By Brad Needham

The world is a big place. To break it down for this blog, when in came to celebrating all the magical newspaper entries from the Society for News Designs Best of News Design competition I have broken it down into Canada (because I live and work here), the U.S. and the rest of the world. And that is not to diminish the rest of the world. The work coming out from newspapers around the world is astounding, which in itself is astounding given the times we’re in. Which brings me to where I want to start. The World’s Best Designed Newspaper, SND’s highest honour.

This year I had the great honour of being a facilitator for this competition. I got to watch them wittle down the entries to four finalists, and from there to choose one paper. The discussion was riveting. It came down to the New York Times, de Volkstrant, Het Parool and Die Zeit. Anyone who follows me knows I love de Volkstrant. Seeing it make the final was very satisfying.

After days of review and debate/discussion, Die Zeit came out on top. While all these newspapers have huge strengths, Die Zeit is worthy of this lofty title.

What makes a world’s best-designed newspaper? So, so many things. One word that was heard again and again was “considered.” Everything is so considered. All the little details. Nothing was overlooked. Things like drop caps, the spacing of words that wrap around images, kerning, and so on. But also the big things. Photo choices, how and when illustrations are used, how the text worked with art and the design. The funny thing was it was so well designed, it was remarked that the design falls to the background. Except when it doesn’t. The design is so remarkably clean, but sometimes they go big. And their use of photos and graphics? Considered. Everything is so artistic, they said. The judges could tell there was collaboration between editors and designers, which is imperative if you want to go from a nice paper to a top paper. Even more needs to happen to elevate a paper to world’s best designed. Congrats to Die Zeit for doing all of this and more. It shows.

While Die Zeit may not have many of those big “wow” pages, it still has some amazing, striking pages that take their clean and refined design to another level, and that clean design is already at another level. It really is a paper that rises above. I’ll start by showing some pages from Die Zeit, followed by a selection of some of the best pages from the rest of the world, Canada and U.S. excluded. You can see those here (Canada) and here (U.S).

“Great print design paints a coherent experience for the reader where every carefully chosen element contributes to convey more than the sum of its parts.”

Judges’ statement

Die Zeit

Die Zeit is a weekly paper out of Germany. So that is one main difference from the papers it was up against. First, I will show a selection of some consecutive pages. Just to lull you into thinking it’s just a nice clean design. But this is what readers would see every day as they start flipping through their newspaper. After those pages, I’ve included some with sizzle. Text as design, illustrations and graphics, colour.

This one is one of my faves from Die Zeit. Every year one paper does a funky text design that grabs onto me and won’t let go. This was this year’s. I love the bend, that the text is still so well spaced and readable. The E. And they did more incredible text designs. They made a chicken out of text. A chicken! Wait for it. It’s coming.

Die Zeit, Jan. 28, 2021

This page is just funky. That’s all. I love the text treatment. The border. The pic. It actually reminds me of a design I once did, just better. So good.

Die Zeit, Feb. 4, 2021

A chicken! Out of text! Over a two-page spread!

Die Zeit, March 31, 2021

I’ve included a few more separately. They were too good to be missed.

Die Zeit, Feb. 18, 2021
Die Zeit, Jan. 21, 2021
Die Zeit, June 2, 2021

And so so many more stunning, smartly designed pages. This slide show has a number of them, but it’s still a small sampling of the work that comes out of this paper every week. Just such amazing attention to detail on every page.

The rest …

There were more than 3,500 entries in this year’s competition, up from the previous year, which is encouraging. Of those, there were more than 800 winners. If that sounds like a lot, keep in mind the 3,500 entries consist of what designers from around the world considered their best work, work worthy of award consideration. I look at 500+ front pages every day. That’s just covers. I can’t even begin to fathom how many pages are produced each year. How many great pages weren’t entered.

Alas, you’ve seen Canada. You’ve seen the U.S. Here is a very slimmed down selection of pages from the rest of the world. One of the things I love about newspapers from other countries is that they often look so different than the typical North American newspaper. They take a different approach, have different design philosophies. But one thing is clear with all them: they want to wow their readers. This will mark my last post from SND 43, but it may not be the last you see of some of the pages in this post as I try to gently coerce the incredible designers behind some of these pages to talk to me about their work. First up, Politico Europe and Politiken!

Politico Europe

There is such a range of pages from Politico Europe. A lot are illustration-driven. And the illustrations are beautiful or haunting or striking. I will start with the snowman. Every time I saw this little guy, and the person in the window, I felt something. I want to feel happy. But then …

Politico Europe, Nov. 25-Dec. 1, 2021

This spread is so well done. The art is striking, the headline is strong, both words and design. It’s clean, but with some surprises. The headline is almost jarring as set up, but I feel it’s supposed to be. It’s not the age of peace, after all.

Politico Europe, Oct. 14, 2021

In this slide show, again, there is a great variety, starting with this dark image, and ending with a section about doers and dreamers that makes me smile. Every page makes me smile.

Politiken

I’ve long been a fan of Politiken. I feature pages from this publication on my Instagram frequently. This was a page I featured here. I put it in with my Christmas collection even though I wasn’t sure if it was meant to be a Christmas page. But the entry was called wrapping paper! So it is.

Politiken, Dec. 24, 2021

And now for something completely different. The next two pages are from the same award-winning portfolio by designer Caroline Niegaard. What strikes me about these is that they are chaotically bold. They are full of energy.

Politiken, Dec. 29, 2021
Politiken, Feb. 27, 2021

And many more. I love that this paper takes risks. And that its work is so varied. The last three I’ve chosen to show are completely different, but still within character.

Below are some others I have pulled out to highlight. Just some of my faves, but there were so many more incredible entries from other papers. First from de Volkstrant, a page that was featured on my Instagram, and then two from Dagens Nyheter, which I think does an incredible job on covers regularly.

de Volkstrant, Oct. 1, 2021
Dagens Nyheter, Dec. 21, 2021
Dagens Nyheter, Sept. 22, 2021

This page from La Nacion is just so lovely. There is another from them in the slideshow.

La Nacion, Dec. 17, 2021

Arab News has many great pages, but this opinion page really jumped out at me. I love the illustration, and the page itself is just clean and crisp. The American flag features prominently in pages, particularly opinion pages, around the world. It’s used in so many different ways to convey so many different ideas.

Arab News, Dec. 22, 2021

There are a few more South China Morning Post pages in the slideshow. While this is one really works because of the illustration, it was just such a compelling illustration. For the most part I didn’t include pages that won just for illustration. But they also used the small bit of display text so well. I am positive the space in the top left was left for display copy.

South China Morning Post

And the final slideshow from SND 43. There is a wide cross section of pages from multiple publications, such as The Age, The Guardian, The Day, Economic Observer out of China and more.

And that’s it. Another year, another awe-inspiring competition. Inspiring is the right word, as it would be impossible for any newspaper designer seeing the incredible work submitted to walk away without some new ideas, some extra enthusiasm or desire to push just a little harder.

READ MORE: A look back at SND 42
Best from Canada
And the rest

By Brad Needham

More than 3,500 entries. That’s more than 3,500 newspaper pages (way more, as multiple page entries like sections are one entry) that designers and newspapers around the world decided were their best, and submitted to the Society for News Design‘s annual design competition. Nearly 800 winners (798 Awards of Excellence, 68 Silver Medals and 18 Gold Medals). So how does one winnow that down into a blog post? One doesn’t! I tried. Not a chance. So I started by breaking out Canada due to my obvious Canadian bias! But there are still more than 700 left to choose from. So after that, I attempted to cram the rest of the world into one post, but nope. So American papers get their own post, followed by the rest of the world. Even still it’s challenging. Despite newspapers falling on tough times, designers are killing it. So this is an act of curation based on my tastes. And leaving out dozens upon dozens of entries that I dearly loved so that this doesn’t go on forever.

I had the good fortune of being a volunteer facilitator for the second year in a row, for the organization that truly changed the arc of my journalism career. Beside my desk sit five tattered SND books, which they release annually capturing the winners of these competitions. I am beyond humbled to be in three of them, one for a portfolio of work. I had six books, but one got stolen or borrowed and not returned. Do I begrudge that person? No, because my path started by … borrowing two from my first newspaper job when I left. One of those is missing. That’s just the circle of design life.

For SND 43, I was part of the World’s Best-Designed Newspaper competition. Results will come soon. But here, I present the individual entries. If you’ve not been following along, a quick summary of awards. AoE is an outstanding page, one that is deeply considered, uses typography and/or white space and/or art, etc. incredibly well. It’s not design for design’s sake. It is designed with purpose. A silver rises above even further, is exceptional among the outstanding. It could be considered state of the art. And gold. Well, on a gold page, it needs to rise to near perfection, above the outstandingly exceptional. It should be hard for a judge to find a flaw. That is why there are so few. Kerning between two letters, a crop that seems just off, too much or too little white space. All sorts of tiny details prevent a page from being elevated to this level. Because of that, finding the best way to present this (by paper, by theme, by region) is so challenging. I will start with the only gold medal for a portfolio of design (there was another for illustrations).

Brandon Ferrill, Washington Post, Gold Medal for portfolio

The first page in this slideshow was really the talk of the weekend. Universally loved. And fun. There were some hard pages, some big subjects in 2021. COVID-19 was still raging, the Capitol riot, the Taliban in Afghanistan. And so on. And then we have this happy-making page. The entire portfolio is striking. That judges moved an entire portfolio to gold says so much about the quality of this work. And trust me, you will see a lot more from the Washington Post here. When they go big, they win. We win.

Facilitator’s special recognition

At last year’s competition (my first), two pages immediately took my breath away. And it kept piling on. I waited for that experience this year. Nothing will compare to that first experience at SND. Not because the pages aren’t just as exceptional, but you start thinking differently, more critically. You know what can be done. What’s out there. But this year there was a page that really struck me (so many did). But I kept going back to this one. And it wasn’t the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times or the Star Tribune. It was the Des Moines Register. Maybe it is because I am a champion of the underdog. Maybe it’s because it uses newspaper clippings, which doesn’t often work but really does here. It’s so smartly done. Maybe the lack of colour. Seemingly simple, but quite complex. And the judges must have mostly agreed. It won a silver medal.

Des Moines Register, July 18, 2021
Des Moines Register, July 18, 2021

U.S.: The Big 4 conference

When it came to papers in the U.S., the four I mentioned above really stand out: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and Star Tribune (Minneapolis, and employer of my most recent featured designer, Stacie Kammerling). I will give each paper a slideshow and little blurb. I will exclude the portfolio above from the Washington Post below.

Washington Post

I tried to choose a favourite. I really did. But the first three here are so close, for very different reasons. Some pages are driven by illustrations, some by text alone. I’ve said this before: A good illustration is good on its own, enhanced by a good design. But then there is just good design, and designing with text is skill. Also, when it comes to opinion pages, the Washington Post is among the best in the world, if not the best, largely based on smart illustrations. And I had to narrow this down. I cut some amazing pages out.

The New York Times

What can I say about the New York Times. It’s funny that it’s known as the Gray (Grey) Lady. Because once you get past that iconic grey cover (much less grey than it once was), and past the news section, it’s a marvel. Design beyond most designers’ wildest imaginations. The kids section alone is a masterpiece. Truly brilliant.

There were so many jaw-dropping pages from NYT, so this is truly just a snapshot of the work they produce. There were some I couldn’t do justice to as it would require seeing the entire section. I have included four pages from a section about the struggle of mothers because of the subject matter, and because of the judges’ comments. The section, they believe, is designed in a way intended to make you uncomfortable. It’s far from a standard design. It is jarring. I am so envious. If they are ever looking to hire a designer with a Canadian perspective, feel free to reach out. I accept. In a twist, the one A1/front page I included is so strong because it’s grey. I wrote an entire post about it when it came out in early 2021. The first two pages in the slideshow is two of my faves from the competition. I love little pictures. And the god page is boldly and smartly done.

Star Tribune

Funny thing about all of these four is that if you look at the front page each day, while they are well designed (particularly the Star Tribune, which is just a nice, clean, newsy front most days), they don’t look flashy. But then you get inside. Or then you have those big days. And wow. What is absolutely paying off for the Star Tribune is the state fair. There are always beautiful pages that come from there. To see more Star Tribune pages, other than what I’ve included here, see my recent post on designer Stacie Kammerling. A much more serious story this newspaper has handled so powerfully and with such grace is the George Floyd story. Just incredible, sensitive, yet provocative, boundary-pushing work. I will start there. Then to some fun and fair stuff (the contrast of last year’s fair and this year’s fair in cartoon figures is magical), and I have even included one of those hard-working front pages. And yes, I cut a lot again.

Los Angeles Times

And finally, the Los Angeles Times. Perhaps my favourite paper from last year’s competition. I still absolutely loved it this year. I have started with pages that just use design. Brilliant and bold typography, strong photos, creative white space. Then I get into breathtaking illustrations, followed by a few pages from a special section, which is a clear strength of the Times. They had some outstanding complete special sections, but again, I had to make some choices.

And more

Having these papers down here is not meant to dismiss any of them. They did some incredible work. I had to pare it down somehow. You can see them all here. Below are a few outstanding pages separately, and then another slideshow with more.

The San Diego Union-Tribune, March 21, 2021
The San Diego Union-Tribune, March 21, 2021

This page from the San Diego Union-Tribune was one of my top pages from the competition. It’s a new take on using tallies. It is so well executed.

Houston Chronicle, April 11, 2021
Houston Chronicle, April 11, 2021

I put this Houston Chronicle page in for its simplicity. Proof that you don’t need to do big and wild designs to look good. I love it.

Louisville Courier Journal, July 25, 2021

This Courier Journal (Louisville) page is so compelling and is a creative play on the COVID imagery we have seen again and again. This is new. Very clever.

Here is a selection of pages from The Business Journals. They had a number of winners. They are doing such smart things with illustrations and text. The text on the first page is both understated and bold at the same time! Small, but reverse white on red with a touch of transparency.

And last but definitely not least, a selection from some other publications. I am positive I will look through the pages again and curse when I see a dozen that I forgot about. That’s how much there was to look through. It is a tribute to the incredibly hard-working and talented staff at all the newspapers or news hubs. Thank you for all your work. And your readers do too, even if they don’t know it. It’s hard to know what goes into not only the execution, but also the conception. Amazing.

So there you go. Print is alive. I just proved it.

By Brad Needham

Another year, another Society for News Design Best of Newspaper Design competition! For the second year in a row, I was honoured to be a facilitator, this year in the category of World’s Best-Designed Newspaper. What a thrill. Results of that will come out on March 28.

I feel like the competition could give me fodder for months and months of content. But I will restrain myself to three posts. The first will be on the outstanding work done by Canadian papers. Next will be the rest of the world (so will be much longer!). Then finally World’s Best.

I know I am a broken record, but SND means so much to me. As a print design lover, it first and foremost offers a community of like-minded people. But it also still celebrates print design in a time when that is becoming less frequent. Looking at you Canadian media awards competitions. So many of those involved in print design are behind the scenes. Sure illustrators and photographers get credits. But art directors don’t. Page designers don’t. Headline writers don’t. But without these people, the information you get would be dull.

Canada produced some incredible work this year. However, because I have been following print design much closer over the past year, both here and on my Instagram, not much here will be new to anyone who follows me! It was a different experience this year at SND 43, as there weren’t many surprises, at least from Canada. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t exceptional, and doesn’t mean I won’t highlight it again.

There were only four newspapers to submit for awards this year, which is such a tragedy, as I know there is other amazing stuff going on in Canada, particularly with my soon-to-be former employer Postmedia, particularly the National Post. They are still producing some of the finest pages in the business, particularly in Canada. And much of that is a credit to one of my former featured designers, Raina Toomey, who moved on to the National Post in late 2021. Postmedia stopped submitting, I believe, after Gayle Grin left. She recently wrapped up some consulting at the Toronto Star, and her touch is obvious there. There were more than 300 entries overall from Canada, more than 3,500 in the competition.

The Globe and Mail won 25 awards, including 24 Awards of Excellence and one Silver Medal. To explain, an AoE is for outstanding work. Work that stands out, goes above and beyond. A silver medal rises above that, just on another level or through a higher degree of difficulty. There are also gold medals, though no Canadian publication earned one this year. For a gold, judges should have a hard time finding any flaw, down to kerning between two letters (a topic that was discussed this year, with a comment: “You could almost fit an i in there.” It should be state of the art, challenging the industry norms. The Toronto Star won eight AoEs, Le Devoir won 5 and 24 Heures 2. I won’t show all the all work here, but a selection from each.

Globe and Mail

I won’t talk too much about each page for the Globe as I have talked about the paper a lot. Things I love about the Globe are the use of illustrations — and the quality and sophistication of the illustrations — as well as its bold and smart use of white space.

Globe and Mail, July 24, 2021

This was Canada’s only medal, for illustration by Connor Willumsen.

Globe and Mail, April 17, 2021

This was one of my faves from the Globe this year. There is so much going on. A lovely illustration by Kathleen Fu. Newspapers, she’s incredible. Take note.

Here are a few illustration-driven pages. There is some really lovely stuff here. I love what Canadian papers do with their Remembrance Day covers. This one by the Globe was so well done. Elegant. Illustration by Kayla Whitney.

And a few more. The Globe does so much with their design, particularly on Saturdays and features sections. I loved the bear cover. It works for the Globe, going so dark on dark, because their cover is on glossy paper. That design might be lost on most papers. Congrats to the Globe for a solid year. Being March already, I can tell you they are off to a good start in 2022 as well!

Toronto Star

Of course I have a soft spot for the Toronto Star. I worked there, and worked directly or indirectly with the Star or Torstar for more than half of my career. Anyone who follows me will know how much I loved the page that came out after the discovery of unmarked Indigenous graves in Saskatchewan. It was so powerful. Here it is, and a few more.

Toronto Star, June 25, 2021

I just loved the imagery here. It was so powerful at a time that needed something powerful. Something to keep the focus on this issue. It’s striking.

And here are a few more. The Star decided to invest in its print product in 2021, which was such welcome news, adding four entirely new positions, including an art director, Becky Guthrie, formerly of the National Post. You can see her influence. I hope that we continue to see such strong work.

Le Devoir

I don’t see Le Devoir as often as the previous two. But I love the design. It is smart and refined. It looks European. Nice clean lines, often simple. Here are a few top-notch pages from them. I will show four of these off individually as none have appeared here or my Instagram, starting with my fave of their submissions.

Le Devoir, Oct. 17, 2021

I love the contrast. The love the lines. The beautiful illustration by Audrey Malo. It is so clear where your eye is supposed to start, and clear that it’s not supposed to stop there. So well done.

Le Devoir, Nov. 21, 2021

The one above and below are both driven by the design, not an illustration. A great illustration is great on its own. I can be enhanced if used well. But these are just nice designs, with a basic image, images that couldn’t be more different. And below, the little condiment spills take this page to a new level. Love it. Smartly filling in some white space, but also using what is left wisely.

Le Devoir, July 14, 2021
Le Devoir, Sept. 5, 2021

And then an illustration-driven page. It’s a nice, simple illustration (for a talented illustrator! Who just happens to be Cécile Gariépy). And it’s used so well. The text doesn’t take away from the fantastic art. Nicely done, Le Devoir.

24 Heures

And finally a couple from 24 Heures. Both illustration driven. Smart art, well played, yet completely different illustration styles. Even the supporting material is played differently, with the head down the side on one, and on the art on the other. But it doesn’t take away from the art. It uses the space well. First by Benoit Tardif, next by Pauline Stive.

Just some incredible stuff. And this is just from Canada’s entries.

So that’s that. I am so happy to see there is still some amazing work going on in Canada, and around the world. Up next will be about some the best newspaper pages from around the world.

Read more, Designers Behind the Designs:
Stacie Kammerling, Star Tribune
Adam Rogers and Colin Smith, Villages Daily Sun
Caitlin Miller, Spokesman-Review
Raina Toomey, Postmedia
Tammy Hoy, The Canadian Press

The Villages Daily Sun goes above and beyond in visual journalism, print specifically. Colin Smith and Adam Rogers tell us more.

By Brad Needham

Print might be on the way to becoming an afterthought for some newspapers, but not the Villages Daily Sun in Florida. It is proudly and heavily visually designed for print. They don’t even have an Instagram account. I know because I posted a front page on my Instagram account once and couldn’t, for the life of me, find their Instagram handle. Yet shortly after I posted it, they found me! An editor sent me a note saying they don’t have Instagram and they are a print-first publication (but they do have a Tumblr account!). As a longtime mostly print journalist and print designer, I love that. So naturally I asked them if I could talk to a designer. Not only did they oblige, they sent me two! And they each sent pages. And a visual philosophy.

I am so thankful to have heard back from both Colin Smith, the senior project designer, and Adam Rogers, managing editor of innovation. I had a lot of fun reading through their thoughtful answers, looking at their stunning pages, and feeling like I’m not alone as a print lover in a digital world.

The first thing they sent me was their design and visual philosophy document. It is fun to read. Here is how it begins.

I knew right away these were my kind of people. They have designed a newspaper to reflect their community. Not just in content, but design. Amazing. How can you not love a philosophy like this?

We’re not just filling pages, we’re a daily friend offering news, information, community moments, support and, most importantly, surprises on every page.

The answer? You can’t. You must love this, or you’re on the wrong blog. This blog is for all the print that’s fit to print.

I will turn it over to Adam and Colin. Eds. note: these responses are from early September.

How did you get into newspaper design?
Adam: It was something I sort of stumbled into as a student at Youngstown State in Ohio. My degree is in TV and video production, but I was minoring in multimedia design. That led me to a page design opportunity at the student newspaper The Jambar where I ended up working for four years and decided to focus my career efforts on print design.

Colin: My academic background is urban planning and architecture. I started news design at my college paper, then it became my first job out of college. I’ve been in the industry ever since.

What do you like about newspaper design? And what makes it different from other design?
Adam: I really like that you have the opportunity to start with a fresh canvas every single day. With 365 editions each year, you can experiment. See what works, what doesn’t and learn from it. And I feel like whether its design or general knowledge of the world, I learn something new every single day.

Colin: Philosophically, I like being able to tell stories to wide audiences on a daily basis. I especially love working on redesigns — the chance to weave visual worlds for our readers to explore. On a personal level, I like the frequent, immovable deadlines of daily news production — it’s perfect for a procrastinator like me.

What was the most fun you have had with a design?
Adam: I would have to go back to a doubletruck presentation I worked on during the 2016 election showing all of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s connections to each other and to the state of Florida. It involved some colourful photo illustrations of the candidates riding flamingos. Honestly, Colin Smith and I had a lot of fun throughout that entire election cycle creating illustrations for a variety of topics along the way.

Colin: The Daily Sun has definitely been the most fun at I’ve had at a paper. I love redesigns, as I’ve mentioned, and this was at the first paper where (aside from the nameplate) nothing was off limits. It’s a paper that wants to have fun in a community built for having fun. That’s opened up so many paths visually. The editor has been a huge part of that evolution. She really has helped push me in directions I would have never thought exploring at other publications, and I think it’s really made a unique product in the process.

Do you rely on one design principle more than others (white space, text as design, colour, cutouts, etc.)?
Adam: At the Daily Sun we focus a lot on just being consistent. We have built a beautiful core structure for our newspaper that highlights our colour palette and carefully selected typography. From there we make strategic decisions on when to break from the templates. And when we do, we usually go pretty big.

Colin: Great question. When in doubt, I go to the grid. Barring that, then I tend to focus on clean typography and common alignments. I don’t like to modify my type too much, so generally it’s one colour and one alignment. And you can’t go wrong with a beautiful dominant image. I tend to shy away from cutouts mostly because, after 20 years, I’m just tired of doing them (although I will if I must, but it’s not my go-to move). And I’m always a sucker for a symmetrical layout.

Tell me about a design idea you loved that was rejected or just wasn’t working so you had to abandon it.
Adam: I joke a lot about having a pile of abandoned pages that I burn for warmth during that one week of winter we get in Florida. And that’s true to some extent. After a decade it’s tough to narrow it down to one that stands out. Our projects and pages grow and evolve so much during our design process that I’ve learned to not to get emotionally attached to an idea. We try to put the our readers and the storytelling above our own egos.

Wherein most newspapers follow an assembly line model, our process is more circular, with reporters, editors and designers working in concert to iterate and elevate our content in ways that surprise our readers and surpass expectations.

Colin: Too many to count, honestly. I used to revise and revise and revise before showing a page/project/redesign, but that philosophy doesn’t work at a paper where we have a very deliberate style we’re going for. So now I do a quick mock-up, get input from the editor to see if I’m going in the right direction or not, then I either refine what I’ve done or archive it and try something else. Honestly, I’ve never flat-out thrown a design away. If something doesn’t make the cut, I’ll usually file it away possibly for use later. Generally if I’m really excited about a design, I’ll find a way to get it used. Although I’ve had print/web designs implemented then discarded after I’ve left a paper, so I guess that’s stung a little more. But such is life.

I like the idea of your design direction matching your community, i.e. a heavily designed community begets a heavily designed newspaper. Tell me more!
Adam: If you were to visit The Villages (which everyone really should some day) you would see that the developers put a lot of time and thought into the small details. We like to say that the community is designed to take you back in time, but you can’t always hit on exactly when. We’ve taken their fun but meticulous sense of design for the community and have made the newspaper reflect that. From the colour palette down to our use of woodcut and victorian flourishes, we have pulled inspiration from all corners of the community.

Colin: I believe the true power of newspaper design is the ability to create a visual microcosm of the community that is filled with all the surprises, delights, familiar places and new experiences that one expects from a journey in their city or town. I believe the areas of the paper should capture the personalities of a place (quiet cafés and loud clubs, bustling streets and quiet leafy suburbs). Visually, The Villages is a master planned community with several strong visual identities. On top of that, residents here have very active lives and fascinating stories to tell. There is always so much going on, and so much life to capture, that it really puts the onus on the Daily Sun to be as energetic and vibrant as our readers.

Visually the editor challenged me to come up with an overall design that was both nostalgic and thoroughly modern. That’s why you’ll see Victorian text flourishes paired with vibrant citrus colors to create something that blends a fondness for the past with an optimistic vision of the present. The goal was to create a kinetic vibration throughout the entire publication that is both familiar and yet also completely unique to our community.

I’ve been told the idea your covers are based on (lots of small bits of information) carries on on the inside. This concept and a few others seems to make this paper stand apart from others. Can you show some examples and tell me why you decided to do that?
Adam: That is very true. While The Villages may be a mecca for retirees, they break every stereotype for seniors imaginable. We are blessed to have a very active and engaging community to cover. Our readers are very busy and we want to respect their time. So we implement of a lot quick hit information and alternative story formats that make the news quickly and easily digestible. We use this approach in every section in concert with traditional longform presentations.

Colin: Adam probably already went into this, but just in case he didn’t, here you go. Even though the vast majority of our readers are retired, they are still quite busy. Between social gatherings, planned events and daily excursions we owe it to our readers to get as much information into every page as possible. Since Villagers come from around the U.S. and the world, we try to get as much into each edition as possible. Our high ad stacks make it difficult to get a lot of traditional articles on a page, so instead we run a collection of briefs, photos and alternative story formats along the tops of inside pages (we call them attics) with a longer read below it.

It might be like picking favourite family members, but if you had to pick a few favourite pages, what would they be and why?
Adam: First I would go back to a 2013 page on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. I worked on this page with the help of executive editor Bonita Burton and it evolved from a traditional centrepiece that we just kept pushing bigger and bigger. Our design and typography has changed a lot since then, but this did land me my first SND Award of Excellence and I was truly humbled. Then I would say a 2016 front page information graphic that was part of our multi-year “Redefining Justice” investigation into Florida’s death row. It really pushed my organizational skills and I spent a lot of time making sure the information we were presenting on a complex topic was digestible. And then more recently an inside page on the atomic bomb that was part of a yearlong series we did on the 75th anniversary of the Second World War. I really like working with historic photography and finding ways to present it in striking ways.

Colin: Ooh, that’s a good question. I mean, I’ve been redesigning our paper for so many years it’s hard to pick just a few. But if I had to:
+ Redesign/Template-wise, I love our A2-A3 world map — I really had a fun time drawing the map, and the page has so much personality. We used to have a sea monster on the page, and I do miss it.

+ We have some templated local front pages that really have a lot of visual oomph that I’ve enjoyed putting together, too. 

+ When I’m not redesigning the paper, some pages I’ve worked on that I really like have been a Christmas cover with a Santa sleigh based on an 1800s patent application (we’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of that one, re-running it pretty much every year).

+ An oldie but a goodie, but I also really had a ton of fun designing our 2016 election coverage and doing those illustrations. 

Tell me a little about your process. How do you come up with ideas?
Adam: For our bigger projects, we huddle up a lot to brainstorm. Sometimes it’s really simple to just run with your first idea, but we talk a lot here about not stopping too short. One thing Bonita says to us a lot when approaching a page is “what can we do that we’ve never done before.” And then the brainstorming kicks off. Even if it’s not a huge project, just turning to one or two other people in your pod or in the newsroom can help elevate an idea or a page. We’re sort of all in this together.

Colin: Ideas for stories is pretty simple. Generally main stories are planned weeks in advance and special projects are planned months in the future. The bigger the project, the more the lead-time for visual discussions — from data visualization to the need for photo reporting and illustration. Actual designing for special projects doesn’t begin until about two weeks in advance, with final design beginning in earnest a few days before publication.

As far as the ideas, it’s a back-and-forth process where the narrative is weighed with how we’ll tell the story visually and one, the other or both are adjusted until we’re happy with the final result.

And that’s a wrap from Colin and Adam. But what fun. It seems like the Villages Daily Sun would be any print designer’s dream job. Thanks to both for all their insight.

From really northwest to regular northwest America, this newspaper designer is making the most of her opportunity at newspaper that loves its design

By Brad Needham

One of the things that frustrates me about trying to promote newspaper design is that it is often so hard to find out who is responsible for all the amazing designs I see. I would love to shoutout all the amazing talent behind the stellar newspaper front pages from around the world. But I can’t just turn to the masthead or page 2 and see, Cover Design by … as one might in a magazine. That’s why I was tickled when I posted a Spokesman-Review arts cover on my Instagram account and I got a response from the paper. They told me they would pass my message onto their designer (including the comment about wondering if the reverse text was readable in print). And then Caitlin Miller, the designer in question, contacted me on Twitter to tell me, yes, indeed, the text was perfectly legible!

The page just popped for me. The contrast. The big display. Smokey Robinson‘s eyes and the joy in his face, which is especially notable in a never-ending pandemic.

I have long been a fan of the Spokesman-Review’s design, particularly their front page. I think it’s one of the consistently best designed newspapers around. They give it their all and achieve solid, and sometimes outstanding, results. I hope I have the good fortune of talking to an A1 (1A?) designer one day (nudge, nudge!). Side note: I love that the Spokesman-Review posts, every day, its front page, other section fronts and historical pages on its website (link to Sept. 23 front page). The more we can celebrate print the better, and they have a lot to celebrate.

Being such a fan, naturally I asked Caitlin if she’d be willing to talk to me. And she said yes! While she’s not been in the industry long, she’s making a splash. And unlike most U.S. designers, her career started further north than this high-kilometre Canadian has ever lived or worked (and I lived/worked in Fort McMurray and Fairview, both Alberta, as well as Prince George and Fort St. James, B.C., which are pretty far north).

Caitlin talks about her growth as a designer. And she talks about working within the framework of your newspaper. Some papers, like the Spokesman-Review, really pride themselves on design. Other papers, particularly in the present print media climate or smaller papers, don’t go big on design every day. Caitlin now gets to work with a team that loves design, one that submits a pile of pages to the Society for News Design‘s design competition every year. And I bet that passion for design is contagious!

Here is our chat. I have sprinkled a few more of her eye-catching Spokesman-Review designs throughout the questions, and end with some pages from her pre-Spokane days in Alaska.

It’s a never-ending learning experience, and I love that.

Caitlin Miller on working in journalism

How did you get into newspaper design?
I fell into it. What got me into print news was a semester working at The Sun Star as the managing editor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Certainly, no design experience! My job in that position was strictly editing and guiding writers (albeit at writers’ own discretion of accepting my edits, but that’s working at a college paper for you).

I kept my eye on the local paper as a possible job prospect in Fairbanks for a while. After I graduated, I was working at a hotel and would read the paper daily, including checking classifieds. Finally, a copyeditor position opened. I knew the former editor-in-chief of The Sun Star was working as an editorial assistant at The Daily News-Miner and hit her up. Funnily enough she had deleted my number from her contacts, but when she figured out it was me, she was supportive of my interest and put a good word in. I applied the next day, and a month later I was hired. I learned newspaper design on the job and taught myself a lot of what I now know, but I knew I couldn’t grow staying in Alaska, which is how I found myself at The Spokesman-Review. It’s a never-ending learning experience, and I love that.

However, I knew that I always wanted to work in newsprint. It’s a bit of a family legacy, with my grandfather and his father working in it, respectively in different aspects.

What do you like about newspaper design? And what makes it different?
First, I like that I’m using both sides of my B.A. I hold a degree in English and art and being able to interact with both design and words is satisfying to say the least.

(A writing mentor) opened my eyes to the beauty of page layout; she gave me a reader’s perspective.

I was meeting with a writing mentor at a coffee shop one day, and as we were catching up, she had asked me where I was working, and I answered that I was at the paper and explained my job. We found ourselves in conversation about the benefits of a physical copy (versus web) reading of a newspaper. She opened my eyes to the beauty of page layout; she gave me a reader’s perspective, a perspective I’ve never interacted with before as a designer despite my own reading of papers. But things always look differently from another’s eyes, don’t they? Through her gaze, we discussed the way readers interact with stories, how a jump from the front page to an inside page, or a refer/tease, could bring a reader to stories they wouldn’t have likely known about otherwise. Not everyone thumbs through all the pages of the paper. How many of us non-sports people don’t give sports a single glance? Or maybe a parent only bought the paper to keep record of a story on the front page related to their child. Suddenly, that parent finds himself or herself on Page A5 reading about a column on a local event involving a nonprofit that seeks to benefit cancer awareness.

What was the most fun you have had with a design?
My favourite pages are those with the most agency. In a way, this applies here, also. Those pages that I’m given a feature story or column with lots of art, I like being able to take the lead and do what I see fit with it. I like that editors who give me the content trust my judgment. They also know I’m not afraid to ask questions, so communication between us is so very important, including sending page proofs for them to see and affirm or correct where needed. Pages where I am given lots to work with, and pages with breaking news also are fun to work with. I’m really thankful for templates however, because sometime a page just needs that basic layout and nothing more, and that’s cool.

I hope I can, with the pages I provided, express the “most fun” I’ve had with design. It’s hard to explain otherwise, and these include my favourite pages as well.

Do you rely on one design principle more than others (white space, text as design, colour, cutouts, etc.)?
I do a lot of cutouts. Always have. But, gosh, do they take time. It can really depend on the page I’m working on. Feature-y pages will likely have cutouts whereas hard news pages will likely not, at least from me thus far. Colour does play a role, oddly. Sometimes I look at a page after I’ve completed it and go, “Wow! How did this work out!”—and it turns out that all the photos visually correlate by complete happenstance. I tend to avoid lots of white space, however. But at The S-R, I’m learning the benefits of it. We use it far more than I’m used to, whereas before, I was very adamant on squaring everything off and making sure everything fits tightly on a page.

Tell me about a design you loved that was rejected.
I don’t think I can answer this exactly how you want it answered, simply because it isn’t about something being rejected. I don’t think I’ve had an entire page design rejected before; however, I have had aspects of designs criticized and rejected. It isn’t a good feeling. But talking through it and learning from it is important. Maybe it’s something the design editors were avoiding you didn’t know about. Great. Now you know not to do that ever again. Or maybe it’s a learning experience between you and the more experienced designer who suggests the text be more horizontal in nature and less vertical. Awesome. Now you can take that experience and apply it to future designs that might have similar elements that could benefit from it.

It still feels crummy sometimes having your work criticized. But it’s worth it.

It still feels crummy sometimes having your work criticized. But it’s worth it. The team effort is important, and you can learn a lot from working with others and seeing design through your critics’ eyes.

Are there any designers or publications other than those you have worked at that you are sure to look at?
If I’m in a new city or town, or visiting family, I’m sure to pick up the local paper. It’s hard not to look at design now wherever I go. This includes magazine covers — it’s interesting the crossover between the two, like siblings of sorts. But I look at both general design, and what stories they put where, such as what the designer of that paper chose (or perhaps editors — this really depends on the size of the paper!) for the lead, down the rail, centrepiece, down page, etc. It can say a lot for what the town sees as important, and a lot of time localization is prioritized over national wire stories.

It might be like picking favourite family members, but if you had to pick a few favourite pages, what would they be and why?
I’ll address my career thus far. I’ve noticed with The Daily News-Miner my favourite covers are the ones where I have the most agency. And perhaps the same can be said with The Spokesman-Review. While at the News-Miner, I have a handful of pages I love.

The News-Miner doesn’t like much for creativity, per se, but the Our Town page, a localized feature page that ran weekly, allowed me to kind of do what I want within means. And I loved it. I had a good knack of what was allowed on A1, but Our Town meant I could explore making cutouts, changing fonts, applying gradients. Many of these pages had strong interaction with local audiences who were regular followers of the editor of that page. And, I have to say, there is such satisfaction in knowing how well I did when that editor comes to and tells me the impact I made. I’ve also seen cutouts of various stories from various pages I’ve constructed framed, and that’s a whole other feeling on its own. At the DNM there are other front pages I love for other reasons, ones I’d include in a portfolio, but they certainly don’t hold an impact like the one’s that have made a personal connection with me emotionally. Maybe the emotionality of it sounds biased, but it really can help a person grow as a designer to know what they’re doing is good in some way or another.

As far as my work at The Spokesman goes, I haven’t quite hit that emotional satisfaction yet, but being at a much larger paper might have much to do with that. However, working with the Seven cover at the Spokesman (weekly entertainment feature section) really allows me to explore my skills as a designer, and there is much satisfaction in that. I really can’t wait to see where this takes me.

Tell me a little about your process. How do you come up with ideas?
There isn’t much to say about this. Either I have a good idea of where I’m going with something or I don’t. A lot of times I can look at the content and know exactly what is going where, but I think experience has a role in this. And other times I might spend three hours just trying to figure out and experiment with where I’m going to take a page. I may even sometimes have multiple ideas in my head. It’s interesting, working at The Spokesman is such a different experience coming from a small paper. Before, a lot of decision making was solely up to me, regarding what stories go where and what art should appear where. At The Spokesman there’s an editor for everything, including photo placement.

The Spokesman Review has some exceptional designs. How much pressure is there to continually produce great work? Do you swing for the fences every day?
The Spokesman staff is so supportive. However, while I’m fairly confident in my abilities, I certainly feel a lot of pressure! I took over the design of the Seven cover after a couple of months being with the company. Prior to that our A1 designer was doing the cover and he certainly has far more experience than I have. Chris Soprych is helpful in many ways. There are days where I just don’t have a clue what do with the art I get. Frankly, sometimes it just isn’t good enough to work with to produce an eye-catching cover. But then he shows me how he’d approach it and from that I’m able to learn different approaches. I’m thankful, and this experience is a huge part of why I wanted to join The Spokesman-Review.

Certainly, communication is important and helps relieve some stress. I’m not the only one who looks at the page or cover. And others’ suggestions can certainly make or break a page in its success. Constructive criticism is always important. And I really enjoy that so many people are involved with the process and looking at the final proof. I’m also coming from a paper prior to The S-R where I was the only set of eyes on pretty much everything, so it’s all been both a learning experience and a huge relief.

For the young and aspiring designers, remember we do this because we love this.

Do you have words for wisdom for young, aspiring designers?
For the young and aspiring designers, remember we do this because we love this. Remember that behind the scenes we still make a difference and affect a reader’s interaction with the paper as whole. We’re not in this for the pay. We’re in it because we love what we do, and we love journalism. But also, for those who may feel stuck at a job that you feel no mobility in, don’t be afraid to extend yourself beyond what’s familiar and apply all over. Call. Talk to editors and tell them you want the job. It may seem old school, but working in newsprint is, believe it or not, still old school. Basically, don’t be afraid to chase your dreams, bug people and be adventurous!

Fave designs

Below is a selection of Caitlin’s favourite designs. She explains what made each of them special. We’ve seen the Spokesman-Review pages. That’s where she is now. This is where she began. “I really feel like the Seven covers for The Spokesman-Review show my potential as a designer in contrast to what I was more so limited to designing at my former job.”

My one issue with this page is the text wrap around the columnist’s mug has a weird break that I didn’t catch until months after when I was going through my portfolio and applying to other papers. Jorgy Jorgensen played a huge part in the Alaska community and touched a lot of people’s hearts. This page brought many people joy and the columnist received many thanks from the community for making it happen. It’s really special to be a part of the community in this way, even being behind the scenes. 

This cover page was the moment I realized the power journalism has in a community and how a page designer can contribute to making an impact.

This cover page was the moment I realized the power journalism has in a community and how a page designer can contribute to making an impact. It was also the moment when I knew I found the right career for me. There was a lot of excitement that led up to this page: it was the weekend and unplanned; our 12-page paper needed to be expanded into a 16-page paper, ads had to be moved, everything that was supposed to go on the front page got moved inside. At the time the governor of Alaska had vetoed the state budget, an action that would in turn affect all parts of the state and everyone of all ages. Many were upset by this — Alaska had been facing years of budget cuts already. I knew when I sent that cover I did something. And sure enough, I woke up the next day and discovered that at a protest, Fairbanks residents who didn’t have posters or signs to hold, used our Override editorial front page.


I feel like these pages really captured how the COVID-19 pandemic affected people (pages above and below). We weren’t expecting there to be a Midnight Sun Game that summer. The team that usually hosts the annual tradition cancelled the game due to the pandemic, but a couple of teams from the area came together to make sure it still happened. It was really a “beacon of hope” for a lot of people in a time when so many traditions were cancelled. I think Laura Stickell’s story shows the importance of community and how coming together plays a large part in human morale. It was our sports writer’s last day with the News-Miner and she sure went out with a bang. Great story, great photos.

Want to be featured?

I am always looking for newspaper designers to talk to, whether you’re at a college paper or the Washington Post. Reach out to me through the comments or at bradneedham@gmail.com.

By Brad Needham

In 1999, I started journalism school at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta. I had big plans. National Geographic photographer. Maybe foreign correspondent in war-torn countries. By the time I graduated in 2001, everything was on track. Except the job. In 2002, I set up a meeting on the other side of the country with a well-known Canadian photographer. Maclean’s, here I come, I thought. My best friend, C.J., and I set off on a road trip. Thousands of kilometres, one week, and a 1991 Chevy Sprint Turbo. Bubbles. And now I ask you to come along. Jump in the way-back machine, imagine yourself in a sky blue Sprint Turbo (the Turbo is worth mentioning every time. Every. Time. Just ask C.J.’s brother), and join me on my cross-country, 20-year journalism lookback journey. I don’t like to celebrate myself often, but I also don’t leave my profession often. After this, I will return to regularly scheduled broadcasting in this blog by focusing on designers still in the biz, and those who are lightyears more talented than I am. I peaked in 2010 (there might have been a higher peak, but the journalism world was having none of it, as it started to contract around this time).

Anyway. Bubbles. The journey began in Calgary. A couple of provinces in between, mostly fine, and then Ontario. Many routine police stops later (driving late at night with Alberta plates in Ontario) and almost no time to sleep, 36 hours later in total, we made it. I had my meeting. I brought my best stuff. I was proud. The verdict? Some potential. He loved the photos later in my portfolio, and said about the one for which I nearly had my head run over by race horses: “you were just there.” Yes, I was. And it was a damn fine photo (if I ever find my pre-digital portfolio, I will add the pic here). Alas, maybe photography wasn’t my path.

Enter Fort McMurray. The daily newspaper, the Today, offered me a job as an editor/designer. I moved up there (on a map, as the Friendly Giant would say, look up, look waaaaay up). It was there, as I have mentioned a few times in this blog, that I discovered the Society for News Design’s Best of Newspaper Design books. And I found my new love. Newspaper design (in case the book title didn’t get you there).

But the city was small (and cold) and the bugs were so, so big (when hot). So I went to test my writing chops in Red Deer, Alberta at the Advocate. Less than a year later, I was off to the promised land: Ontario. First at the Woodstock Sentinel-Review, then to the Barrie Examiner (RIP), then to the paper that firmed up my love for design (because someone told me I was good at it. Spoiler: it was SND), the Guelph Mercury (RIP). I was proud of some of my work in Woodstock and Barrie. Even Fort McMurray. Looking back, pre-Barrie work wasn’t as good as I thought it was at the time. But the Mercury made me. I was given so much freedom and time by my mentor and boss, the legendary Phil Andrews. I oversaw the Here section, a weekend features section all about Guelph. It was for this section that I won my first Society for News Design award, and still the one I’m most proud of as it was for a portfolio of work.

Those are three pages I think were part of my portfolio. I know “Getting corked” was, as it was the one in the book! I made the book (sitting in my soon-to-be-former office, so no pics available). The book that started me down this path. It was a dream come true. I even was fortunate enough to attend SND Boston where I picked up this fashionable … tote bag.

I then had the good fortune (with my newfound design street cred) to be asked to redesign the Mercury, from top to bottom. This was no refresh. I was even tasked with redesigning the flag. That is quite an honour. And scary as hell. Thanks to the Virginian-Pilot (at the time the best designed paper in North America, maybe the world, imho) and the Star-Tribune for the inspiration. Especially to the kind soul at the Pilot who sent me a box full of print copies to help me get further inspired. I was very pleased when the first issue went out (below) and almost all the feedback was positive. That’s almost unheard of! People hate change. But they appeared to like this. To this day, this is one of my proudest career accomplishments.

First day of the new Mercury.

Two years after my first SND award, I won again, this time for a front page that I was given full freedom on, the fifth anniversary of the major blackout that swept through Ontario and much of the northeastern U.S. When I designed it, my boss said he looked forward to seeing that page in the next SND book. And much to my surprise, he was right.

Shortly thereafter, I moved on to the Waterloo Region Record. And shortly thereafter after, so did production of the Mercury. It was a sign of things to come in the industry (and this blog post). But I continued to work on the Mercury from the Record. At the Record I continued designing, but also moved into a very basic art director-type role. I had a vision, drew it poorly on a small yellow sticky note and handed it off to one of the Record’s great designers, Tania Praeg-Geddes and Diane Shantz. And wouldn’t you know it. Two years after “All the lights went out,” with the help of the great Diane, we did it again. We earned the Mercury its fourth SND award in five years (it won another for a page produced by again soon-to-be-former colleague, now at The Canadian Press then at the Mercury, Kate Hopwood). This time the page likely won mostly for Diane’s brilliant illustration. It was much better than the hairy legs I drew on my sticky note. 🙂

Then came the email from the Toronto Star. They had an opening. I answered the call. I did some work I was proud of at the Star, but my heavy design days were over. Sitting at another bank of desks was a team of designers, whose entire job was to design covers. But I am happy to say I got to do some front pages for what is or was (depending on who you talk to) Canada’s largest daily circulation newspaper. The one on the right below isn’t a super fancy design, but it was my first A1 at the Star. So it’s special to me. I loved my time at the Star. But, as previously mentioned, the industry was contracting.

I was laid off and I moved to Pagemasters North America. It was eight glorious but mostly design-less years as a manager, overseeing a team of incredible editors, helping them grow and develop. So I still had a hand in others’ designs. Even super designer Tammy Hoy occasionally asked for my advice. Five of those years were spent overseeing the Star after they outsourced to Pagemasters North America (see, the Mercury was a sign of things to come in the industry and this post).

And now I depart marking what is likely the end of my journalism journey, at least as an active participant. For now. Anything is possible, but I am excited for what lies ahead. I know I have been so fortunate in this industry. Or as some would say, unfortunate. I made it 20 years. I lived through some not as lean times. I was blessed with opportunities and support. The Mercury was an incubator. It launched many to greatness. As I start looking back, I look ahead. I hope to be able to blog more, and showcase print design talent from around the world, from those who are sticking it out in this industry and doing outstanding work. I will do it here, and hopefully even more often as I will need my print design fix, and on my Instagram. Until then, a journalism cliche …

-30-

A compilation of partial covers by Raina Toomey

By Brad Needham

Newspaper design. There is not much more anonymous. Even the front page. Many magazines will list who designed the cover on or near the masthead. That is not standard practice in the newspaper world. In the past designers could compete for awards, but even those are disappearing. The Ontario Newspaper Awards dropped its design category (though I will urge them to bring it back here…). There is a presentation category that captures print and digital at the National Newspaper Awards. But other than the Society for News Design awards (still the pinnacle of print design awards), there isn’t much left. However, often those who get into design do so to be behind the scenes. So perhaps some don’t want to throw their hats into the ring of competition and have their names up in lights. Leave that to byline-hungry reporters (we thank you for your content).

But the role of this blog is to shine a spotlight on both the publications and, when possible, people behind the designs. In this post I speak to Raina Toomey from the Postmedia Production Centre in Hamilton. It is the primary print production centre for Postmedia. I have long heard Toomey’s name. And unknowingly, I have seen her work (because it’s so anonymous). It was only luck that I stumbled upon something designed by her when I was doing a post on COVID-19 papers. She was responsible for what was probably the page of the year, in at least Canadian newspapers, on the anniversary of the declaration of the pandemic, March 11, 2021.

Ottawa Citizen, March 11, 2021

I was happy to hear that she would be interested in talking to me about more of her designs. I love to look at a body of someone’s work, rather than one piece, to see themes and differences. I asked Raina some questions about her career in design. I found that she and I had a lot of similarities. We both started in editing. We both love simplicity in design. We both work in media production centres. Without further ado …

How did you get into newspaper design?
I studied print journalism in college because I loved writing and, at the very wise age of 19, decided it was journalism or teaching and I didn’t want to be a teacher. (I shake my head at myself now, of course.)

In my second semester of college, I started working part-time as a copy runner (essentially, a gofer) at the Ottawa Sun, took on freelance work for them and did my job placement there in the fourth semester as a reporter. That was when it firmed in my mind that I really hated reporting and talking to strangers at some of the worst points in their lives. I was hired as their TV editor, which involved a mix of interviewing, writing features and basic layout. That evolved into the new position of production editor for the Today section, laying out and copy editing the Sun’s arts and life pages. Being the Sun, that meant a lot of bells and whistles and splashy design.

Readers’ time is valuable. Effective newspaper design informs as much as it attracts.

Raina Toomey

From there, I moved to the Sun’s news rim as a copy editor, then to the senior slot editor, slotting and drawing the news and business pages.

After 17 years at the Ottawa Sun, I made the move to broadsheets and the Ottawa Citizen as a copy editor on the news desk. By the time I left the Citizen four years later, I was their A1 editor and had worked on a number of special projects, including design and being a builder of their content management system.

I transferred to Postmedia Editorial Services in Hamilton, where I am the production editor for the hub that produces the chain’s 10 major market publications (nine broadsheets, one tabloid). The position offers a lot of variety, and I’m somewhat of a jack-of-all-trades. My specialties involve developing efficient print workflows across the chain, newsroom technology, planning and newspaper design. I work on everything from day-to-day production – layout, editing, clearing pages, design of pages that break away from the ordinary – to the design and production of special coverage such as the Olympics and elections, to rolling out and training staff on our content management system and other technology.

What do you like about newspaper design? And what makes it different?
I love the flexibility of newspaper design, in that it goes beyond pure esthetics. Newspaper design demands a special skillset that blends news sense with creativity. It needs to draw the reader in, while remaining true to the subject matter. It must be more than visually pleasing; it has to be readable. Yes, use a pullquote, but only if it draws in the reader in a contextual way. Info boxes, numbers packages, sidebars all have to be treated as part of the whole and add value. Readers’ time is valuable. Effective newspaper design informs as much as it attracts.

Ottawa Citizen, March 28, 2020: a text-driven cover.

What was the most fun you have had with a design?
I think the most fun I’ve had with design is when I’ve been forced to make something out of nothing – where the art is lacking or of poor quality, but the story is important and needs to make a splash. I am not fond of using clipart unless there is no other option, so it is satisfying to devise a type attack or interesting play of lacklustre art that manages to make things pop.

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

Ottawa Citizen, Jan. 30, 2021. A simple cover with just three headshots as art.

Simplicity is important to me. I like the conscious use of white space, as well as the judicious breaking of rules in limited instances. The Postmedia design has what some have called rigid rules – headline hierarchy, how and when colour should be used in text, no text on photos, no cutouts or close crops – but that is only for the day-to-day design. Sticking to the rules in the majority of situations adds more power and impact to a design when a decision is made to deviate from the rules.

Tell me about a design you loved that was rejected.
One paper had a lifestyles section front about wedding dresses. The main art was fairly small, and restricted to above the fold. I sized the art way up, so the model went from the top of the page all the way to the bottom, approved a close-crop and extended the train across the bottom of the page. It was stunning. The editor insisted the photo be sized back down so the entire gown could be above the fold.

I feel I’ve grown a lot as a designer and a journalist since my early days, and expect to learn more – and improve – in the years to come. If I don’t, that would be a sad state of affairs.

RAina Toomey

Now, in my opinion, above the fold/below the fold is outdated thinking, even when it comes to A1. First, the bulk of the circulation for most papers is based on home subscribers, not single-copy sales at the corner store or gas station. Secondly, someone who is going to pick up a paper along with their gas and lottery tickets will not be choosing their purchase as they would decide which tomato to buy at the grocery store – they want to buy that newspaper. Lastly, this was an inside section; by default, the reader would have to unfold the paper to even read it, and would see the dress in its entirety.

Are there any designers or publications other than those you have worked at that you are sure to look at?
I love the design of the National Post’s Weekend Post. It’s very magazine-like, and showcases the way great design can maintain a consistency in style while doing some pretty out-there design. Lovely.  

How do 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?
I don’t do a lot of looking back. I consider design a constantly evolving skill. What I did years ago is indicative of where I was at that point in my career, and that’s fine. I feel I’ve grown a lot as a designer and a journalist since my early days, and expect to learn more – and improve – in the years to come. If I don’t, that would be a sad state of affairs.

I do appreciate that technology has reached the point where the designer can touch all aspects of their creation – no sizing wheel, no getting camera-ready versions of images shot for paste-up, no painstaking close crop work with an X-Acto knife.

How is it different working in Hamilton vs. working directly in the newsroom? 
In some respects, working at a hub offers more variety, challenge and flexibility than working in a traditional newsroom. While our newsroom colleagues may feel that those at the hub are separate from them, and not as invested as they are in stories that matter to their readers, that is not the case in reverse. Many staff at the hub take pride in the work they do for “their” paper or papers and feel they are contributing in a meaningful way to the papers’ success. This past year of working from home has likely offered our colleagues a glimpse of what it is like to work outside the newsroom and still be part of the important work we do as journalists.

The logistics of working at a production hub are different, and that can largely be chalked up to technology and how economics have changed the business of presenting the news.

In past years, when every large newsroom had in-house designers, print design was as much a part of the discussion for special projects as the writing and photography. Now, that kind of start-to-finish collaboration often only occurs for digital presentation. It’s possible that some newsrooms consider print design to be outside their scope, since their paper is no longer put together in-house. It is also simply the way things are as we move more fully into the digital world.

Unlike traditional newsrooms of the past, the production hub has to balance creativity and workload. Where once a designer in a large newsroom might have a week or weeks (or longer) to create something spectacular, a designer at a hub has to work under much tighter time constraints and deal with a greater volume of pages. Some newsrooms try to involve the hub as much as possible, giving advance notice and filing early when they require something with flare. They may have suggestions or a vision, or they may just hand it over without offering guidance. Other newsrooms aren’t as aware of the time needed to make something sparkle, or face staffing constraints that don’t allow much turnaround time. Everyone everywhere has to do more with less.  

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

Ottawa Citizen A1, Saturday, April 4, 2020

An example of the power of a type attack using shades of grey and a mix of Postmedia’s bold block line style font with the serif style we use for big numbers in display. The page also broke from style in that there was no main art, only a small close-crop of the now-familiar computer-generated image of the coronavirus. Saturday A1s usually are colourful, teaser-driven pages, so the calculated, drastic deviation from style served to emphasize the seriousness of the province’s message.

Ottawa Citizen A1, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021

While I usually avoid using clip art whenever possible, this page presented a challenge in that the only art available was largely poor-quality headshots of the suspected serial killer and his victims, and those were used with the three-page feature inside. Andrew Duffy’s incredible piece strung together suspicious deaths, fires, shootings and rumours as police spent 30 years trying to get the evidence to convict a man who has always maintained his innocence. This design broke from style by using clip art of a smoking match (to convey the link to fires and a trail gone cold) and putting large, bold type for both the head and deck on the black background of the image.

Montreal Gazette, A10/A11, May 11, 2019

It’s difficult to separate politics from religion in Quebec. In a two-part series, Andy Riga looked at the intertwined history of two integral pieces of identity for many Quebecers. The first part ran May 11, 2019, and consisted of a piece that took some time to figure out – what would be the best way to present a narrative feature in a format similar to an illustrated timeline? If styled like a usual timeline, our sans infobody style, it would be dense and difficult to read at that length. I used archival images, special formatting derived from existing styles in our design and, my favourite, white space to make key moments in the timeline stand out.

Montreal Gazette, Reopening Canada package, A1, B1-B8, June 27, 2020

Every major-market paper in the chain ran a Reopening Canada package June 27, 2020. With a mix of local and shared content, the sections required a cohesive look that would tie everything together and say, “Here is something you need to read.” Our section squares are usually set solid colours reserved for standing sections. I created a special red square with a Maple Leaf watermark to use on the section front and smaller on each page in the section. Pages were limited to a maximum two stories, features or alternative story forms, every one labeled in red – not one of our usual accent colours – to indicate the specific economic sector, such as aerospace, retail, restaurants, arts and culture, etc … Each page featured a large pullquote beside the inside square, a style most often restricted to the OpEd pages.

Thanks, Raina! Thus ends the Q&A portion …

I agree with Raina on her choices, particularly the Grim Projections page. It uses text so boldly to send an important message. Stay home. That’s it. And as I said up top and in a previous post, I love the design on the anniversary of the pandemic declaration.

Here are a couple more I really dug from the samples she sent.

Ottawa Citizen, October 23, 2014

I love this one for three reasons I always go back to. It’s a big day, and nothing captures a big day like a powerful newspaper front page. It’s simple, which I always appreciate, but especially on big news days with emotional, sensitive content. The story is the story. The page needs to capture the gravity without taking away from it. It can be hard to not go too far on a design. And the strong image.

This is another design I like for being simple and informative. A good, big, bold headline. Clear throws to the inside. A helpful map. And again, this was about an important and sensitive topic, though a retrospective kind of look, rather than the day after coverage.

Many staff at the hub take pride in the work they do for “their” paper or papers and feel they are contributing in a meaningful way to the papers’ success.

Raina Toomey, on working outside a specific newsroom

There were so many others to choose from. Raina had a number of wonderful designs (some beautiful graduation pages, capturing and celebrating graduation in a pandemic in the Calgary area, and more), and I also very much appreciate her approach to and philosophy on design. We share so many similar views. Not only that, we both work in a similar environment. While the Postmedia Production Centre is part of Postmedia, it’s still outside the newsrooms, which creates a new dynamic with editors. The same is true at PMNA, though we are an outsourcer (that said, PMNA is owned jointly by three organizations, two of which we have done or still do layout and editing for: the Globe and Mail and Toronto Star). But even with a different relationship, outside the newsroom, Raina has found a way to shine (as have the editors at PMNA).

But a special thank you again to Raina Toomey. Thanks for continuing to give it your all in an industry that doesn’t value print design as it once did. The results are evident. And I know many still appreciate it, though maybe few as much as I do.

A look inside an edition of a Society for News Design Best of Newspaper Design books.

By Brad Needham

For years people have been saying it. Print is dead. Newspapers are dying. Perhaps the end is nearing, but newspapers are not dead yet. And as long as they’re around, I want to celebrate those making an extra effort. Print design, newspaper design, has shaped my career. It’s a passion. There is not much like it, so I, for one, want it to survive as long as possible. They’ve long been sending out a please resuscitate message, and I’m happy to do newspaper CPR as long as necessary.

Where it all began (for me)
In 2003, fresh out of out university, I had just lied my way into a job in Fort McMurray, Alberta. Am I a good designer? I taught design at Mount Royal as a TA, I said. It wasn’t completely untrue. I landed the job, and thus I packed up and moved to northern Alberta in February to start my first daily newspaper job at the Fort McMurray Today.

It was there I stumbled on some books called The Best of Newspaper Design by the Society for News Design. It changed my life. The designs inside were spectacular. Awe inspiring for a young aspiring designer. No longer did I want to be a photographer and certainly not a sports reporter (sorry, dad). I wanted to do that. As I learned more about the Society for News Design (SND) I discovered they were the preeminent design society. The best designers in the world were competing to get into this book. New York Times, El Mudo, Virginian-Pilot, Boston Globe, Toronto Star. I was hooked.

I took these books everywhere (including to Red Deer when I left the paper in Fort McMurray … ssshhh). On vacations, to the cottage, on the bus. When other people were reading novels on the dock, I had my big cumbersome SND books, new sticky notes flagging inspirational designs being added frequently. Every time I did a big design, I was pretty proud. I look back on many of them now with less pride. But I was learning. At the Red Deer Advocate, the Woodstock Sentinel-Review, the Barrie Examiner (RIP). And then I got to the Guelph Mercury, the little paper that could — and did. I was offered a role overseeing the Here section, a feature section focusing on interesting local people and places. I was given time to conceptualize, assign, design. My managing editor was incredibly supportive of my ideas, even if they seemed bizarre on … paper.

That’s how it happened. Years after discovering the Best of Newspaper Design books, collecting dust on a book shelf in a northern Alberta newsroom, after dozens, maybe hundreds of pages drawn, I decided to enter. As a lark. Weeks passed. Nothing. Until one day a note popped into my inbox from SND. I had been recognized for my features portfolio. My heart was pounding. I jumped out of my desk and stormed into my boss’s office as if my house was on fire. I didn’t knock. “I … won an SND. I won!” I could barely breathe.

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I submitted five pages. One of those in a few weeks’ time would be in Best of Newspaper Design 28. It was beyond my wildest dreams. To be in these books I used for inspiration. After that I was handed the keys to a full redesign of the Mercury. I was told I could redesign an entire fairly major Canadian newspaper. One of the country’s oldest. I was humbled. With that behind me, I kept chugging along. I submitted a portfolio the next year. I thought it was stronger. But nothing. It was a once-in-a-lifetime achievement, I thought. Winning an SND award. Except it wasn’t. I won again a year later for a news page, based on the redesign. My managing editor allowed me to use all the front page real estate for a design idea. Best of Newspaper Design 30. And I won again two years later, Best of Newspaper Design 32, working with a great designer, Diane Shantz, at the Waterloo Region Record (but for a Guelph Mercury page — the industry was starting its contraction as the Mercury’s page production was brought into the Record. A sign of things to come, and why great newspaper design should be celebrated now more than ever).

A changing landscape
That was in the early 2010s. Print advertising started on a steady decline. Stories were available online for free. Newspapers, once a licence to print money, weren’t as profitable (but still doing well relatively speaking). But as revenues dwindled, newspapers started cutting staff. Some adopted a “good enough” policy (it’s true, but I won’t say who said it). It was the idea that readers don’t care about design. They don’t care if a photo is beautifully shot by a professional photographer. A handout picture would do.

Perhaps the end is nearing, but newspapers are not dead yet. And as long as they’re around, we should celebrate those making an extra effort.

Even by 2010, newspapers were in decline. A Pew Research Center report said half a dozen U.S. newspapers had closed down the previous year. Alarm bells were ringing. But we hadn’t seen anything yet. A report out of the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at the University of North Carolina published in 2020 said about a quarter of all papers in the U.S. had closed in the past 15 years. And things aren’t any better in Canada. A story in the Toronto Star last year said 50 community newspapers closed over a period of six weeks. Six weeks. Compared to just over 200 in the previous 12 years. Three newspapers I worked at have closed, the Guelph Mercury, Barrie Examiner and Prince George Free Press. I can’t even begin to explain how much I learned in these roles, and what those papers meant to their communities.

To make a short story long, there are very few people left who get days or even several hours to put a section together, to conceptualize design. To sketch out designs on little yellow sticky notes, as I did at the Waterloo Region Record, and hand them to a designer to implement. I have been fortunate in my career. Awards like the Ontario Newspaper Awards no longer even have a print design category (I won once, received two other nominations and had the privilege of being a judge one year). But because I have been fortunate, I now want to celebrate those who are still doing it. Still producing kick ass designs, like the Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, Spokesman-Review and so on. And I will look at these papers and more to find out why they’re still investing. Hopefully they can inspire future aspiring designers to aim a little higher.