Redesigning your magazine
or newspaper? Start here.

Magazine and newspaper redesign resources. Start here.

By Ron Reason

Welcome to Design With Reason, the blog of Ron Reason Consulting. I’m passionate about excellence in editorial design, branding and strategy, and have collaborated with clients worldwide for more than 25 years. (Bio. LinkedIn. Client list.) I’m based in Chicago and often work virtually but travel to clients as needed.

What’s kept me in business, even through turbulent times for editorial publishing? A creative yet grounded approach that puts great storytelling and functionality ahead of good looks and technology. My clients usually express this best:

“Ron showed a real understanding of the day-to-day editorial process and limitations – something I’ve found to be the biggest weakness of most other editorial designers. His designs are not only aesthetically pleasing, but actually help build a better publication that gives more (and more useful) information to the audience – in other words, he can actually help you improve your journalism, not just the look and navigability of your product.” [Jonah Bloom, editor during my work over several years with client Advertising Age in New York City. For additional references, link here.]

Here you will find more than 300 blog entries with tips, cases studies, and tons of advice for approaching an editorial redesign – with the help of a consultant or even by yourself – or just improving your daily design, graphics, writing or editing. Magazine redesign? Got that covered. Newspaper redesign? All over it. Business and trade publications? Kinda specializing in that. Tabloids? Here you go.

LET’S TALK! After poking around here a bit, if you are interested in learning more about how we can work together, here’s what happens next: Read the full post »

Format busters! 3 clients tell stories
in graphic, novel ways

Going bold with ‘comics journalism': The Reader, Creative Loafing, and U of Chicago research magazine Capital Ideas

[July 13, 2014] The work of three current and former clients reinforces the potential for visual journalism to tell complex stories in eye-grabbing ways – the Chicago Reader and Atlanta’s Creative Loafing, which I redesigned several years ago, and Capital Ideas magazine, which I work with currently and which covers economics research at the U of Chicago.

Two of them this weekend snagged top national honors for this work. More than just eye candy or award bait, these approaches work for these publications for very specific reasons, which I put forth below. They reinforce my career-long mantra that dynamic publications need to present news in ways that transcend “just text.”

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Excerpted panels from "How to Survive a Shooting." Click to enlarge.

Excerpted panels from “How to Survive a Shooting.” Link here to view online.

Chicago Reader cover by Illustrated PressFirst, congrats to the Chicago Reader, which won a number of awards this weekend from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia. Among the awards for design or related work: The paper took first in the unusual category “Outside-the-Box: Innovation / Format Buster,” for “How to Survive a Shooting,” by Chicago reporter Darryl Holliday and illustrator Erik Rodriguez (aka The Illustrated Press).

Told in brief vignettes via graphic novel form, the report sheds light on the death of Marissa Stingley, 19, through the struggle of her mother Nortasha to accept the tragedy and keep living. Published in November 2013, the story is more timely than ever eight months later, as Chicago’s gang warfare epidemic grows, sadly, in the media spotlight.

Why the graphic approach works here: The Reader, and the Chicago media in general, write a lot about gang killings in the city (and have for years). By taking the graphic approach, and telling the story from the angle of the mother’s struggle to accept and survive, the paper offers an opportunity to “wake up” and engage readers who otherwise might gloss over yet another account of a South Side killing. Read the full post »

Through photography, conquering fear and inspiring your passions

One of my earlier images from what has become a five year (and counting) exploration of abstract imagery in the U.S. National Parks. [Photo (c) Ron Reason]

An early image from what has become a five year (and counting) exploration of abstract imagery in the U.S. National Parks. [Photo by Ron Reason]

Things I learned today: That Moby (one of my fave musicians/DJs/artists) had an uncle who was a photographer at The New York Times. And that he (Moby) first picked up a camera at age 10, set it aside in college set to pursue his music passions, and just picked up the habit again in earnest four years ago.

a mobyIn an essay this month at GOOD magazine online, Moby shares thoughts on his photography, exposing your work to others, and fears about the same – all of which mirror my own. I thought I’d take a detour today from topics of newspapers and magazines and redesigns, and pass along some of my own experiences developing my photographic interests in recent years. In the essay, Moby shares his uncle’s ethos, “document the things you see that others don’t.” However, with his renewed passion came anxiety: 

Even after four years of collecting a significant body of work, I had doubts about showing my images to anyone. With digital photography being so prolific, everyone I knew was a photographer. I felt like a dilettante.”

He goes on to share his belief, inspired by science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein, that

to truly live a creative life means that you will need to experiment in as many different fields as possible.”

This I strongly believe is something journalists or communicators of any stripe must adhere to. Most one-trick ponies, especially in this day and age, don’t have much to offer anyone in the long run.  However, with this experimentation, Moby continues:

there’s always that risk that … you will leave yourself open to being seen as a dilettante. But I decided that I’d rather try even though it runs the risk of failure.”

My own photographic adventures have followed a similar path. Six (-ish) years ago, thanks to the recession and a dip in consulting work, I was relieved of the burden, so to speak, of working 60 hours and sometimes 6 or 7 days a week. What to do? Read the full post »

Hispanic business press pioneer: Three cheers for growth, diversification

Friday's gala brought out the "Who's Who" of Chicago Hispanic business community. (Photo courtesy Negocios Now.)

Friday’s gala brought out the “Who’s Who” of Chicago Hispanic business community. (Photo courtesy Negocios Now.)

It’s always terrific to see one of my clients moving forward, making new connections, and creating new revenue streams. Even better to hear gushing praise for these efforts directly from readers, advertisers, and partners. Such was the case Friday, June 20, 2014, when the publishers of the Hispanic business newspaper Negocios Now invited me to witness their  new venture, the black-tie gala “Who’s Who in Chicago Hispanic Business,” attended by an excited crowd of 300 movers and shakers at the city’s glittering Cultural Center.

Congratulations are in order for Clemente Nicado and Kelly Yelmene, the publishers, editors and pioneers behind Negocios Now. In just a few years, what they introduced as a small startup newspaper (entering the market in rough economic waters) has persevered to become a growing cross-platform brand, also branching into the national marketplace. Judging from comments of many on and off the podium Friday night, it has quickly become a respected news source and an important part of the Chicago business community.

Aside from hard work and dedication, what are the keys to their success and growth? Diversifying and making connections among a variety of platforms and affiliations: Read the full post »

Redesign matters: Brand awareness, revenue, and growth

Recently I’ve been in discussions with several publishers in stable markets who are considering redesign. They contacted me to inquire about how a relationship with a consultant might work, and I gave them a number of options. One interesting facet of their plans: targeting a launch date of 18 months or more away.

I asked, why wait so long? Unless you are installing new presses, or awaiting a big loan to clear from the bank, I say, dive in! Here’s why.

Read the full post »

Redesigning to sell, not extra copies,
but the publication itself

Shortly after adopting a spiffy new design and spirit, these newspaper titles were sold.

Shortly after adopting a smarter new design and spirit, these newspaper titles were sold.

“Is it worth committing to a redesign if we’re thinking about putting our newspaper or magazine up for sale?” I’ve fielded this inquiry a few times in recent months and thought it would make a good blog post.

Particularly if your publication hasn’t been refreshed in a long while, redesign is something to seriously consider. I’ve come to view the proposition as staging a house for sale – replacing out-of-date carpet, balky kitchen appliances, dirty bathroom grout. Just about everybody concerned will tell you it’s a good investment. Especially if there’s proof that readers and advertisers have reconnected with the publication, as was the case with the Chicago Reader, redesign pays off.   Read the full post »

Designing a new weekly newspaper
for Chicago’s Lincoln Park

DNAinfo Chicago weekly newspaper for Lincoln Park

These two front pages were among prototypes I created for DNAinfo. (The nameplate on the left was chosen.) 

[Jan. 26, 2014] “There aren’t too many media companies starting print publications these days but, by the same token, there aren’t too many media companies like” Such begins the letter from the editors to readers in the debut edition of DNAinfo, a new weekly newspaper I was asked to design for the creators of the hyperlocal news website, DNAinfo. Initial designs were presented in downtown Chicago in November 2013 and the solutions were adopted in record time – the first edition was mailed to residents of Lincoln Park, one of Chicago’s most affluent neighborhoods, the weekend of Dec. 8 for a “soft launch,” with the formal rollout this month. Read the full post »

AWNA: Who needs an artist? Tips for using Google maps for news stories


In a review of more than a hundred news pages produced by the members of the Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association, at whose conference I was invited to speak this weekend, I noticed more than a few stories that would greatly have benefitted from a map placing the reader at the scene of the news. Stories about the most dangerous intersections in town … six sites chosen for possible community garden … town budget identifies $36 million in projects.

All of these headlines immediately suggest graphic possibilities, but none as published contained a graphic. I remade several of the layouts very quickly to illustrate how even a reporter or editor could help create a graphic for the newspaper – you don’t always need an artist on staff to tell these kinds of stories in visual ways. Here’s a look inside one of the remakes presented, and the ins and outs of using Google Maps to create these visuals: Read the full post »

AWNA: Tips for making news pages smarter, at-a-glance


Sometimes it’s good to revisit the basics, as I had a chance to do this weekend as a speaker invited by the Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association in Calgary. I am reminded that there are still many, many weekly newspapers out there, they are doing fine (thank you very much), and are working hard to engage their communities and improve their products week by week.

The tough thing about presenting to community weeklies is I can’t really rely on past presentations where I showcase larger urban papers I have redesigned, nor international titles, nor the magazines that increasingly take up my work day. I could but it’s not so helpful. I have to get back to the basics of what makes a fundamentally engaging news page. Routine stories, partial inside pages often cluttered (thank God!) with ads … how do you take these to the next level? How do you do so with particularly limited resources?

Among the hundreds of pages I reviewed in advance of my visit, from the dozens of papers that make up the AWNA, I saw many, many “okay” stories that were presented by rote: town council meetings, personality profiles, annual festivals, presented in 10-14 paragraphs of text, a headline, maybe a photo – often a handout, a file photo or a quick shot at a press conference. But rarely anything more.

One of my presentations detailed how, with very little effort, the staffs could create a second level of information via an “at a glance” box that could connect with and serve readers in new ways. (Stop here if you’re one of the many who’ve sat through my lectures on the topic before, or endured similar training at the many papers who have gone this route.)

How does this work? Read the full post »

2013 in Review: Busy Year, Challenging Projects

In a completely unscientific look at how the media landscape is moving forward, here’s a recap of the challenging, exciting projects I’ve been engaged in this year:

  • February: I created the design for GRID, the print edition of a new business news venture for the Chicago Sun-Times. A glossy weekly inserted into select copies of the Sunday newspaper, it never quite found its advertising footing, and lives on as a slate of digital products.
  • March: the Cincinnati Enquirer debuted its new design in the Super Compact format, along with lots of new philosophy for organizing information for print readers.
  • June: the University of Chicago unveiled my redesign for Capital Ideas, the quarterly magazine of research and ideas produced by the Booth School of Business. The changes were tantamount to the launch of a new product, with a dramatic refocusing of editorial philosophy.
  • August-December: In a new offering, I contributed design and art direction for the summer, fall and winter editions of Capital Ideas, and will do so in 2014.
  • October: Crain Communications’ Modern Healthcare debuted my front-to-back redesign. The weekly magazine, one of the group’s most profitable, became the 12th publication I’ve designed or redesigned for the Crain stable around the world.

Read the full post »