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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.

One thing I know for sure: Great design makes for great storytelling, and makes a difference for our readers and our communities.

In addition to traditional redesign services, I also offer custom training programs and 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.)

Mine is 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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Redesign amplifies NCAA magazine’s focus on diversity, equality

[Related posts: How new formats and philosophies for the Cincinnati Enquirer frame its powerful investigation of the region’s heroin epidemic; The Standard of Nairobi, Kenya, shines a spotlight on government corruption, public safety, poverty and famine.] 

By Ron Reason

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Alternative story forms: Just say no to lifeless, gray pages

Magazine publishers who contact me about redesign are interested in making pages inviting to readers in new ways. In each case, I identify areas in their existing design that could easily be reformatted to make the pages more inviting, the publication flow more easily, and production – including the writing and editing process –  simpler and more streamlined.

Champion, the magazine of the NCAA, does terrific work with alternative story forms such as these. (I advised Champion on strategy and process for its reinvention; you can read more about that process, and see other great layouts, here. The following are live pages produced by Creative Director Arnel Reynon.)

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For Athletic Business magazine, an architectural approach to redesign

Athletic Business magazine redesign

By Ron Reason

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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.)

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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. 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 »