Mario GarciaYou started out as a print journalist and then transitioned to design. Your career has spanned one of the most groundbreaking eras in publishing. Based on your experience, are these good days or bad for the publishing industry?

These are the best days. I know we’re in transition and that there are challenges, but these are the best times to be a storyteller because you can tell stories through various platforms and still have a good narrative.

A good story is going to be read. What hasn’t changed in 42 years for me is that a good story is still what it’s all about.

You have worked with newspapers and magazines all over the world. Which organizations do you think are getting it right?

I’m very impressed with what the Scandinavians are doing. The Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten, for example, is fascinating.

The editor has a total digital mentality but he loves the newspaper. He’s not killing the print edition but he is putting it in a safe. So forget breaking news in a newspaper. The newspaper is a lean-back platform. Give it its space. Remind people that they can relax with it.

aftenposten

Norway’s Aftenposten takes a lean-back approach to its print product.

A big learning curve for newspapers has involved distribution. Today, more readers are getting their news through social media than through homepages. If social is a key distribution channel, how can design drive discovery?

Design is always a process of seduction. I’m going to seduce you with the way a photograph or the cover of a magazine or the front page of a newspaper looks. Your first entrance into that publication, whether the editors will admit it or not, is through design.

Today the competition for eyeballs is greater. You have apps that are beautifully done, you have billboards that are beautifully done. So you have to be a little bolder.

You have to deal with a new bag of tools as a designer, and at the same time you have to preserve the brand.

So it’s really about using visuals to attract an audience in the first place?

Absolutely. And a good story matters, too. There’s such a thing as takeout food wrapped in caviar containers. And the opposite – sometimes a great story is buried behind horrible design.

Design can be used to enhance a great story but it should never be used to camouflage content that doesn’t deserve it.

Design can be used to enhance a great story but it should never be used to camouflage content that doesn’t deserve it.

A lot of your work involves assisting newspapers with redesigns. What do you find is the biggest challenge they face these days?

Nowadays I prefer to use the term reset or rethink. Now you have to rethink an organization from top to bottom. Design is a part of it but you have to acknowledge the change and deal with it.

You have to deal with the visuals, with the storytelling strategies. How can you tell stories on the phone, on the tablet and in print? All of these platforms have different demands and qualities.

The most difficult part of all of this is changing the mentalities of people who still come to work as if the world was only print. You can get technology that is up to speed, but it means nothing if the people who are in charge are not using it well. That’s the biggest challenge.

You’ve mentioned that the mobile editor is the next critical job. Why?

Technical people and journalists have always had a bit of difficulty communicating with each other. Today, technology, storytelling, the economic factor and design have to coexist on a daily basis in every newsroom.

The mobile editor is a person with deep roots in journalism and who understands technology. I don’t mean coding or anything like that. It means they are aware of how different platforms operate and they have some basic notions of the technology that goes into creating content for each of these platforms.

The mobile editor is someone who can say on the drop of a hat, “This is how this story would play on the phone, this is how that story would play on the tablet and this is what we would do in print or online.”

We are beginning to see more of them emerging. But it’s difficult to find them because the journalism schools are not up to it yet.

First you have to train the professors. They have to learn it before they can pass it on. That’s the problem. Legacy is not just in the newsroom. You have legacy in the academic world.