A Design State of Mind

This is … well it’s awesome, is what it is.

The Big Reveal - Flood Special Section

A year after the biggest flood we’ve seen in ages swept along the Front Range, my newsroom - along with the Loveland Reporter-Herald and Longmont Times-Call’s newsrooms - joined forces to create an anniversary edition. It intended to document the process each of the affected communities had made in the past year, rebuilding and reconnecting despite catastrophic damages in some cases.

Branding is Key

We had reporters and photographers working for a month prior to publication, collecting vignettes of those we had interviewed just after the flood itself. Each story reflected on that week, and told of how they had come together since then to put their lives back together.

(As the designer, I wanted to brand each piece of this section so you could navigate it clearly between vignettes, stories and additional data. The vignettes were given more space along the sides, a standard headline style and a tagline as opposed to a byline, to allow their stories to be the priority, not the author.)

It was also a challenge to incorporate a running timeline throughout the package. I vetoed the idea of a page or two that would hold the whole timeline because it made more sense for it to be broken up, so it could carry the reader through the publication. So I branded this element, too, keeping it identical on each page in size and formatting, clearly jumping it to the following segment.

Getting Graphic

We also had our in-house map-maker create a map that documented the rain levels across each affected city.

Other pages held unique elements, like refers to our online reader-submitted map - an interactive graphic that readers were able to submit their own stories to.

These refers took the story a reader told and then encouraged the section’s reader to hop online to see submitted art and more readers’ stories.

These were also opportunities to add in our By the Numbers feature, that threw in startling statistics from the past year’s recovery. I chose a style and stuck with it, allowing these numbers to run big but not overpower anything because of the thin font and small explanations.

The Bigger Pictures

Throughout, we had stories that captured bigger issues - economics, transportation projects, etc. - that talked about the most affected towns and the region as a whole. These were a bit more straightforward, and so I left the design that way, too.

When pulling a quote to balance a page, I tried for an elegant, understated layout that punched the key part of the message that quote held. But for the most part, these were left to tell the facts and let their art shine with minimal design to get in the way.

All About the Art

We have some incredible photographers on staff. I’ve always known this, and yet again, they blew me away with their ability to tell a story in art alone. Sure, the section had a lot of portraits and file art, but what else can be expected in an anniversary edition? We captured these families as they were now, and brought back images we’d shot a year ago to show their progress.

But to highlight the work done in 2013 and since, we had 6 pages dedicated to their artwork. And thanks to the planning of our editor, they followed the timeline they were taken in, setting up a year in pictures.

This was our double truck. In a tabloid size, big art was hard to come by, so I went big here with a photo that I felt really captured the essence of this publication: These people were hit hard by something they couldn’t predict, but still found strength to rebuild and continue their lives amid the rubble of the storm’s wreckage. These kids show resilience, and the beauty innocence holds in the face of something like this.

In Memory

Of course, there were deaths in this flood, and we wanted to pay tribute to those lost to the waters.

As a designer, I went small with headlines, big with art. These people deserved a beautiful presentation along with great storytelling and art. So I kept the theme of white space, thin serifs and very little else in the way of design.

Each had a header that simply said, “In Memory,” and each brought tears to my eyes as I read through them. It was a special part of the section, and one I hoped each person would read through and appreciate.


In two days, I was able to complete this 64-page section, putting in whatever extra hours it required to make it something worth keeping around. While design seems to play second-fiddle to the actual content and photography, I hope my work laying this out is appreciated in whatever way design can be.

It was an honor to be involved in a project of this size and importance, and am thrilled I was selected to complete it. I work with incredible talents, and am thankful for yet another chance to see how dedicated these journalists are.

Of course, you can check out these stories, photo galleries and videos here.

Great Design For All

I work at a hub where three mid-sized dailies and a number of small newspapers get designed each night. We rotate through, laying out front pages and inside pages full of community calendars. Each newspaper has their own level of photography, budget depending, and smaller-than-usual staffs that work like hell to make sure even the smallest event in a small town gets its time in the spotlight.

These folks are dedicated

So as a designer, I believe it’s my job to make sure their papers shine just as bright as any other major paper. Sure, resources are slimmer, and content isn’t as glitzy or glamorous. But that doesn’t mean it deserves any less of my effort or attention. If I have eight hours in my shift, I should be spending as much of that as is necessary to complete a solid design that’s as good as my abilities allow.

I have never cared if the photoisn’t sharp or the story is longer than I’d like following a council meeting. Those editors have made choices based on a community they are very familiar with. They know what their readers want. My job is to make sure it all flows onto a page cleanly and with as much style as I can afford to give it.

Sure, we should speak up when “the word people” get too focused on headlines on a page and suddenly find themselves requesting a 6-story front. Or hey, ask if we can swap inside pages around because some ad stacks work better than others.

But then we should buckle in and get to business.

If the art’s a bit bland, make that headline sing. If we have a lot of content to fit in, be sure to add what white space you can to that front page. And yes, inside pages matter. Avoid dog legs and bad ad stacks. Don’t run miles of a calendar or a brief package with more than 4-5 briefs just because you don’t want to pull more content. Let’s get the last update we can and the best art we can at a size bigger than a column. Make sure to get some national/international news in there. I don’t care if it’s 1A or 7A. Each page should be clean and have headlines that get a reader engaged.

Isn’t that our job?

Why else am I here, but than to use my judgment as a designer to make a page work?

As you can tell, I’m a bit passionate about this - page design and layout - but what I’m even more passionate about is the community newspaper and its staff. I respect the hell out of these men and women working over 40-hour weeks to cover a community that’s so tight-knit, they read the paper religiously. They know their town in and out and care deeply about the papers they produce.

Sure, we aren’t the New York Times, or even a major metro newspaper. But we have readers that stick with us and care about their towns. And each reporter and photographer and editor deserves for their designer to work as hard as they are to give them a product worth every page turn.


Wow, this is ace design :D Newest cover The New York Times Magazine
Read here about “the making of” this cover:http://6thfloor.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/08/28/under-cover-opening-up-the-abortion-by-mail-cover/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0
about activists working to give women access to abortions at home.
Photo illustration by Johnny Miller for The New York Times. Prop stylist: Randi Brookman Harris.

This cover is … wow. Incredibly bold.


Wow, this is ace design :D
Newest cover The New York Times Magazine

Read here about “the making of” this cover:

about activists working to give women access to abortions at home.

Photo illustration by Johnny Miller for The New York Times. Prop stylist: Randi Brookman Harris.

This cover is … wow. Incredibly bold.

Colorado’s Coverage

While newspapers across the country selected from a collection of heart-wrenching photos coming out of Ferguson, Mo., we in Colorado were doing the same while placing coverage from Michael Brown’s funeral.

Here are a few that really played up local and national content.

Top: Boulder Daily Camera: Front Page - Aug. 26, 2014

Designed by yours truly, with a late story that came out of a vigil held on the University of Colorado, Boulder’s campus.

Left: The Denver Post: Front Page - Aug. 26, 2014

A centerpiece that tears at your heartstrings. Thanks to their dog-leg design, they were able to push this art toward the top, above the fold.

Right: The Gazette: Front Page - Aug. 26, 2014

They selected the same photo as me, letting a thin serif to keep the tone somber and appropriate.

Thanks to Newseum, as always, for the pages.

No kidding. These covers are incredible.

A reiteration of what many of us know (and most of us don’t want to hear) as journalists, passionate about what we do.


Design by JJ Alcantara

Now here’s a cool twist on a timeline. (And as any page designer knows, timelines are notoriously hard to create in a new way.)


Design by JJ Alcantara

Now here’s a cool twist on a timeline. (And as any page designer knows, timelines are notoriously hard to create in a new way.)

It seems I’ve made it onto a European blog post dedicated to the disgust we internationally feel for this publishing platform called Methode.

Famous for all the right reasons.