‘Only got a mugshot?’ Fear not! Impactful designs are possible


Two things got me thinking again this week about creating impactful designs when you’ve “only got a mugshot”:

  • A plethora of newspaper and magazine covers in recent days exploit the Osama bin Laden mugshot (or is it a “portrait?”) as lead art in various creative ways. Sizing it large and make a poster. (Fave page from a recent client.) Creative crops. Tearing away a portion to conceal the eyes. (Ouch!)
  • Randomly, I came across a Facebook post yesterday by designer Josh Engleman, whose work provides weekly delight for myself and other readers of Time Out Chicago, lamenting that he’d “run out of ideas to make mugshot interesting as lead art.”

Ran out of ideas for a mugshot? Never! Mimi Andelman knew he was kidding, and so did I, but his followers cheered him on with some tried-and-true mugshot techniques. “Radical crop!” I suggested, recalling a favorite page I’ve shared for ages in a Poynter workshop I titled, “The Art of the Simple Idea.” Shown above, a radical crop (and bonus sepia tint) saves the day for The Virginian-Pilot, which had “only a mugshot” but created a very arresting page (using “only a wire story”) about Hitler’s doctor and his prediction of a criminal mind. Here’s a look at a few other impactful or inviting pages that have impressed me along the way, where the designer had “only a mugshot”:

Newspaper design: Fun with mug shots, Whitey Bulger, from Boston Globe

Only got a mugshot? Solarize/posterize/grunge it up! The Providence Sunday Journal goes for a polarized/contrasty treatment for a cover story on missing mobster Whitey Bulger. It’s a broadsheet page, and it works!

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Newspaper design: Fun with mug shots, George Bush as Hitler

Only got a mugshot? Add some type in just the right place! Not a newspaper page, but I look all over for inspiration. This propoganda poster (presumably for the Democratic Party!) adds “a little something” to this mugshot of George Bush. It’s an oldie but a goodie.

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Newspaper design: Fun with mug shots, Seattle Times

Only got a mugshot? Scribble on it to create the right mood! The Seattle Times on the second coming of Snoop Dogg.

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Newspaper Design: fun with mug shots.

Only got a mugshot? Integrate the headline! Works with cartoon characters, too! Seattle Times again, entertainment tab cover on “Monsters, Inc.”

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Newspaper design: Only got a mug shot? Smiley face!

Only got a mugshot? Remove part of it! Hey, it works with inanimate pop-culture icons as well. Keep an eye out in the world of advertising for graphic design solutions you can apply to your own work.

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Newspaper Design: Martin Gee Boston Globe cover

Only got a mugshot? Throw in 80 more (and Thor)! If the content’s right, it works, as Martin Gee shows in this Boston Globe features cover from this week. (Yes, those are his Facebook friends in the spotlight. More on how it came about, via Charles Apple.)

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Newspaper design: Harold Evans

Don’t even have a mugshot? Make one  yourself! Technically a deviation from my theme here, but wanted to show this brilliant solution, for a magazine article about the legendary editor Harold Evans. (Anyone born after 1970 may not get the reference to editing marks, if not, sorry and wow did you ever miss out!)


HERE’S THE DEAL: We want your submissions for an updated, expanded gallery of pages that created impact, surprise, emotion, fun or drama when you had “only a mugshot.” Entries are not limited to newspapers or magazines – if you have designed posters, books, or whatever, send them in! Keep in mind that we’re looking for ordinary, “handout” type of mugshots, not Richard Avedon shots, and designers should have done something to or with the image to turn it into “something more” that amplifies the content/message on the page.

HOW TO ENTER: Send a JPG of the page to ron (at) ronreason.com by May 14, 2011. Also list the name of the designer (and publication if it is not obvious) if you want credit. The finalists will be posted in this Flickr gallery for the enjoyment and edification of designers and editors for years to come, and the winners will be posted on this blog shortly after May 15, 2011.

CELEBRITY JUDGES: Could they get any more exciting than design gurus Robert Newman of Newmanology, Charles Apple (he of the famous ACES blog on newspaper design and editing), Poynter Faculty Affiliate Pegie Stark Adam and others to be confirmed soon. They will help select favorites and share comments on the finalists, so check back later for more inspiration from your entries! (Follow me on Twitter or “like” me on Facebook to make sure you are notified.)

AN INSPIRATIONAL PRIZE: First prize for most notable entry? A copy of this beautiful hardcover book,A SMILE IN THE MIND: WITTY THINKING IN GRAPHIC DESIGN.” (Visit the Amazon link where you can read the reviews, which include: “… if you want to gain the ability to apply witty and conceptual thinking to create communicative and memorable graphic images, then buy this book!” It’s a treasure with tons of great inspiring visuals!) Link below for Twitter or Facebook to notify your friends to share in the fun. Thanks in advance to all who share good work!


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