A look inside the amazing book Designing News by Francesco Franchi

I’m attending the Society of News Design annual conference in DC and I can’t hold my pee

To say that I’m looking forward to the upcoming conference for the Society for News Design in Washington D.C. is an understatement. I’m so excited that while registering, I opted to join the organization at the same time.

Why?

For starters, the conference schedule if filled with talks on the intersection of typography, editorial design, technology, and the future of journalism. The speaker line-up is chuck-full of several people whose work and careers I admire — It will be like watching my own Voltron come together. And the venue is one of my favorite places on Earth, the Newseum. As this will be my first SND conference, I didn’t want to take a chance that this kind of magic comes together every spring, so I pounced and bought a ticket.

I don’t think I’ve been this excited about attending a conference since SXSW in 2002. And just like in the good old days, I thought I’d channel some of that energy into a post about what I’m looking forward to seeing in Washington.

Now, I’m going to prattle on like a fanboy here so deal with it or go home.


To kick things off we’ve got the Richard Saul Wurman, you know, the author of phenominal books such as Information Architects and Information Anxiety? The guy who started the TED conference. This guy is the original information architect. Admittedly, I’d love this man to be the hip, cool grandparent I never had so my judgement might be clouded here. Richard could show vacation slides from 1988 while eating a pastrami sandwich, and he’d still have my undivided attention. That said, RSW will discuss listening and understanding (the subject of many of his books) as the basis for design.

Quick question, what’s black and white and red all over? Answer: Roger Black’s portfolio! I first learned of Roger through his book on web design published in 1996, and I’ve admired his work ever since. The founder of ye olde Interactive Bureau and Font Bureau, and the designer behind many newspapers, magazines, and websites. Roger will speak on “typography as the relationship between elements, instead of layouts.” This guy made a career out of turning typography, rules, and compositions into visual gold — long before things like the Macintosh existed — so you know it’s going to be good.

You may recall the responsive (RWD) re-design of the Boston Globe? It was a big deal back then, and it’s still a big deal now. Dan Zedek, the assistant managing editor for design, will talk about how the site carries on, three years after Ethan and the Filament Group delivered the goods. Early assumption: All lights are still green for go.

In the same vein, Mike Schwartz will join his clients from the Minneapolis Star Tribune to talk about the redesign of the newspaper’s website. The session title, “Digital Redesign: Simple Lessons, Complicated Process,” sounds intriguing. Who doesn’t like to see and hear how a project unfolded? Bam!

Next up, Designing News author, Francesco Franchi. Wait…are you freaking kidding me?! When Francesco’s book arrived at my door, I took it out for drinks and tried to get it pregnant behind the middle school. I don’t think I’ve managed to read it cover-to-cover because I can’t get past drooling over all of the gorgeous pictures of the featured work. Seriously though, Francesco’s essays on the current state and future of news make for a great read. If you haven’t read it yet, make it happen. At SND DC Francesco will talk about his redesign of IL Sole 24 and it’s going to rock.

Where were you on May 15, 2014, when the New York Times Innovation report leaked? I was in my office, and immediately dropped what I was doing, grabbed a copy, and read the whole thing through. Then I printed a copy, read it again while taking notes. It was, and still is, a goldmine of insight and ideas for anyone who designs for content (sorry, stories). Roughly a year later, Ian Adelman, the Times’ Director of Digital, will present on “The Ongoing Redesign of The New York Times Digital Experience.” Side note: In the early days at Airbag Industries, we had the opportunity to work with Ian while he was at the New York Magazine. Since then I have I admired his work and his vacations. This guy is the Steve McQueen of the industry and if there were Tinder for news designers and Ian was on it…I’d swipe right.

There are some typefaces that I could stare at all day long, and one of those is Guardian Egyptian Text. I’d love to start a newspaper just so I had a reason to use it all day long. Alex Breuer, creative director from The Guardian, will talk about “keeping the craft of good editorial design thinking alive in a world of algorithms, acronyms, and complex responsive systems.” Alex spoke with Ethan and Karen on the Responsive Web Design podcast about this subject, and I hope this presentation will be an extension of that discussion. If you’re not familiar with this work, stop reading and go savor the design crack that is The Guardian on iOS.

I would consider giving a body part to work at Vox Media. So, with that in mind, there is no way I’m going to miss “One Year of Vox.com — What We’re Learning.” These guys are at dead center in the intersection of design, technology, journalism, and whatever the hell social is supposed to be. Vox keeps on their toes, and the results are amazing. I know they have put in a lot of effort on their backend tools, and I’m hoping we’ll get to hear a bit about that side of the business as well.

When I first pulled up Nautilus, my jaw dropped. Code and Theory, the studio behind the design of that site, does impressive work, to say the least. Even now, I’ll visit Nautilus just to play with the sliding cover and gawk at the art direction underneath. Code and Theory’s work on Bloomberg Business and LA Times are just as impressive and worth a tour around wherever the site’s navigation will take you. Can’t wait to hear more about their culture and attitude toward design.

“Designing for Your Ears,” a session on the evolution of NPR One. I need not write any further, done and done!

Lastly, then there is Rob King. You may remember Rob King from such interviews as, “All Sports Everything: Inside the studio where ESPN is betting billions on the future of sports.” Based on The Verge article and Rob’s position, I assume his keynote will focus on the roles and functions of reporting of the news in an ever-evolving multi-device/multi-platform world. While I doubt the role of design will come up, I look forward to Rob’s insights and inspiration.

And that’s just the people I know about already. There are a slew of crazy talented folks who I hope to get to know. It’s going to be a busy three days.


The icing on the cake is the venue. Last spring I had the opportunity to tour the Newseum for the first time. The experience brought back so many memories including those of my early career ambitions. In high school, I studied architecture and art, but graphic design had my heart. We had one Macintosh Plus with an external 20MB hard drive and a copy of Aldus Pagemaker. While the hockey players tried to figure out how to make fake IDs with it, I created signs, school newspaper compositions, and “paste-up boards” for the yearbook. My intention was to study graphic design in college and work at the Anchorage Daily News. I took a bit of a different turn and ended up studying advertising with a bit of journalism.

Touring the Newseum last year reminded me not only of my earlier ambition, but of the type of design that fuels my passion. It also helped to explain why I continue to buy so many magazines and newspapers simply to gawk at the typography, art direction, and compositions. I can’t stop, won’t stop. And it’s because of this passion that I decided to give SND membership a try. I have no idea what to expect, but if they continue to put on such a great events at amazing venues, then I want to be a part of it.

In addition to all of this badassery, across the street from the Newseum is the Capital Grill. That’s right, there is a steakhouse 100 ft., door-to-door, from the event venue. For those who know me, you might think divine intervintion is in play here. Last time I was at this Capital Grill, a grizzled old man came in with his copy of the Washington Post, sat next to me at the bar, and ordered two 18 year Irish whiskeys for lunch.

I can’t wait to see him again.


If you’re attending SND DC, let’s connect and say hello. Its been a long time since I’ve gone to a conference by myself, and it would be great to meet fellow aspiring aficionados of design for the news.

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