You went to journalism school and identify yourself as a “caffeinated” journalist on Twitter. How does journalistic thinking infuse your work as a designer?
I have been a journalist for nearly my entire life, with my first newspaper job in fifth grade. However, I have been a designer throughout my 10+-year professional career.
I came to web design via communication and information design for print newspapers and magazines. I fell in love with working on the internet the moment that I realized that writing code is designing information.
Both news designers and web designers are burdened with the same things: organizing information so that it is discoverable as well as rationally arranged, illustrating ideas that deepen the understanding of content, and working within a set of constraints.
You and Dave Wright from NPR began your talk at SXSW saying you wouldn’t talk about “above the fold.” But I have to ask: Is there a “fold” online? Does it matter?
Most of the terminology used to describe web design stems from print-focused design, i.e. “canvas” and “above the fold,” and it is time for us to let it go.
The web is an infinitely flexible medium opposed to print, which is finite with absolute measures, and a definite beginning and end. Language matters and words used should be appropriate to the medium.
How closely do you work with the sales department in determining ad placement on the site?
Currently, we are not running any advertorial content on BostonGlobe.com. It is a subscriber-supported site, so we have not tackled any of the design challenges that arise around advertorial just yet.
That said, the Globe is a collaborative work environment, so when there is a business need for new advertising positions, the design team works with the sales and operations team to develop a solution.
I should also mention that last fall, our design and development teams prototyped and ended up running some responsive advertising creative across the top of BostonGlobe.com for a month. It was kind of fun, getting to invent something for one of our clients.
How closely do you collaborate with the print design team at the Globe? Would you describe the newspaper’s approach as “digital first,” or are you still essentially translating a print project to the web on a daily basis?
The Globe’s presentation team is comprised of both digital and print designers and a few programmers. By and large, we all sit next to one another and the digitally focused team members primarily take the lead on training the print designers to work on the portfolio of digital offerings.
The Globe has been publishing web-first for five or so years now. The newsroom cultural transition happened well before my time in Boston, as I have been with the Globe for a little over a year and a half.
Jeffrey Zeldman once told us: “Content informs design; design without content is decoration.” How would you characterize the relationship between content and design in the editorial world?
Well, I am not sure anything is different in the editorial world, per se, though I have been known to liken the relationship of design and content – as well as the relationship of visual design and development – to the popular sand ceremony often performed during weddings.
In this ceremony, a couple pours various colours of sand into a vessel symbolizing their union. Like the grains of sand, once combined the relationship between content, design and development is very difficult to separate.
By now, I would hope that we have all learned that designing in a vacuum is a big “no-no” and design systems defined without real content tend to fall flat.
There was lots of talk at SXSW about designers playing leadership roles in newsrooms, acting as bridges between silos and departments. I believe you used the term “power brokers” during your talk. How do you see your role as a designer within your organization?
The work of the web designer goes well beyond pixel-pushing beautification and rare is the project that has no need for a designer. At one point or another, nearly all departments cross paths with the design team in order to execute a project, and the most successful ones engage the designer from concept to completion.
Therefore, a designer is uniquely positioned to be one of the most informed people in an organization, knowing most of the idiosyncrasies of all the moving parts. As an aside, this is also the reason that I think web designers make really powerful product managers and project managers.
Newspaper websites have been around long enough that certain design elements and practices have almost become cliché (as your co-presenter David Wright put it, “We’re passing around these coding and UX habits like a dirty needle”). What are some common editorial design tropes that need to be purged?
Oh wow, where to start?! Dave and I both like to talk about how many design decisions get made following the determination of advertising positions. Occasionally we bemoan that, as an industry, we refer to these positions as “requirements.” This, like in the “above the fold” question, is something we inherited from print.
On top of that, since the industry also needed a system that could be standardized for advertising networks, we created a design pattern that includes “the right rail” and “banner-blindness” problems. We cheapened our own products.
In terms of designing stories, specifically, editorial web designers depend far too heavily on software (i.e. Flash). Learning to write real code is not magic, it’s just hard work.
Also, I feel strongly that web design needs more editorial designers, especially in key positions at medium- to large-scale publishers. The best editorial designers are good at enhancing, often deepening, readers’ understanding of stories and published content.
Thanks to decades of establishing best practices and relationships with writers and editors, their strength is in the additional value added to content when the written word and visual design are skillfully and strategically combined.
More on The Sparkbeat: Miranda Mulligan explains how BostonGlobe.com’s cutting-edge responsive design affects the newsroom.