a better job of partnering with other journalism organizations to better extend our reach and influence. And we have a lot of work on our website that Digital Director Kyle Ellis would love for us to do but it’s going to make money, time and resources to pull it off. So we need to think bigger and better with the way we secure grants as well.

All of this is daunting (it’s scary to say it!) but I think we have the right leadership structure in place to tackle the challenges in a clear, efficient way. It won’t happen overnight, but I think it will happen over the coming years.

I think one of the best things we can do for our members is to offer support and training, as we’ve done this year with our quick courses, graphics garages and workshops. Another way is for SND to be the visual voice of reason to our members and the visual journalism community and we best accomplish that by the great content Kyle and Katie Myrick (and a fleet of volunteers) have been producing for This give us a chance to educate, inspire or speak up when some injustice is done. We are communicating with our members better than ever through our digital content and social media. And that goes a long way to staying relevant in people’s lives.

4. You’ve been involved in SND for a long time and you’re almost through a great year as SND president. What are some of the highlights of this year so far and of your work for SND? What would you tell folks who want to get involved?

I love SND. I love it for its flaws. I love it for its potential, but I really love it for all the amazing things it does on a yearly basis.

The highlights are always when we realize the good we do for our members: the print and digital competitions, our upcoming workshop, our training events. The vast improvements to the design, user experiences, and content of our website. It’s involved a lot of work by a lot of smart people who aren’t me. I’m humbled and inspired by our reach and our ability to do good every day.

When I think about where things stood in the summer of 2009 and where things are now, I’m really proud of all the things SND has accomplished. And I’m proud to be associated with it in any way.

For those who want to get involved with SND I’ll say the thing that’s been my theme all year long: it’s not going to be about you. Being an officer, board member, volunteer takes a lot of time and you never feel like you are giving as much as the organization deserves (I know I’ve felt that way this year as I juggle other personal and professional obligations) but you aspire to do everything in your power to make the organization better. Being SND President isn’t going to get me a better job or make me a more notable person. But being an SND officer and being involved with this organization has made me a better person and a much better journalist. I’ll never be able to give SND as much as it’s given me, but I’ll say this: long after my officer run ends, I’ll keep trying to. And the reason is simple:¬†this Society deserves it. So I apologize in advance for not being as good of a president as I could be, but I promise to keep trying to make up for it down the line!

Rob and Chris Mihal before the 2013 Saltine Contest in Syracuse, NY.

5. Sources tell the SND International Web Desk that on multiple occasions you were able to eat 10 saltines in 60 seconds — without drinking any water or other type of beverage — an accomplishment that not many others were able to match. What do you have to say for yourself?

First of all, it’s six saltines in 60 seconds.

Sounds easy, right?

Well, it’s not.

And if you want to find out, just bring a box of saltines (Zesta, please) out after the awards party on Saturday night and you can find out!

About Jonathon Berlin

is graphics editor of the Chicago Tribune and a past president of the Society For News Design.

Leave a Reply