You’ve been an art director at Time for the past 15 years, which may have been the most transformative period in journalism ever. How has your role changed over the years?
Certainly, the digital landscape has dramatically changed our industry over the past few years. It’s an exciting transformation that shifts virtually every day and gives visual journalists an entirely new set of tools with which to tell their stories.
Fortunately, what hasn’t changed is the importance of clear, concise and impactful storytelling. Time’s founders set out to do just that more than 80 years ago and it continues to be our mission today, no matter how our content is delivered to our millions of weekly readers.
Time was one of the first magazines to launch on the iPad in 2010. Do you have the same designers working on the print and digital editions?
I’m proud of the fact that the same art directors who produce the weekly print newsmagazine also design Time’s multiple tablet editions. So as they’re conceiving layouts for the magazine, they’re also thinking about how those layouts will translate to the tablets. And they’re working with our photography and video editors to integrate multimedia content.
The shiny new thing in the web design world these days is responsive design. Do you see Time moving in a direction where, instead of building a bespoke app for each platform, you have one responsively-designed website that works on all screens?
What’s great about Time is its openness to smarter ways of producing and delivering our content. Responsive design is relatively new and we’re certainly testing it in theory to see whether it makes sense in our current workflow.
You may be the only person ever who has made the jump from sportswriter to Design Director.* What has your background taught you about the relationship between content and design?
Ironically, I tend to view them as the same. In both cases, the challenge is to take the reader through a story – whether as a college basketball and PGA Tour beat writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution or as an art director involved in some of the biggest news events of the past decade. It’s all about the story – whether written or designed.
I spent more than 10 years as a writer, so I still tend to approach each story from that perspective, even though my primary focus is to make it visually appealing for the reader.
Time is famous for its iconic and sometimes controversial covers, with their striking portraits and distinctive red borders. But how important is the cover of a magazine in an age where content is often consumed out of context?
It’s even more important now. It’s no surprise that our lives are completely bombarded with information clutter every second of the day. When a brand I trust can sift through that immense amount of information and deliver it to me in virtually any form I want, it’s refreshing.
When you strip all that noise away and discover a place that makes you smarter, it’s invaluable. That’s what Time and the red border is for me.
You’ve art directed more than 150 Time covers, including the 9/11 anniversary issue, the last two Person of the Year covers and the deaths of Osama Bin Laden and Steve Jobs. But a magazine cover is the product of both design and editorial decision-making. Can you give us a window into this delicate process of collaboration?
That’s the fun part! The cover of Time, as you would imagine, is an extremely collaborative process with everyone given a chance to have their opinion heard.
We do some advance planning, particularly on non-news cover stories, but most weeks the process kicks into high gear on Tuesday (we close the cover Wednesday afternoon). It’s not uncommon to have a dozen or more concepts to choose from each week.
In addition to your print, iPad and international editions, Time has a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Tumblr. How do you maintain a consistent brand across these different platforms, some of which are more customizable than others?
Actually, these sites are more customizable than you think. You may not be able to change the designs of each one, but that’s not what’s really important here.
The customization comes in the curation. Each social network that Time joins will reach a different set of readers. (We are on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Tumblr, but we’re also on Instagram, Foursquare and Pinterest.)
Our Facebook following is quite international compared with our other social followings. We post more foreign pieces than we would on Pinterest, which caters more to women in the U.S. We’re able to embody Time on all of these networks because the brand is so versatile.
D.W. Pine will be speaking at the 2012 Custom Content Conference, which takes place March 21-23 in Washington D.C. Sparksheet readers are entitled to the member rate discount by registering with promo code “sparkDC”
*Editor’s note: I stand corrected. Writing on the American Copy Editors Society blog, Charles Apple points out that are actually a lot of journalists who have made the transition from sportswriter to designer. Thanks, Charles. Feel free to continue calling me out on “dumb comments”!