Some things happened and now we are here

Ah, so, I convinced some folks to put me in charge of the Design Studio, and they did.

It’s so exciting and daunting. I’m ready to do it up right. I have a lot of ideas, a lot of things I want to do.

I’m stretched a little thin right now, though. Still doing the old gig, which was already a 60-hours-a-week job, and now I have just seriously compounded my commitment and I am finding that there are literally not enough hours in the day for me to get done all the things I need to get done. I started working at 9 a.m. Monday and it is now nearly 1 a.m. Tuesday and with the exception of one restroom break and a quick trip to get fish and potatoes in the cafeteria, I have not had a moment of downtime and I am nowhere near being done with my to-do list. Oh, I guess you can count the drive home as downtime, but I sure did think hard the whole way.

I’d be a lot more productive if the space-time continuum would just bend to my will.

I’m excited and frazzled. I just have to survive the rest of the year and get through the holidays and then, hopefully, there will be a clearing and I will be able to take a deep breath and then really dive deep.

I’ve written “I” a lot here but there are a lot of “wes” involved too.

Some things I’ve done that were printed on paper

I’ve gotten really bad at keeping a running visual tally of the things I design at work, so here’s a dump from the past few months! What you see here are some pages, some centerpieces.

tcl 1A 1224


CP for Montgomery Advertiser


CP for Montgomery Advertiser


CP for Montgomery Advertiser

Lighten up: News design, levity, and fighting the impulse to be So Serious

I haven’t posted about news design here in a long time. Did you guys know I still do that for a living? Oh boy, do I ever.

My time working for newspapers has now stretched into a decade. In that time, I’ve had the honor of working with eight daily newspapers, each with its own distinct flavor determined by a combination of location, publisher whims, editor disposition (this goes all the way from the top editor to the last copy editor who proofs the pages before releasing every night), ad/marketing department attitudes, staff makeup, money woes or triumphs, and more.

If there is one thing that has cropped up time and time again that can impede good design, it’s an editor’s fear of levity.

Editors want their papers to be taken seriously. I get that, and I believe a paper’s credibility is what can ensure its longevity. But there seems to be this idea that newspapers are above needing to be fun or interesting, as if fun and interesting are beneath us as journalists. It’s such a dangerous mindset, particularly for midsize metro/regional papers. I’m not talking about the New York Times here.

Just think of all the amazing things that vie for a person’s attention every day. We carry around these Infinite Information Machines in our hands everywhere we go. We can read whatever we want, make art, or play games on these things. There are giant, beautiful television screens with whiz-bang graphics streaming across them at all hours, bringing us nonstop data and entertainment. We sit down at smaller screens and stare into the glowing rectangle for hours and hours, an entire world’s worth of knowledge at our fingertips. When do we actually stop and notice a piece of information and show it to someone else to spread our delight with it?

When it is unexpected, memorable or funny. When it brings us a ping of satisfaction.

They are small but important parts of our experiences as humans in info-saturated 2014, those little moments of fun. Build up enough of those experiences with a product and you will start to feel a connection that can grow into brand loyalty.

Newspaper editors are so reticent to play that game — a game where frivolity might exist alongside seriousness — that they often opt to squash everything but the seriousness because We Are a Real Newspaper, after all. But what does that mean now? And how is that working out for you, anyway?

Google doesn’t put that doodle up to make money. Google puts that doodle up because it’s fun and it expands the experience of using Google into something you’re going to want to do regularly, to see what silly/sweet/funny/wacky thing they might come up with next. And then Google makes money because once you get caught up in the Google brand, they’ve got their meathooks in you everywhere you go on the web and are running behind you, picking up the loose change falling out of your pockets.

So, what is the harm in letting your paper bring levity to your readers if it’s done in a smart way? Particularly if your paper has access to a designer or editor who is really good at identifying when and how to bring unexpected elements of fun to your pages?

It has sort of shocked me over the years to watch editors shoot down really, really clever ideas by designers for pedantic or overly literal reasons. Editors sometimes have a habit of letting small, inconsequential qualms that can easily be addressed blind them to the overall greatness of an idea. That’s why designer-editor collaboration — and having editors with strong visual understanding and designers with strong editing chops — is more important than ever. And why trust and building smarter teams is more important than ever. Our staffs are smaller so we need to work smarter. The people still left in the newspaper industry need to be the ones who shine the brightest, not just the ones who happen to be left over after years of staff hemorrhaging.

(And, yes, I know what a tall order that last sentence is. Still, I hold out hope.)

Part of my current job is to go to bat for ideas I think are worth fighting for, even if editors don’t get them or think they are silly. I have lost count by now of all the interesting, quirky, memorable design ideas we’ve pitched to editors that have gotten shot down outright for being a little too much, a little too forward, a little too weird, or that have made it past initial reactions but then got henpecked by editors who weren’t sold on the idea to begin with and built up enough steam over the evening to get it killed. Or, worse yet, ideas that started out really fun and engaging, but that end up getting twisted and mutated when editors ask for disparate concepts to be mashed together so that they don’t have to pick one idea over another.

Many editors would much rather go with something straightforward and boring than something that might be a little edgy, something that might give the reader a little wink wink nudge nudge to get the point across. But which of those approaches is actually going to get noticed? Or remembered? Can you remember what your daily newspaper looked like in the rack this morning?

I’m here to make a plea, in overwrought wording so you know how serious I am: Editors, be ye not afraid of memorable, unexpected news design. Be ye not afraid of silliness sometimes. Remember that more than ever before, people expect to have interesting, worth-talking-about experiences in conjunction with the products we sell*. We’d be foolish to ignore that and insist that providing moments of delight is beneath us.

So, wonks and pedants, literalists and newshounds, hear my plea. Give your readers some moments of delight every now and again. Have a sense of humor in your pages, where it counts and makes sense. And take some time to enjoy that delight yourself. I promise it will not kill you.

* And yes, the newspaper we sell is a product. I have reluctantly come to understand and embrace that concept. It’s a product with a noble purpose, of course, so that helps.

I did something I actually like!

I don’t post about specific stuff I do at work very often because … actually I’m not sure why. It ain’t modesty, I promise. I think I’m still just delusionally assuming that if I don’t post specifics about my work that no one at the new job (new? I’ve been there a year!) is going to find this corner of the internet and discover what a nutty broad I am. That’s crazy, I suppose, because surely by now they have already figured that out.

ANYWAY! For three weeks I have been working with the editors at the Montgomery paper to illustrate their huge series on violent crime in the city. I had spent a lot of time working on The Commercial Appeal’s True Crime series a few years ago, so I felt pretty equipped to tackle the topic from a design standpoint. Except this time around, the editor was not enthusiastic about the photographs that went with the main stories. So he asked if we could go conceptual.

So here’s what I did.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I’m a bit self-conscious about my ability to execute conceptual designs. I’ve felt that it’s been a weak spot for me since I didn’t get much graphic design training in college (I was on the media design path in J-school; graphic design fell under the college of art) and I spent the first seven years of my career cutting my teeth at a paper that had amazing photographers and an amazing illustrator. There really wasn’t much of a need for me to do conceptual illustrations. So that muscle never got worked.

But I took the editor’s challenge and had a moment of inspiration one evening while digging through stock art. I found this one piece — a spiky blue wave drawing. I had my way with it in Photoshop and ended up with a huge and aggressive wall of red ink engulfing nearly the entire front page. I thought there was no way it would fly with the editor and suspected it wouldn’t fly with anyone, so I ran it past my creative director (email subject line: “Is this crazy?”). He enthusiastically greenlit it and helped me refine it. And then the next week’s photographs were also week, and so we decided we’d have a trilogy of illustrations.

The roots are my favorite. They are hand drawn. Er, mouse drawn. (I should get a tablet.) And that is the third iteration of them. They started out just at the top, and then I had them go down both sides of the page, but my boss told me they looked like Frodo’s head. (They did. And Michael Jackson’s.)

It was a ton of work but I’m happy with how each of these pages turned out and with how they all work together. Kudos to the editor for going with such a bold idea — many editors might have balked — and for letting me come up with ideas that strayed from his original vision.

This post is not about work!*

We hit a wormhole back there or something. I don’t know. How did it get to be the freaking sixth month of the year already? YOU GUYS, CHRISTMAS IS ALMOST HERE, Target’s marketing department shout-whispered directly into your ear.

I think about blogging constantly and then I get on the computer and my work email pops up and before I know it, it’s four hours later and I’ve answered fifty emails and laid out three pages that someone else was scheduled to do but some editors REALLY REALLY NEEDED DONE LIKE RIGHT NOW PLEASE and I’ve worked on the schedule and attempted to make an illustration that doesn’t suck on rye toast and that’s all BEFORE I’ve even gone to the office. It’s kind of obscene how much I’m working lately. And yet that is sort of what I have to do to feel even close to being on top of my workload.

It’s kind of hilarious in a really sad way. I try to keep my dabbling in work in check at home while the boy is awake. I have to send out the daily assignments early in the morning but beyond that I really really try not to have my head buried in the laptop while he’s playing and could use some company and someone to teach him how to, uh, walk and talk and stuff. But when he goes down for a nap, all bets are off.

Hi, everyone. My name is Lindsey and I’m a workaholic.

I have friends who live fifteen minutes away who I have gone months without seeing. Five months. Seven months. Blink. How?

I’ve gotta cut this out. I’ve got to draw some boundaries. Got to get my social life back and I’ve got to write and take photos again. And make stuff. And play with my baby more. Shit, he’s not even a baby anymore. He’s a little dude and he is going to think that my face is a glowing white Apple.

*This post is about work

Vacating!

Vacation day one: The sun cannot be bothered to come out

I’m finally taking some time off work. First real stretch of days off since October. Gah, how did that happen? Oh right, we have been so short-staffed at work since December that it has been impossible for me to get away.

Day one of the vacation has been spent inside, rain pouring nonstop since early morning. I don’t mind. I need a day of decompression before I can even contemplate what’s next or how to spend the next few days.

Don’t squander them, my inner nag says.

A Life in the Day: 3.22.13

Last January, I did one of these so I could remember how it was taking care of a newborn while on maternity leave. I figured I’d do one again while I am a Working Mother of a Toddler, so that in a year or two when my life has changed yet again (spoiler alert: it just keeps changing!), I can look back and try to remember what this life was like.

So here is a pretty typical LT day, told in pictures. To see the captions, you have to toggle on full screen and click the picture, I think. You can hit pause and then scroll through them at your own pace.

Commence vacation!

butterfly

I got my two papers launched so I’m taking a week off. This feels obscene in some ways. Like, what could a person do with an ENTIRE week off? This means I will likely squander it in pajamas, watching TV shows I don’t care about. But I am not going to allow myself to feel guilty no matter what I do this week.

I have small goals:

• Give the cats a bath
• Watch the debate
• Get a haircut
• Carve a pumpkin
• Take the Buds on some adventures
• Get supplies for somebody’s big First Birthday Party
• Finish up some design projects
• Not check work email
• Go on a date with my man
• Take some dang pictures

Shane McDermott, ###

Day 141: Captain Arnold

Yesterday, my former employer laid off one of my close friends and one of the most talented people I have ever met.

I remember when he was hired. It was a few months after I had started and the art director sent out an email to everyone telling us we’d hired a new artist named Shane McDermott, so be on the lookout for some dude walking around, wearing a beret. Get it? He was an ARTIST.

Shane sat over and away from the rest of the design department on a little cube island with the art director and the other artist. Yes, folks, in 2005, The Commercial Appeal had TWO graphic artists, one of whom made maps and downloaded stock and weather graphics for a living. Can you imagine? I didn’t speak to Shane very much but I remember that first Christmas, he came around and dumped a little pile of chocolates on everyone’s desk. Obviously, we were destined to be good friends.

We also worked together like gangbusters. When I had my stint as assistant art director/Sunday Viewpoint designer my favorite part of the whole week would be when Shane and I got to sit down and talk about his illustration ideas. He would always come over to my desk with his sketch pad in hand and go over the intricate thumbnail sketches he’d come up with. Then I’d make a face and he was always really good at reading when I wasn’t into any of them. Sometimes he’d have something that was just perfect. Sometimes we’d settle on a combination of two thumbs. Sometimes we’d brainstorm a totally new but freaking brilliant idea, sitting right there at my desk. He’d go back to his desk and scan in the thumbnail and I’d place it on the page and design around it. He’d stay up all night making an amazing piece of art that would be printed in the Sunday paper and eventually end up in people’s trash or at the bottom of their birdcage (herf derf, we newspaper people love hearing that joke!). It’s so fleeting, making art for newspapers. You get one shot to make it count. Shane was fantastic at knocking it out of the park, visually, in that one shot. I have so many portfolio pieces with his work on them.

Shane’s art made The CA better. So much better. His touches were all over the paper. When they laid off the graphic artist responsible for doing maps and stocks and weather, Shane picked up those duties on top of his already substantial illustration load. I’m sure he wasn’t thrilled to be spending some of his hours making locator maps, but it was something he did with skill anyway.

Having Shane on staff made the paper more colorful and more engaging every single day. When the holidays rolled around, you could be sure there’d be a sweet story that would unfold in his advent calendar. And he could take a two-dimensional concept and turn it into an entire (and adorable) papercraft franchise. One of the few things I carried from my old desk to my new desk here in Nashville is my CA newsbot. It sits proudly beneath my monitor, looking pretty busted because it’s taped together and not glued, but proud and fucking rad nonetheless.

newsbot
Day 180: Independence Bot zombot2

And having him as a work friend was the shit. For a long time I saved almost every email he sent me at work because they were all hilarious. We worked in this surreal space where there were nosehorn trumpets and foot stompers and people humming and clearing their throats and clicking their fingernails on keyboards and sing-song yawning, and had I not had him there to make incredulous faces at and field my frustrated emails, I never would have lasted as long as I did.

Shane is an incredible talent and a damned great person. It shows the desperation of the company if they are getting rid of him, frankly. Shane’s artwork helped set The CA apart from and above other news outlets. It makes me so incredibly sad to see the paper — which gave me my first job out of college — go this route. Several other people I admire and respect tremendously lost their jobs yesterday in the same round of brutal layoffs. I’m so sick of being a part of an industry that just keeps cutting and cutting with no end in sight. It’s heartbreaking.

The good news is that Shane will be fine. He is going to be plenty busy and I hope it’s with stuff that doesn’t involve a LICK of school mergers and politics. Because he’s illustrated enough of that stuff to last a lifetime.

Shane, my friend, seeing that picture of you loading your stuff into a shopping cart made me cry and laugh at the same time. That is entirely you. Absurd and funny and wacky but always with a baseline of utterly heartbreaking sincerity. You will be missed by an industry that didn’t even know what it had.

Dear reader, go visit his blog, where I hope he’ll be updating us on what’s in store for him.

This is crazy this is crazy this is crazy

That’s what keeps running through my head as I’m going through the business of making this move. I just keep picturing Clark Griswold clapping his hands together and saying it over and over.

So here is where we are and where we have been.

We found a house! After three weekends of searching plus ALL THE INTERNET RESEARCHING, we ended up deciding to go with a house on a tip supplied by Sarcastro. (Apropos of nothing, I miss Sarcastro’s blog.) It’s cozy with a sweet little porch, a bay window, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a deck out back, and a bonus room/den/office area, complete with a perfect little spot for the cats to shit. You would not believe how difficult it is to find a house with a good spot for cats to shit. And there is a little laundry room with tall shelves for me to store all the crap I will inevitably drag along with me since I won’t have enough time to sift through everything and chunk much of it.

We had this other house we really loved but it wasn’t a 100 percent deal and we decided we needed to go ahead and push the button on something definite before we left town. I was getting pretty discouraged with the house hunt* and just needed to feel like we had something we could rely on so I could go ahead and start making moving plans. I start my job Wednesday, after all, and much of the packing and moving is going to have to happen while I am 200 miles away. This makes the control freak in me want to barf.

So I am going to Nashville tomorrow night to stay with Matt and Amanda. And then I report at 9 a.m. to the new job. I’ll come back to Memphis Friday night to continue packing and then back to Nashville Sunday night. We won’t actually move into the house until around the 11th so that it going to be pretty rough. I cannot imagine being away from my baby for a week but that is the reality of the situation so we are going to just do it, I guess. We will figure out the details as we stumble toward them.

It’s exciting and scary.

Here goes.

* We had an appointment to view a house at 10 a.m. Sunday. The landlord told me over the phone that 10 a.m. would be good because the family would be at church and we could poke around the house. I assumed he would clear all of this with the family. We showed up at the scheduled time and knocked on the door. A lady answered and was flabbergasted at our presence. I told her why we were there and she said no one had communicated anything with her. “We still live here!” she said with complete exasperation. She was in a nightgown and I heard kids in the background. We got back into the car and suddenly my phone started blowing up — it was the number of the landlord. I finally thought maybe I had gone to the wrong house when he texted, “R U gettn close I am here waitin.” I called back. Turns out he had just gotten there after us, I guess. I told him the tenant had no idea we were coming. “Who answered the door?” he asked. “That big fat lady?” Aaaand scene.