In the last months I have been working on the redesign and design of a publication for its both print and online platforms.
This is the 32nd (or 33rd – lost account) publication I design/redesign. And like in every project I do, I get excited, passionated, thinking almost 24hrs about it. I definitely enjoy the challenge of bringing innovation at all levels.
At this point in my career, looking to all those projects in the past and analysing all the decisions and steps I am taking in this project now, I came with a thought that for me represents the essence of what design is and what guides me in every decision I take as a visual journalist:Design can never say “here I am”. It should always say “look who I brought”.
This visual principle can make a publication catchy. A cover or page memorable.
I hope you agree.
It’s very interesting the analysis that the @NYTimes twitter team made about what they learned during one entire year. They share lot of interesting points, from the post that worked better (and why) to the problems and workflow of photo-credits on their posts.
But what really called my attention was the promise of the team to find ways to interact more with readers, although mentioning moments where he expects, as a news organization, ”to remain above the fray”:When other types of companies face a maelstrom of outrage on social media, they tend to use their social media platforms to respond to people who have been angered, seeing them in part as customers or potential customers. But as a news organization, we expect @NYTimes to remain above the fray to a certain degree, delivering our journalism and not getting caught in the middle of how it is received. It’s difficult to imagine the Times as an institution responding to individual Twitter users like an airline might respond to upset passengers. But finding a suitable way to recognize and engage sincere criticism of our journalism that reaches us via social media would be a suitable use of such platforms. In 2015, we need to spend more time thinking about ways to be responsive to readership that comes to us from social media
I’ve spent some time using the new BuzzFeed app launched this week. It’s an interesting case to study, in sense of journalism, market and news-design.
As a designer, one of the first things that I missed was the information hierarchy. The app’s main screen is called Catch Up. The first thing you see on launch is the Quickly Catch Up module, and then the rest of the main stream of the app is a mix of stories from BuzzFeed and other outlets. But the wrong use of information design results in a confused navigation. You can easily get lost and tired while going through the different articles.
On the other hand, the articles load fast, in contrast with many mobile news sites. It’s so far the best performance I have ever experienced in any news app. And yes, this is directly connected to the design decisions you take.
As a journalist, the approach from BuzzFeed impressed me a lot. The app is everything the website isn’t: news-focused, fast and serious. It doesn’t have any LOL or “cute!” logos to click, probably trying to solve a trust problem of the website (interesting article about it here).
If this is going to work or not, only the time will tell us.
Will be interesting to see how the App will develop in the next months. In an interview with the BuzzFeed news-apps editor Stacy-Marie Ishmael this week, she says:“It’s helpful to signal to people when they’ve “finished” something, even though news itself is never “over.” It’s also useful from an editorial perspective — did what we select form a cohesive and useful whole for someone browsing through? And endless scroll is a challenging user experience on mobile”
For me, this is one of the main positive points on the app: a feeling of a real selection in the huge universe of interesting stories, instead of the “endlessly scrolling articles” function that many News products are using in the last time and can be really challenging when it’s about mobile navigation.
After basically one year of its publication, I read again one of the most remarkable documents I’ve seen, and noticed something that I saw in different countries in almost all newsrooms that i developed any digital project in the last years: You can feel the frustration at a newsroom that is, even with digital steps done, still oriented by an old model.
Seeing one of the world’s leading news organisations, like the NYT, giving itself a rigorous self-examination, when its about newsroom innovation and digital strategy, is inspiring.
I recommend the reading of the full report (in the end of this post). Here are some of my takeways:
“Readers are finding and engaging with our jour-nalism in vastly different ways. More readers ex-pect us to find them on Twitter and Facebook, andthrough email and phone alerts. But the newsroompays less attention to these platforms, even thoughthey offer our main, and sometimes only, channelsto tens of millions of readers.”
“Because we are journalists, we tend to look at ourcompetitors through the lens of content rather thanstrategy. But BuzzFeed, Huffington Post and USAToday are not succeeding simply because of lists,quizzes, celebrity photos and sports coverage. Theyare succeeding because of their sophisticated social,search and community-building tools and strate-gies, and often in spite of their content.”
“The need is urgent. Our home page has been our main tool for getting our journalism to readers, but its impact is waning. Only a third of our readers ever visit it. And those who do visit are spending less time”
“Real experimentation is about adopting a rigorous, scientific method for proving new concepts and constantly tweaking them to be as successful as possible. This is how every major digital innovator — including Google and Amazon — works today (…) We must push back against our perfectionist impulses. Though our journalism always needs to be polished, our other efforts can have some rough edges as we look for new ways to reach our readers.”
“If our Collection tool were intuitive and easy to use, we could encourage readers to drag and drop a group of stories into their own collections, which they could then share. This is an opportunity to em-power readers to make something on our site with less risk to our brand.”
“Tools, templates and permanent fixes can elevate the whole report”
“That runs counter to the approach at so many ofour digital competitors. “We are focused on build-ing tools to create Snowfalls everyday, and gettingthem as close to reporters as possible,” said KevinDelaney, editor of Quartz, which is known for inno- vative storytelling formats. “I’d rather have a Snow-fall builder than a Snowfall.”
“This contrast helps illustrate one of the biggest obstacles to our digital success. We have a tendency to pour resources into big one-time projects and work through the one-time fixes needed to create them, and overlook the less glamorous work of creating tools,templates and permanent fixes that cumulatively can have a bigger impact by saving our digital journalists time and elevating the whole report. We greatly undervalue replicability.”
“We’ve heard time and again that younger readersare moving away from browsing and that they in-creasingly expect news to come to them, on social,through alerts and through personalization. Thereis a sense that “if something is important, it will findme.” We are far behind in adjusting to these trends”
“We could create a “follow” button that offers read-ers a variety of ways to curate and receive their ownnews feeds, ensuring they never miss a Modern Loveor Maureen Dowd column. With a single click, theirfavorite topics, features and writers could automati-cally be collected in a Following Inbox. We couldalso offer readers the opportunity to have alertsabout new stories sent to their phone or email.”
“The percentage of readers who visit BuzzFeedthrough social, for example, is more than six timesgreater than at The Times. They have learned,among other things, that a great Facebook post has become a better promotional device than a head-line and that the impact of social is even greateron mobile”
“Promotion doesn’t just meanusing social media sites likeTwitter and Facebook. Emailand search are also powerfuldrivers of traffic. Anotheris optimization, the use ofspecialized tools and tactics todraw readers and keep themreading. At competitors, thisis done story by story andplatform by platform, beforeand after publication.”
“One approach would be to create an “impact tool- box” and train an editor on each desk to use it. Thetoolbox would provide strategy, tactics and tem-plates for increasing the reach of an article beforeand after it’s published.”
“Most of the social networks’traffic comes fromsmartphones. That’s why ourcompetitors say the key towinning mobile is to win onsocial”
“To help promote the Kristof collection, we pulledtogether a list of relevant, influential people whocould spread the word about it on social media.This work could be automated and turned into aninternal tool, which we could use to help promoteour best journalism on social media.”
“There is no reason that the space filled by TEDTalks, with tickets costing $7,500, could not have been created by The Times. “One of our biggest con-cerns is that someone like The Times will start a realconference program,” said a TED executive.”
“For example, our mobile app, “The Scoop,” andour international home page have failed to gaintraction with readers, yet we still devote resourcesto them. We ended the Booming blog but kept itsnewsletter going. These ghost operations distracttime, energy and resources that could be used fornew projects. At the same time, we haven’t tried to wring insights from these efforts. “There were nometrics, no targets, no goals to hit and no period ofre-evaluation after the launch,” said a digital plat-forms editor, about our international home page.”
” The newsroom should begin anintensive review of its print traditions and digitalneeds — and create a road map for the difficult tran-sition ahead. We need to know where we are, where we’re headed and where we want to go. (…) That means aggressively questioning many of ourprint-based traditions and their demands on ourtime, and determining which can be abandoned tofree up resources for digital work”
“Instead of running mobile on autopilot, we need to view the platform as an experience that demands its own quality control and creativity.”
“When it takes 20 months to build one thing, your skill set becomes less about innovation and more about navigating bureaucracy. That means the longer you stay, the more you’re doubling down on staying even longer”
“Our internal fixation on it can be unhealthy,disproportionate and ultimately counterproductive.Just think about how many points in our day are stilloriented around A1 — from the 10 a.m. meeting tothe summaries that reporters file in the early after-noon to the editing time that goes into those summa-ries to the moment the verdict is rendered at 4:30″
In the last years, in the more than 30 newspapers and magazined I have worked for, I saw covers, pages and infographics that I did, copied by other publications. I always took this as a praise, but this case now went too far.
A publication called ABC, from Poland, copied basically the entire graphic project I developed for Bild am Sonntag. Yesterday I saw the original newspaper from them and its unbelievable what they did. Formats, elements, borders, boxes, colors…..etc etc.
This was an entire year of work, tests and nights trying to figure out the best solutions for the biggest sunday newspaper in Europe, and they copied just like this? This time I felt in somehow stolen.
I selected some very few things to post here (although there are many more):
I always repeat that is possible to do Visualstorytelling at a high level in a popular newspaper. Today it was confirmed again with 4 Awards of Excellence in the USA, at the SND – Best of News design Creative Competition, with Bild am Sonntag.I don’t believe popular newspapers have to be ugly, as I hear many people repeating so many times. Finding the right language is the key.
As I always say when I give workshops or lectures: 60% of our brain is active in visual processing, 45% of people respond better to visuals, 70% of your sensory receptors are in your eyes and the brain processes visuals 60.000 times faster than text. What else we need to know to bring it to our “boulevard” (as people call it in Germany) pages?
So here are the great news from New York:
Also proud of the team work in the sport page above, with the talented designer Marco Bratsch and the great illustrator Rafal Piekarski.
On the “50 best beaches” pages, an amazing photo research by the Photo Editor Alexander Blum.
Sure, I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Tim Cook, the CEO of the company that changed the way we make calls, watch TV, listen to music, and also of course, the way we read news.
I met Tim last week, using already his Apple Watch. He described how Apple think about people’s daily life and how they try to make simple activities from our day easier and better. For me, this way of seeing a product, is the big difference between Apple and the industry.
Listening to that, reminded me the fundamentals that we all should follow in every project we do as a designer or as a Visual Journalist. Thinking about our readers and its experience with our Stories, Graphics…etc is the basics before developing any project or telling any story. In fact, visual storytelling exist exclusively to tell a story in an easier way, exploring all the visual devices the reader can access.
Today, in California, Tim introduced more details about the Apple Watch.
As a visual storyteller, will be a great challenge to explore all the new possibilities the Apple Watch will give us to tell stories and to interact with readers.
photos by Niels Starnick
I was at Paris airport when the news spread that few miles away from there, 12 people were killed at the office of the French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo.
A hard way to back to work after vacations. Four days after the terror began, here is what I did for page one this sunday, 11.01.2015 (translation: “It’s not over”):
Today in the morning I got some few emails from some people from Serbia telling me that my work was copied and asking my opinion about that.
It’s not the first time that it happens with me, but this sunday were 2 pages of mine copied in the same edition of the “Blic” from Serbia.
But like I always say when I give workshops or lectures, this is the best compliment I can always get.
Just for the records: understanding visually the story you wanna tell, improving the process and how your visual journalists work, will give a jump on the quality of “visual storytelling” of your paper to another level. This is the best way in the long run.
So the great news of the day: Got 3 awards at the European Newspapers Award!
One of them is very special: the cover for the final of the WordCup.
That day I left the newsroom without any good solution. And when I was about to sleep, EUREKA! (It was when I turned on my computer again to do it)
The result: one of our top selling covers of the year and today this award.
The other two pages was a work done together in team with the 2 very talented designers I am honored to have in my team and to work with: Marco Bratsch and Rafal Piekarski.