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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, leading my design firm from Chicago, and 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 keeps me going? 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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The art of the critique, Part 2: Making “post-mortems” work

The pages of The Villages Daily Sun are attention-grabbing, and the subject of lots of internal critique, before and after publication.

Feedback after publication has its rewards, if done right

(Second of two parts. For the first part, focusing on “pre-mortem” critiques, visit this link.)

It’s been a while since I’ve helped manage a daily newsroom, so, for my two-part series on what works and what doesn’t in newsroom critiques, I thought I’d reach out to Bonita Burton, Executive Editor of The Villages Daily Sun in Florida, for a view from the front lines. The Sun is a 44,000-circulation newspaper, robust and yes, growing (thanks, retirees!), and in recent years Bonita has carved out an expanded role for visual journalism in the newsroom. The payoff? The paper was named one of 12 finalists earlier this year for World’s Best-Designed Newspaper, in the annual competition of the Society for News Design. Here Bonita shares thoughts on my preference for “pre-mortem” critique, and offers lots of specifics about how “post-mortem” works in her newsroom, too. – Ron Reason

By Bonita Burton 

I prefer “pre-mortems” as well. I hate the morning-after “critique,” when it’s too late to make improvements, and the final gatekeepers are typically not even in the office yet to explain their decision-making. Here’s what we do instead – it doesn’t always lead to brilliance, but the hope is it does elevate the report AND morale. Read the full post »

The art of the critique, Part 1: The value of “pre-mortem” feedback

3 newsroom factors must change to allow feedback before, not after, publication

(First of two parts. For the second part, focusing on quality feedback after publication, I spoke with Bonita Burton about what works at the SND-award winning Villages Daily Sun. Link here for that blog post, with lots of tips for post-publication feedback.)

Read the full post »

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 »

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

[Looking for traditional redesign help? Start here. Newsroom training? Go here.]

Expanding on recent client interest, in addition to traditional redesign consulting and newsroom training, 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.


[Work produced on quarterly retainer Capital Ideas magazine included: all page design from front to back; collaboration with freelance photographers and illustrators; working with editors and reporters to create original infographics and sidebars.]

A challenge faced by some smaller magazines, particularly monthlies or quarterlies: You need a page designer, or visuals editor, but this doesn’t quite add up to a full time position, nor maybe even part-time. Hiring design help on a contract basis is one way to go, but traditional graphic designers or studios may not have the editorial eye you need for the task.

At the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, as my redesign was nearly ready to launch for Capital Ideas magazine, Editor Emily Lambert was also in the process of searching for a new designer to take the reins for the first issue and beyond. She knew the difficulty of finding the skill, reliability and flexibility she needed only 2-3 weeks per quarter, or for a few hours each week to help brainstorm upcoming stories. She asked: Would I be able to take this on? We had already established a great working relationship, I was more than familiar with their Style Guide, since I wrote it, and I knew Emily and crew would provide text and visuals in a steady stream. I jumped at the chance.

[Related: Working on your own redesign, but want an expert eye on the process? The NCAA hired me to do just that.]

Once we established remote compatibility with their page design software and CMS (Adobe InDesign and InCopy), the arrangement ended up being a good fit with my redesign consulting and teaching load at the time, and I designed the quarterly magazine on a freelance basis for the first two years after its launch. I visited their offices regularly, since I was based in Chicago at the time, and was available to Skype in for planning meetings if I was traveling. Particularly given the niche focus of the magazine (economics and finance research), and the audience (academics, economists, policy wonks, etc.), Emily felt it was important to have a journalist at her side,  creating the design and visuals for each issue. This is the good match that news design clients and consultants should always aim for.



[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 was staffed up for production, but wanted a sort of “guest creative director” to support 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 »

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 »