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By Ron Reason

Welcome to Design With Reason, the blog of Ron Reason Consulting. I’m passionate about excellence in storytelling, editorial design, branding and strategy, and have collaborated worldwide for more than 25 years with news publishers, as well as corporate, academic and nonprofit news providers. (Bio. LinkedIn. Client list.) After a number of years on faculty at Poynter, heading my own design firm in Chicago, taking a detour for a Distinguished Professorship in Journalism at the University of Montana, I’m now based in Portland, Ore., and work virtually or travel to clients as needed.

In addition to traditional redesign services, I also offer remote creative direction, as well as ongoing design and production, for smaller publications that may not have access to a creative supervisor or full-time designer. (Read more on these services.)

What’s kept me in business, even through challenging times for some areas of editorial publishing? A creative yet grounded approach that puts great storytelling – as well as user experience and yes, revenue implications – above mere good looks. My clients usually express this best:
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Bringing change into focus: ‘Photo-activist’ sets sights on Kenya Parliament

Boniface Mwangi takes his message to the streets in this photo by our mutual friend, Noor Khamis [via Reuters].

Once a newspaper photojournalist and now a candidate for Minister of Kenya’s Parliament, Boniface Mwangi takes his message to the streets, in this photo by our mutual friend, Noor Khamis [via Reuters].

He once delivered live pigs to politicians to protest their outrageous pay. This week, the President conceded: salaries must be slashed. Meet Boniface Mwangi, the former Standard photojournalist making change happen. 

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NYTimes 2020 report: What it means for visual journalism, there and elsewhere

By Ron Reason

The New York Times today released its 2020 report, identifying various targets for newsroom innovation and improvement, and there’s lots of good news for visual and multimedia journalists, at the Times and elsewhere. Read the full post »

They’re people, not props: Photographing across cultures

A favorite image from my travels in Africa: A candid moment of a photojournalist Noor Khamis interviewing and interacting with a resident of the Kibera slum. [Photo by Ron Reason]

Following is an adaptation of presentations given during my professorship at the University of Montana, and a variation on earlier talks for the National Press Photographers AssociationPoynter, SND, and my ongoing work with the photojournalists of Standard Media Group of East Africa. For more in words and visuals about my life and work in Africa and elsewhere in the world, visit this link. 

By Ron Reason 

What distinguishes an ordinary photo from an impactful photo? One that might have potential to give viewers pause, to be seen as a call to action, to generate engagement? Read the full post »

Need a short-term creative director or visuals editor? Here’s how that works

[Looking for traditional redesign help? Start here.]

Expanding on recent client interest, in addition to traditional redesign consulting I’m now offering two new services: guest creative direction, and remote design editing and production. These may be of particular benefit to smaller publications, who may need these services but have limited need or budget for full-time staff to take them on.



[Questions I asked in reviewing each edition of Athletic Business, before publication: Was the cover as impactful as possible? Did infographics hit the mark? Were photos displayed for impact as well as clarity? Did headlines sing? We also discussed ad flow and the impact of marketing messages.]

Following my 2015 redesign of Athletic Business, CEO Gretchen Brown was interested in some ongoing creative oversight for the magazine’s new look and spirit. She was interested in using me as a mentor for her new art director, as well as staff I had collaborated with during the redesign phase. In effect, she wanted a sort of “guest creative director” to work with the staff for a year, reviewing their work in advance of  publication and making it the best it could be.

We came up with the idea of providing monthly “pre-mortems,” whereby I would take a look at page designs, photo layouts, headlines and infographics submitted to me by the staff just before deadline, so that I may coach them to produce their most creative work as well as help ensure adherence to the new styles.   Read the full post »

7 Things to Love About The Stranger: An Illustrated Guide.

Covers from The Stranger, Seattle's alternative weekly newspaper

[Update: Since this blog post was first published in 2010, some design elements of The Stranger may have changed, but the spirited visual mission has not. Find lots of fun new links celebrating the paper’s 25th anniversary at the bottom of this post. To be clear, this was not one of my redesign projects; rather, it’s among publications I have admired for a while, and have discussed with my students and clients. Happy birthday, Stranger! – RR]

My client newspapers do not always find it helpful for me to just show up and offer my No. 1 piece of consultatory advice: “Stop being so boring,” bop them over the head (Dogbert-style) with a rolled-up newspaper, and leave. They say: Ron, we want specifics. We want role models to aspire to.

I share crazy ideas from other clients, like when I got the San Francisco Examiner (which was on death’s door at the time, surprisingly, still in business) to turn its back page Sports section upside down. You know, flip the paper over, so you can read the pages logically, sequentially, instead of backward, like other daily tabs, and so it can be displayed near stadiums or sports bars with the appearance of a free-standing magazine. (Sneer if you like, but people talked about it, and a year later the paper was sold for a fortune, to that Denver billionaire! Somewhere, a Chinese publishing dynasty is rolling around laughing in big piles of cash! The idea was also adopted, and adapted, by clients in New York City, Nairobi and Dubai.) Work I have done for the mafia seems to be especially popular, as well.

I also share ideas picked up in my travels. In today’s column, I present a curated potpourri of cool things observed in the print edition of The Stranger, Seattle’s venerable alt-weekly, in hopes that other papers who read this might become less boring, draw new readers and advertisers, and better serve their communities. Editor Christopher Frizzelle and his staff obviously know how to do it, care about the details, and look like they’re having great fun. (“It’s true that it’s a marvelous place to work – best job on the West Coast, I always say,” he emailed to say.)

Culled from three issues picked up while speaking at an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies convention in Toronto, please enjoy these 7 Random Things I Love About The Stranger. Click to enlarge any image for more detail. MSDs (mainstream dailies) in particular, please note: This column is NSFBN* Read the full post »

Smaller papers need love, too: Brunswick (Ga.) News slims down, shapes up

In a competitive marketplace for news, one or more of the players are constantly on the move, working hard to increase appeal to advertisers and readers, and maintain or even increase market share. Smaller market newspapers are no exception. Read the full post »

Client update: NCAA Magazine honored for excellence


In its Summer 2016 annual awards competition, the Trade Association Business Publications International gave my former client Champion magazine its Gold Award for Best Single Issue for its Fall 2015 issue. The magazine also was awarded five other Tabbie Awards for editorial, design and photography. Learn more about the awards here: To learn more about the redesign process at Champion, visit this earlier blog post, Champion magazine redesigns, rethinks and scores! To view numerous other resources for magazine design and redesign, visit this link.

U of Montana Journalism course syllabus, “J494: Critical Thinking About Design and Disruption”

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By Ron Reason
University of Montana School of Journalism
Spring 2015 T. Anthony Pollner Distinguished Professor 

WELCOME TO THE LANDING PAGE for “J494: Critical Thinking About Design and Disruption,” The Spring 2015 Pollner Seminar I taught at the University of Montana School of Journalism. In a nut shell, this course covers innovation, experimentation, transformation and upheaval rocking the news media today, across all platforms.

Here I have posted summaries of the focus of each week of class, with links to relevant blog entries, assignments, required reading, outcomes and more. (RelatedHow I developed this course, and its intentions. Basically, it’s a leadership and management course, disguised as a design course, which I proposed to prepare grads to navigate and lead in the disruptive workforce they are entering. Here’s some background on the generous Pollner family endowment that funds two journalism professorships at UM each year.)

PLEASE NOTE: In addition to assignments and readings I required or suggested, the syllabus below has been amended to include numerous articles suggested by students. Look for entries in bold and blue, below, with credit to the student who posted the item to our private class Facebook page.


Week One, Jan. 27-29, 2015: What’s Design? What’s disruption?
Let’s discuss in detail what we mean by design (it’s not just visual – we design products, organizations, leadership techniques, marketing campaigns, and more) and disruption (it’s not just contraction or death – think startups, reinventions, redesigns, partnerships, innovation and experimentation). Read the full post »

For Akron Beacon Journal, the debut of a ‘facelift’ redesign

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[Samples of the redesigned pages.]

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