Saluting Tim Harrower, 2019 SND Lifetime Award recipient

CHICAGO — Tim Harrower was presented the Lifetime Achievement Award — the Society for News Design’s highest honor — Thursday, April 4, 2019, at the opening reception and awards of the organization’s 40th annual workshop in Chicago at the Chicago Cultural Center.

“A generation of designers used Tim’s handbook as a roadmap through the quickly evolving world of Quark- and InDesign-based news design,” said Tracy Collins, director of the USA TODAY Network Design Studio. “It was unintimidating, at times hilarious, practical and filled with brilliant tips — all of the things that someone new to the craft needed to relax and find their way, while it tried its hardest to keep them from going astray. It was true to Tim, and Tim has always been true to the messages he delivered to so many.”

Related: Read accolades about Harrower’s impact and influence on the industry.

What a privilege to pay tribute to the one and only Tim Harrower. And what a challenge to properly capture all that we love and celebrate about his work here at the 40th anniversary of SND’s first workshop — and in the Midwest, close to where Tim’s journey began.

It’s been such a joy reaching out to dozens of designers, art directors, students, teachers, colleagues and general Harrower-ites and hearing all their anecdotes and accolades.

Tim’s calling card was ultimately The Newspaper Designer’s Handbook, of course. And who — besides Tim — would dare take on such a daunting task as writing not just one, but two defining textbooks for journalists, in different disciplines of the business?


Tim’s wife, the talented and lovely Robin, tells us: “As I watched him put his news designer book together I could see that it came about because no one had written a concise, well illustrated book on news design, and that it was badly needed in the news industry.

“Here’s how it started: Tim decided to go for the big time and applied for a job at a weekly newspaper. During that interview he did what many people do — he fibbed a bit about his qualifications.

“Once on the job, he realized what a fine mess he’d gotten himself into and scrambled hard to figure out what the heck he was doing. Within a few weeks he analyzed how things worked at that paper (not an easy task, as you know), as well as news layout, typography tricks, and graphic ideas. He took that information and developed “cheat sheets” to help him design the feature pages. All of those “things” he learned through that baptism of fire …  It was very stressful for him,” she said.

He later graduated to the Features Editor job at the Times-Union in Rochester, NY. There, he worked with J. Ford Huffman, Randy Stano (who would later go on to become president of SND and receive the Lifetime award himself, among many other accomplishments), Dale Peskin and Dierck Casselman – imagine the collective fire power on THAT design desk!


And wherever did he come up with that concept for the cover? They say that if you’re going to borrow, steal from the best, right? Hat tip to Norman Rockwell.

Bookman and Helvetica. An instant classic? Nah… according to Tim his design “inspiration” is finally explained: “Obviously, the only two fonts available in QuarkXpress 1.1 for free!”

OVER THE YEARS — AND SEVEN EDITIONS since 1987 — “The Newspaper Designer’s Handbook” has sold about 100,000 copies. And since used textbooks are sold and resold again and again (and again), who knows what lifetime sales might really total at.

Tim has conducted over 200 workshops, 100 newsroom consultations, and dozens of keynote addresses, often to crowds of 2-to-3,000  — which means he’s spoken to roughly 30,000 high school and college students (but he’s quick to add, that doesn’t mean they listened), which could be a world record.

Robin admitted: “We were surprised to realize that we took zero photos over 20 years worth of workshops! I guess we were just too busy doing other things to think about it….


So now the Handbook is in Russian… Polish… even Chinese! I’ll never forget when students fought over the single Chinese copy Tim gave Denise Reagan and I to take to an SND workshop in China in 2009.

A few years after the Handbook hit its stride, Tim left The Oregonian to do workshops full time and to write the NDH sister project, his second book, Inside Reporting.

Robin summarized it best: It’s safe to say that from college through his professional life that Tim amassed a body of work and experience that he cleverly packaged into both of his books. They represent his creativity and experience, as well as his ability to see things that others may not see and to teach all of it without intimidating his audience. Inside Reporting has sold about 50,000 copies.

So Tim really built an empire out of writing and teaching design, reporting, editing — and THINKING really. He’s also known for some of the best custom slides and presentations in this organization’s history.

We can’t fully capture Tim’s impact without noting a couple other important projects…


For those that somehow don’t know, Tim managed to talk Oregonian editors into letting him write a column. Well, HALF a column technically. It was 6 picas wide. Called The Edge — because of its position on the side of the page, and, well, its tone — it was a unique, one-of-a-kind, self-torture assignment only Tim could assign himself, and then continue one-upping himself, later evolving it into a full-on interactive experience, and an entire pre-internet community. All told, Tim wrote six The Edge columns a week. For three years. Nearly 1,000 Edge columns! That was enough of that.

And contrary to rumors, he was not simultaneously playing guitar for U2.


So what else is there to achieve after all that? Tim set out on a passion project — the CLIMATE MIGRATION GUIDEBOOK — in which he pitted his design superpowers to help save the WORLD! Al Gore has nothing on my man.

So many generations of designers mostly know The Tim Harrower Experience™ from his live shows. Like any good musician, Tim knew that the real money came from touring behind a strong album, so once he had The Handbook worked out, he took his show on the road.

Robin adds: “The first time I attended one of his lectures (this was before we started doing the workshops), I was taken aback to see students and adults from the audience stand in line after his lecture not just to ask him questions but to have him autograph their copies of his books.”

“I could not believe my eyes. Afterwards I asked him if this happened before. He was a bit embarrassed but said it happened all the time. Which it did, and it continued to happen for the entire 20 years of his workshops.”

“After each workshop or speech Tim would always remain behind to answer additional questions, and the folks who waited seemed to have great affection for him. No doubt because they knew that he knew what their work lives were like. And I think he was beloved for that.”


Tim was never shy about putting that big design brain — and bigger heart — on display. He was a steadfast supporter of The Society over the years. He delivered help and inspiration…

…Tim hosted a smackdown game show! Even in his humorous gigs he was extremely focused on details, stage directions, screen resolutions…

… and Tim could always put on a great show! Remember that time he read us a bedtime story in St. Louis?

Speaking of rock and rollers, he hosted our awards program that year, and let his inner minstrel out to play.

It is our absolute honor and privilege to help recognize Timothy James Harrower for his decades of service in teaching, training, transforming modern news design, reporting and editing, and sharing a drive for better design with generations and continents of visual journalists. He always ended his emails with “yours, for better design” and we can think of few others who have cared as much, had the lasting impact on our craft, or done it all with such humor and humility. Thank you, Tim!

Tim Harrower has been an editor, designer and columnist at newspapers large (The Oregonian), mid-sized (The Rochester Times-Union) and small (the Times weeklies in Beaverton, Ore.). He became a journalist in the ’80s after his first career choice — rock ’n’ roll super legend — fizzled out.

Harrower’s first book, “The Newspaper Designer’s Handbook,” has been a fixture in newsrooms and classrooms around the world, translated into Russian, Chinese and Polish. His follow-up, “Inside Reporting,” is America’s most popular news writing textbook.

He’s hosted countless journalism workshops, from high school to top professionals, consulted on redesigns, noodled around with multimedia, composed music and operated a dog-and-frog ranch deep in the Oregon woods with wife, Robin.

READ MORE: The history of SND’s Lifetime Achievement Award

About Steve Dorsey

@Gannett VP innovation. Boards: @INMAorg, @SND. He was the 2011 president of the Society; 2015 Lifetime Award recipient. Dad to Fiona; partner to @paprgrl76. Relocated Detroiter. Tigers fan. Designer. Editor. SU grad.

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