By Stephanie Hays
Mario Garcia, joking that he was the oldest person in the building at SNDNYC, on Saturday offered a sweeping take on the evolution of news design and explained why he’s excited about the present and the future of the field.
Garcia, the CEO of GarciaMedia and veteran of more than 700 design projects with media companies, shared six thoughts on the evolution of news design.
1. The way we were
Garcia, who was around when SND was first formed, explained how the introduction of color and technology into newspapers allowed for the emergence of news design as a discipline. Unfortunately, there was often a disconnect between the “word people” and the “visual people,” leading to headlines not matching articles, photo captions not helping the story and illustrations that didn’t fit the tone of the article.
What he discovered was that it was very important to “let the words guide the process,” and he came up with the idea of WED: the fusion of writing, editing and design.
2. A media ‘quintet’ for a multiplatform world
Today, instead of one print product, there are five main platforms: print, tablet, phone, desktop and the watch (with hints of more platforms — voice, VR, AI, etc. — on the horizon). As a designer, it’s no longer enough to focus on the visual aspect of design; it’s necessary to think about the technology as well.
3. The way we tell stories today
Stories aren’t just submitted one day and then printed the next. Organizations are continually pushing out new articles, responding to breaking news and updating their content. And design needs to respond just as quickly, with new images, designs and ideas for the updates.
“The designer needs to sit on top of the story and update the visuals,” Garcia said.
According to Garcia, today there is “no room for the lazy. No room for the ones who are stuck in the past.” He implored fellow industry veterans to “stop lamenting what was, and start celebrating what is.”
“If I, at 71, can assimilate this, love this and practice this, there is no excuse for anybody to be stuck in the past.”
4. Linear storytelling for small screens = a new role for designers
When visual journalists are looking to tell stories on phones and small screens, understanding the idea of linear storytelling and letting people read content that leads into the visuals is crucial.
Garcia explained it as the way a child draws a story: “No child ever said, ‘Read my story. Photo gallery to come.'”
Content that goes on mobile screens needs to be short, simple and accompanied by images. It’s not dumbing down content for the audience; it’s just finding a way to repurpose what the reporter has.
That’s why it’s so important for a designer to sit with a reporter while they’re working so that their work can be massaged into different formats that can best serve the audience.
5. Start with the smallest screen
This doesn’t just mean the phone. According to Garcia, the smallest screen is really the news alert: Is it just text, or text and a photo, or text and a video? How does a news organization’s logo read at the size of an icon? The design process builds from there.
Design could take the form of Snapchat Discover and Instagram treatments. It’s up to designers to figure out how to tell a story in a small space. Often the audience is best served with just one photo and minimal text.
From there, designers can begin to think about how their designs can translate into larger screens and print.
6. A new definition of design offers a new role for designers
Ultimately, Garcia emphasized that while designers are visual storytellers, user experience is more important than just aesthetic.
“Don’t think your role is to make things look good. It’s more important that you really complement the story with your sense of visuals,” Garcia said.
Garcia also had a couple of practical takeaways sprinkled in for members of the audience:
- Have templates: Making design accessible to other members of the newsroom, especially reporters, lets them easily create articles and content that can best be told on multiple platforms with plenty of visuals.
- Storyboard: Print out pieces of paper and start drawing on them. Where will the headline sit? How much text will there be before the first photo? What kind of interactives are there and where are they going? Draw it all out, or print out what you have and take a look at it on the wall.
- Keep the finger happy: Users want to scroll and keep looking at additional content. Make sure what you show them is easy to understand and complements the content.
(Photo: Stephanie Hays)