By Brad Needham

The Star Tribune has long been a great newspaper. One of the best, not only in terms of newspaper design, but as a news source for its audience. I feel like a bit of an authority because I was inspired by the Star Tribune when I was tasked with doing a full redesign of the Guelph Mercury way back in 2008. Two papers disproportionately were reflected in the final product: the Virginian-Pilot (once the best designed newspaper in the world IMHO) and the Star Tribune.

A funny thing about newspaper design though. For the most part, other than once a year at design competitions, which are becoming less and less common (thank you to the Society for News Design for keeping them alive), those who design newspaper pages are anonymous. Faceless and nameless, they are the part of team that executes, and often conceptualizes, the designs we see on newspaper front pages every day. Unlike reporters with bylines, or magazine designers, who often get named on the inside cover, we don’t know who did that design. You know, that design that took your breath away when you pulled the newspaper out of the bag that you picked up from your doorstep. Come on, it can’t be just me. That is why I do these designer spotlights. To get them the attention they deserve. So when, on a whim, I reached out to Stacie Kammerling, a designer from a newspaper I have the utmost respect for, I was hopeful, but you just never know. I hadn’t seen her work before reaching out. I have high design standards, and my own design biases as to what works, what’s cliché and what didn’t work.

Well … Mind. Blown. Stacie is a phenomenal talent. So for this post, I gambled and won. But if you’re reading this, you win, too. Stacie was kind enough to answer a pile of questions I sent her and to send me very thoughtful responses. I am grateful for that. And a funny thing happened on the way to this profile. I do this to get others the attention they deserve, those like Stacie. And what did she do? She thrust others into the spotlight I provided her. She is a true collaborator, and clearly someone who absorbs what others are saying. And now I turn it over to Stacie.

Star Tribune, Sept. 19, 2020

A Q & A with Stacie Kammerling, Star Tribune

Q: How did you get into newspaper design?

A: In a roundabout way, I actually fell into news design. As a teen I loved how art felt accessible to me through editorial illustration, so I applied to art school with dreams of working at a magazine. There were no illustration programs in Indiana that I knew of, so I chose a degree in art with a concentration in visual communication at Ball State University. As a first generation student, I liked the idea of a multidisciplinary program studying both fine art and graphic design. But a year into art school, I felt a bit disillusioned. Artists I knew hadn’t landed jobs post-graduation. I felt like the program wasn’t fully preparing students to build a path for a career. I was terrified of my future student loans and providing for myself to live on my own.

Design as a practice can be a lot of ego, and it’s very important to listen to what readers want beyond what you’ve always provided them.

Meanwhile, the independent school newspaper, the Ball State Daily News, was looking for staff. I really wanted more experience with editorial design, so I volunteered to work a few night shifts a week. I met so many creative, kind, and determined people. It opened my world to discovering journalism and expanded my idea of what information design could be. I really liked how collaborative the Unified Media Lab felt. Designers, reporters, graphic artists and photographers all shared techniques and ideas. I surprised myself by continuing, I often hated most pages I did. The quick deadlines were a huge stress. I was very hard on myself, though the process made me much more resilient as a designer and person.

I was very influenced by the 2016 U.S. election during my senior year as I was deciding on a path after college. I wanted to feel like I could contribute to truth-telling, fighting misinformation and even just the documentation of history that newspapers provide. Ryan Sparrow, who led the journalism graphics program and now works for USA today, was a huge influence in showing me future paths I could take via journalism. So I moved to the Villages, Florida for my first job as a production editor at the retirement community’s newspaper. I learned so much about not just newspaper design, but celebrating community, how to edit down information and headlines to get at the core of a topic, and how important it is to be part of and understand your readership. Design as a practice can be a lot of ego, and it’s very important to listen to what readers want beyond what you’ve always provided them.

What do you like about newspaper design? What makes it different from other design? 

I really like that newspaper design is first and foremost focused on the reader. It’s a service for disseminating information and giving readers not only access to information, but curating it so they can clearly see what matters and why they should care.

There is still a big push for innovation, surprise and alternative storytelling within newspaper design, despite dwindling print opportunities for designers. Choosing a career in print news design in this decade is scary. But the bar has never been higher for how we can take care of presenting information for the people who prefer it, cherish it and truly look forward to their paper. I like knowing the audience truly deeply cares about every page we make, even if the form is often temporary. When it’s not temporary, as in for historic and special occasions, the paper is even more special to me as a document of history.

To me news design differs from most other forms of design in that it is very utilitarian. There is a (mostly) clear ethical pact that separates visual journalists from other designers. Knowing there are distinct standards to publication and storytelling make it a more trustworthy institution as both a designer and reader. And an inspiring one as journalists analyze the way we’ve always done things and how we can change century-old institutions to make our processes more equitable, accessible and useful as the world becomes rightfully more so.

Another thing I’ve found comforting and inspiring is how many nontraditional paths lead to the same place. A majority of my colleagues at the Star Tribune didn’t study newspaper design or reporting specifically, we bring our wide and varied backgrounds to a job where we learn and grow as we go. A great majority of what I have learned has been on the job. I didn’t have a news or editorial internship before graduating college, so being taken under the wing of many has been extremely formative and I am forever grateful to them. The culture of protecting and helping one another in such a cutthroat industry is invaluable.

What was the most fun you have had with a design? 

In August 2021 I got to conceptualize and design a special section for the Minnesota State Fair. The 10-day fair is a huge deal in Minnesota and the upper Midwest. I wanted to illustrate live scenes from the fair, so I spent a couple days drawing all around the fairgrounds. It was a bit stressful and overwhelming at first, but the quick nature of life drawing soon felt like the quick and precise process I do designing a new front page every day.

After sketching I scanned drawings onto a big inside spread and arranged them. For the cover, I did a much longer drawing using oil pastels. I wrote a bit about my experience and what it means to truly stop and see the world around us. It was an honour to be able to share something vulnerable like that with readers, especially at an event many deeply care about.

Star Tribune, Sept. 3, 2021

Do you rely on one design principle more than others (white space, text as design, colour, cutouts, etc.)?

I most often work on “hard” news and the front page, so my daily job involves honing in on the cleanest, easiest to digest designs as possible. As well as communication across departments so that we can all get a bit of what we need. I would say the one design principle I rely on most often is “the grid.” Especially building modular grids that can easily adjust as stories and news changes. The style at the Star Tribune is very clean and compact, while also giving room for large photography and informational breakouts. So finding ways to best tell stories that feel manageable for the reader is my biggest challenge day to day.

Tell me about a design idea you loved that was rejected or just wasn’t working so you had to abandon it. 

It’s really hard for me to think of one! My editors have always been supportive of my creativity and ideas, often pushing them to make them stronger. I’m super grateful for the trust and guidance I’ve been given, especially as a young designer still learning more every day. For the front page, which I’m most often found designing, tweaks to my drafts are much more common. It can be frustrating at times. I find ways to compromise a lot — not the sense of giving in — but finding ways to align all of our interests in the newsroom.

The Star Tribune was one of the papers that inspired me while redesigning the Guelph Mercury. Do you have newspapers that inspire you from a design standpoint? 

The Star Tribune has such a rich history and has been an inspiration for me too! I’ve especially loved exploring old covers and special projects, such as the huge artful poster covers from our Taste cover archive during its 50th anniversary in 2019.

Star Tribune, Oct. 3, 2019

I was very inspired by the unique voice and ethos of the Villages Daily Sun before working there from 2017-2018. In college I was very inspired by the intersection of art and journalism in Matt Haney’s work at the Omaha World Herald and Martin Gee’s work at Time magazine. I loved seeing how designers could be a vital part to telling a story, not just putting words and pictures on a page. The ability to bring their expertise in art and typography to the table really elevated and showcased journalism in a fun and surprising way. Print publications that give the space for visuals to shine create a more dynamic and interesting story, in my opinion.

Time Magazine, Martin Gee

On that, can you think of any designs that blew you away, at your paper or elsewhere? Anything that stands out? 

I think the things that blow me away the most aren’t necessarily page designs, but unexpected interactive work that extends into the local community, both telling their stories and inviting them to participate. I loved Martina Ibáñez-Baldor’s work on the Chicano Moratorium project (especially the zine) for the L.A. Times.

Los Angeles Times, August 2020

The most inspiring things for me involve physicality, bringing handmade touches to the print product. I’m still learning what draws me to it. I think seeing the influence and texture of hand-crafted art transports me into a story more than digital art can at times. I believe allowing the design to be as clean and simple as possible to let art and photography shine can make a huge impact. And highlight what the reader really needs to make meaning of a story.

After the death of Sid Hartman, the Star Tribune’s sports writer and columnist of 75 years, design director Greg Mees designed a beautiful special section to honor him and share his story, office and memories from friends and family. It was so touching and the oil painting commissioned for the cover really blew me away. (EDS note: I saw this page at last year’s Society for News Design awards, and it absolutely blew me away as well. Greg Mees, on top of being a super kind dude, is also a world-class designer. And btw, the next instalment of the awards are coming soon and I couldn’t be more excited!)

Q: Why do you think newspaper design still matters?

I think newspaper design still matters because of the distinct need for informational direction and credible service-based and solutions journalism. There’s so much news happening and a daily snapshot of the state of the world is important for breaking information down into something digestible. What do we need to know about what’s happening in our communities right now? How can we help support a cause, business or person? Beyond following the processes newspapers have always held, I believe conversations about what the future looks like is vital. How are we reaching people where they are, asking what matters to readers and including them in not only the product but the process?

While this is often a nameless, faceless job, it’s a huge part of the newsmaking process, as anyone reading this blog knows. It’s not just throwing things on a page, but allowing space for stories that need it, being flexible, even encouraging edit after edit to ensure a journalist’s work is displayed in the best light possible. The way we design something can shape the way readers see and understand important stories.

Star Tribune, Oct. 25, 2020
Star Tribune, May 31, 2020

Q: How often do you get to conceptualize big ideas? I know bigger papers often have a team. What’s the process like for you there? 

While much of my work is started and finished in a matter of hours for the next day’s paper, I also work on larger projects every other month or so. Collaboration is still an important part of the process, which I really enjoy.

After reading a brief about the story, or sometimes the story itself, I talk to the photo team to see what they have in mind, or more frequently for larger projects, work on creating art myself. Talking to the graphics team and editor of the section are also important steps in the process of gathering all the pieces. Booking out the stories and art is another early step that can take quite some time to visualize the best way to present a longer narrative. Here is one of the larger projects I worked on about how businesses were still waiting for aid and struggling to stay open one year after the 2020 unrest in Minneapolis.

Q: It might be like picking favourite family members, but if you had to pick a few favourite pages, what would they be and why?

My bread and butter has really been designing front pages for breaking news. I am most often drafting ideas in minutes. It can feel hard to feel ownership over these things, it’s entirely collaborative and often happens so quickly it’s hard to take a step back. And since coming into the newspaper world in 2017, many many nights have looked like that. While I am proud of and live in those high-speed moments, I am most proud of pages where I can put a little more time into, including ones that I can show a bit of myself and the art I love to make.

HOLIDAY BOOKS

In December I created a seven-layer linocut print for the annual Holiday Books gift guide. This was a huge undertaking as the biggest print I have created as a printmaker, as well as pretty complex with many colors. In my art practice, I carve each linoleum or rubber block by hand, layer by layer. So every colour is a different layer. I often work on one-coloor prints, but wanted to really play with colour to capture the mood I had in mind.

Our holiday books guide always features a winter scene. I was inspired by snowy downtown Minneapolis, a place I walk often. I liked the idea of a person reading at a bus stop, finding beauty in the liminal space between where they came from and where they’re going.

INSURRECTION

Last January I drafted our front page for the Capitol Insurrection around 4 p.m. and followed that through the night as more photography and reactions came through. It was astonishing to witness and I’m proud of where we landed with striking imagery and language on a tight deadline. The challenge of this night was developing our voice on the situation as it was happening. How do we make sure we’re being accurate in describing what happened? Fair and objective on a fraught political topic? Being in a large newsroom we have a 1A planning editor and several other editors that really dig into this, which is immensely helpful for me as I work with them and make the rest of the paper.

Star Tribune, Jan. 7, 2021

TURKEY COLOURING

For our Thanksgiving paper I was asked to create the turkey for our annual kids colouring contest. This was the first block print I’ve made for work, which felt like a special moment to me personally. It can feel intimidating to fully throw myself into an art that isn’t often featured in print anymore, especially with the pressure to work digitally. It’s slow, arduous and easy to mess up. But I think the nature of the material creates unexpected marks and surprises that bring something special I couldn’t create otherwise.

Star Tribune, Nov. 25, 2021

Thank you, Stacie!

Putting this post together was a joy. It’s great to see so much passion and thought put into print designs. And it’s inspiring to see how much credit she shares around. The Star Tribune sounds like an amazing place to work. An incredible cast, a real team.

Another thing that struck me is that Stacie handles both hard news pages and also produces art for feature sections. That is multitalented. Her art is stunning, and solid news pages often don’t get the love they deserve. But Stacie’s are very well done. Solid and clean and strong.

Thank you, Stacie, for participating. If any other print designers want their work featured, reach out to me here or at bradneedham@gmail.com.

By Brad Needham

Behind every successfully designed newspaper page is a talented designer. And often a slew of other people. As part of this blog, I plan to feature designers. I want to find out what makes them tick. What gives them that creative spark. Newspaper pages can be like art. Sometimes designers have oodles of time to bring these designs to reality. But sometimes it’s a day. Or less. Either way, I applaud them.

I hope to run a profile every month, of either an established designer with a deep portfolio, or an emerging designer, with a few great portfolio pieces and a boatload of potential.

In the first instalment, I bring you the great Tammy Hoy, a Canadian Press and Pagemasters North America designer. Disclaimer: I am the managing editor at Pagemasters and I have worked with Tammy for eight years. That is not necessarily why I’m featuring her, but it’s why I know very well the depth of her talents. But I will be writing what I know! So early on, dear reader, you may notice people with connections to me! I hope to find designers to feature from further afield as well, but Tammy is a great choice regardless. A quick look at her website, tammyhoy.com, anyone could quickly see a whole lot of visually mastery.

In these features, I will do a Q&A, and let the designers do most of the speaking. So I will stop talking for now. Without further ado …

A collage of newspaper pages by Tammy Hoy.
A screen grab from tammyhoy.com showing designs by Tammy Hoy.

Designer profile: Tammy Hoy, Pagemasters North America/The Canadian Press

How did you get into newspaper design?
It was a series of unlikely but fortunate events. Back in 1994 I was studying Illustration and design at Sheridan College and my roommate mentioned a job ad that he saw for freelance newspaper design work that was posted in the wrong department at our college (That department being animation and not design). I was really excited and I hoped it might be a great opportunity to get some real-life work experience while still at college. I called the number on the ad and they asked me if I could make it to 1 Yonge St. within the hour. I told them I could be there in two.

 I was so nervous. In my interview I was told that they needed a front-page illustration for a new section on technology; and they needed it by tomorrow! It was a sink or swim situation. I told them, I’ve got this.

It was a super exciting opportunity, but the worst part of it, ironically was the technology at the time. Envision this, I had to produce an illustration overnight using one of the first versions of Photoshop. I had no scanner because at the time they were a couple thousand dollars. We did not have cellphones so I couldn’t transfer any kind of image or reference material to my computer. I literally had to draw something with a mouse and make it look high tech. And on top of all this, it would take an hour to apply a filter. Layers were not even invented yet! Needless to say I did my best with what I had. And they liked it!

I can certainly see that I’ve grown but they’re not bad considering this was the ’90s, an era when rotating logos with flames were in still in fashion.

 In the coming months I completed several of the front pages for this section and invested in a scanner so that I could add some imagery to some of my future art. I loved every minute of it. I continued on that year to complete my degree in Illustration and Design at Sheridan College.

That same year my mum saw a job ad in the Toronto Star looking for an artist to work in the newspaper industry. I jumped on it. I started out in the graphics department at The Canadian Press and later began creating full-page newspaper designs, motion graphics and various other artistic material for Pagemasters North America, a subsidiary of The Canadian Press.

What do you like about newspaper design?
I like that once you build a good working relationship with your editors the sky is the limit in terms of what you can create. Within the confines of the newspaper’s style there are so many unique opportunities to express yourself. 

The goal being to work with the editor to create something a little unique that also goes well with the story. It’s also rewarding to meet extreme deadlines because you get to see your work published the next day or a few days from the day you put it together. There really is no time to fuss over things or overthink.

I love it because it’s also a beautiful collaboration between typography and art. The trick being to combine both, to create something really special.

What advice do you give when teaching people about design?
Think outside the margins and use white space to your advantage.  While margins are there to maintain consistency, you don’t always want your page to be completely bound by a grid. Fronts and special feature pages are a great opportunity to go outside the lines a little. The best pages are ones that surprise you.

I’m in my happy place when I have lots of room for art.

Play with the space to create a flow. Your eye should travel through the page elements, typically top to bottom. Think about things like the crop of a photo. Would an extreme vertical or extreme horizontal work better?  Cutting out a photo is a great way to add interest to a page. Mixed media can also be really interesting. Adding hand-painted art, collages, art with different shapes are all great ways to deviate from your standard rectangle.

Do you rely on one design principle more than others (white space, text as design, colour, cutouts, etc.)?
I really think a good page will make use of many elements, but if I had to pick only one thing, I would say I prefer designs with larger graphical elements. If you are able to push some of your text to the next page take advantage of that and make your art big. Make your headlines pop, use that white space to your advantage. Add some cutouts. I’m in my happy place when I have lots of room for art.

Tell me about a design you loved that was rejected.
I designed a front page made up entirely of different woodgrain. I loved it! It had fine grain, big grain, coloured grain, all running every which way and just this very small little headline positioned over top.  I was a little disappointed when they decided not to run it but hey you move on. You win some. You lose some. That’s what it’s all about.

How do you feel now about the first handful of pages you were proud of? Still love them? Wonder what you were thinking? Wistful for times gone by?
Haha, it’s really not a fair comparison when you consider the technology of today versus the technology of 1994. Just for fun I dug up some of my first illustrations and pages. I can certainly see that I’ve grown but they’re not bad considering this was the ’90s, an era when rotating logos with flames were in still in fashion. My first page entitled “A journey of discovery” is very apt. Life sure is about learning and improving as you go.

What would you say is the biggest change you’ve noticed since you started designing (new rules, time, etc.)?
I would have to say it’s the technology. When I started at The Canadian Press none of us working there even had an email address. Can you imagine? The company was super excited because they had just upgraded to colour computers and shortly after that they upgraded to 28.8 baud modems. That’s right, we were using dial-up connections to send graphics back and forth from home to work.

When it came time for the yearly federal budget we would travel to Ottawa and lug mountains of equipment to produce graphics. We had giant tube screen monitors tied to dollies and full-sized hard drives packed up in crates on wheels. We would show up at 6 a.m. to set everything up! The cleaners would be vacuuming around us as we transmitted the files back to Toronto.

Today the material is released digitally and graphics are created on the fly from home or from the office. The speed at which photos, graphics and pages are created has increased exponentially and they’re available on the web almost instantly. Pages are built in databased systems so they can be edited,  proofed and sent to print at lightning speed.

How do you design when there is no obvious art?
This is a great question. Having great art with a story is awesome but having mediocre art or no art can sometimes be a lot more fun!  It’s the perfect time to turn a negative situation into an opportunity.

If I am short on time I will sometimes have a look at stock art. Rather than just picking something generic and slapping it on to my page, I try to create something new by combining several pieces of stock art or by playing it up with some creative typography. For a page on old games becoming popular again, I used various pieces of stock art combined with some of my own hand-drawn elements to create a scene depicting a game of croquet with the headline displayed through the wicket.

 For a local story on a new intersection where all the art galleries were moving to, I decided to create something from scratch. I took my phone outside and photographed the street sign at an intersection outside. I came back to the office, cloned out the street names in Photoshop and carefully imposed the new ones in. It was something unique and went really well with what the story conveyed.

So draw something, pick up your camera, go outside and shoot something. There really are so many options and it can be a lot fun to try something new.

It might be like picking favourite family members, but if you had to pick up to three favourite pages, what would they be and why?
That is hard but here you go:

Tarnished Gold
This was a page on the spectre of Harvey Weinstein haunting the Golden Globes. Instead of running a typical photo of Weinstein I felt the page would have more impact if I drew just an outline of him and displayed it as a shadow.  I used a complementary gold colour to represent the Golden Globes. The little profile pictures at the top also draw the reader in. I felt this was a good way to illustrate a sensitive topic.

Donald & me (front and spread, Yes I’m trying to squeeze an extra page in here)
I really like this package  because of the graphical elements. You really can’t miss the stars and stripes when it comes to Donald Trump, so I used them to guide your eye through the feature without (hopefully) overpowering the pages. I also made the decision on the front to make the message of the story larger than Trump himself. Part of being a designer is to remain objective. 

Orange wine
This is one of my favourite pages because the wine looks like it’s jumping right out of the glass and almost off the page. There is so much movement and colour.  Working the display text into the splash was a challenge but I am happy with the end result.

Thanks, Tammy! And now a couple more that I love

When I was perusing Tammy’s website (did I mention Tammy has a website? And not just with newspaper designs) it brought back a lot of memories. All of these pages I’d seen come to life in my time at Pagemasters. I agree with all of her choices. The Trump package is amazing. The orange wine splashing around the page. But since I am supposed to celebrate design, I wanted to share a couple more that I loved for various reasons.

The Secrets of Wonderland page has always left me in awe. I mean, sure, the art is great. A perfect starting point. But having the text come in around those fingers, making it look three dimensional is gold. It’s also a bold use of a cover. One article, one monster piece of art.

The Where to shop next page speaks to me for a different reason. I have long been a major fan of the Virginian-Pilot. This is a page that just sticks so true to the Pilot’s design philosophy, I thought it needed to be called out. As an outsourcer, Pagemasters is occasionally and misguidedly criticized for shoddy work from those who don’t actually see what we do. All these pages prove otherwise, but this one is so close to the flavour of the Pilot, its long and storied history of design that I wanted to shout out Tammy for capturing it. You wouldn’t be able to tell it apart from a page that ran in 2011 or 2015. It just screams Pilot. So I shout Tammy’s praises from the rooftop. And to boot, a bold headline, fun art treatment, colourful. The pictures lead the eye all the way down the page.

If you are a designer or know of a designer who wants to be featured, click here to send me an email!

Words matter. They always have. In design, they don’t matter any less. The beautiful thing about organizations like the Society for News Design is that when they look at pages and judge in their Best of Newspaper Design competition, a page has to be more than just pretty. It has to work as a whole package. The words. The design. The white space, or lack thereof. But what about pages that don’t have art? Without words … creatively designed words … the page would be relegated to Old Gray Lady status. Fine if you’re the New York Times. Not so if you’re the East Bay Times of Walnut Creek, California.