Using examples of compelling visual & interactive techniques in print & online, Sara Quinn offers tips on concept, craft and collaboration.

Magnifying Glass - Web Design

What journalists need to know about Web design

Fifty milliseconds. That’s how quickly visitors can form strong, long-lasting impressions about your news or information website. But they aren’t sizing up the quality of your content or the sophistication of your code. They’re making nearly instantaneous, mostly subconscious judgments about how your work has been designed.

Those assessments can lead to very conscious — and consequential — conclusions about the merits of your page, product or platform. Bad graphic design can damage perceptions about your credibility. It can make your content harder to understand and render your work less appealing.

The visual Web

The Web is a visual medium. It didn’t start that way, back when HTML truly was all about marking up text. Over the years, though, the options for shaping the appearance of a Web page have grown more plentiful and sophisticated.

Now, of course, Web producers have a wide range of design tools at their disposal. Color, typography, imagery, positioning and many more design elements can be tuned to exacting detail. Emerging technologies like CSS3 and HTML5 make it easy to implement these visual ideas.

In the right hands, an array of design choices can produce impressive results. Misapplied, they can create a visual cacophony.

Thinking about design

To create a strong visual expression of your work, nothing beats working with a top-notch designer.… Read more

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Tuesday, Mar. 12, 2013


Tablet storytelling is visual, tappable, deep

Three years after Apple and others put digital tablets firmly into the hands of consumers, what do we really know about the way the devices are used for news?

Hundreds of people filed in to a large ballroom at South by Southwest last week for “Lean Forward, Lean Back: Tablet News Experience” to hear perspectives from Poynter research, focus groups and practical case studies from news organizations around the world.

The session brought together part of Poynter’s research team, led by Poynter’s Sara Quinn, who shared findings of the Institute’s EyeTrack: Tablet study, with Mario Garcia, CEO and founder of Garcia Media, and researcher/developer David Stanton from Smart Media Creative. Jeremy Gilbert of Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern was also on the research team.

“It’s essential for editors to rethink how the audience consumes content,” Garcia told the crowd.

The international news designer recommends a multisensory approach to designing for the brain, the eye and the hands. “You must keep the finger happy,” he said, meaning that a tablet user expects to find elements of surprise and engagement. “Like a children’s pop-up book,” he said.

When Garcia maps out the possibilities for interactive “pop-up moments” in a story, he thinks of it much as a screen director might develop a storyboard.… Read more


Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013

New York Times’ ‘Seinfeld-esque’ sports page shows the power of nothing

Kapow! Blam! Surprise! Sometimes, that’s what nothing can do.

The New York Times sports staff reminded us of that again with their cover “story” about this year’s Baseball Hall of Fame inductees — or lack, thereof.


This sports front about the lack of inductees to the 2013 Baseball Hall of Fame was designed by Wayne Kamidoi.

“Given the news, the package was Seinfeld-esque,” said Sports Art Director Wayne Kamidoi, “a cover about nothing.”

Kamidoi likes to push the boundaries when it comes to conceptual design, especially when there is a point to be made.

Conceptual design often involves a marriage of words and images that tells a story in the arrangement itself.

The staff was not surprised that nominees Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens didn’t make it, but it “felt like history had spoken,” said Sports Editor Joe Sexton in a note to staff sent Thursday morning. “How to convey that to our readers? I think we did it—a striking, profound emptiness.”

As they planned the design throughout the evening, most of the discussion was contained to the sports department. “Maybe out of fear?” wrote Kamidoi in an e-mail interview. “There was some apprehension, including from myself,” he said. “I was not reassured when the sports editor said on his way home he told the news desk about what we were planning … and walked away very fast.”

Concepts as unusual as this one work best when all of the details have been considered.… Read more


Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012

Using illustrated reportage to cover human trafficking in Nepal’s brick kilns

I am writing this from Kathmandu, Nepal, where I’m currently reporting on human trafficking using graphic journalism. I chose Nepal because visuals have huge potential here to reach at-risk communities with low literacy levels. Using comics to adapt survivor testimonies into a visual format preserves both the impact of the story as well as the identity of the storytellers.

Often when conducting interviews or visiting sites where trafficking is taking place, it would either be inappropriate, disrespectful or at worst traumatic for the subjects to be filmed or photographed as they share their stories. Somehow sketching circumvents that issue and, in many cases, has helped forge a closer connection between me and my interviewee, as was the case in the examples below. I’m also part of a research team conducting the first in-depth study to quantify the effectiveness of different media in awareness-raising programs in the field: my comics comprise the main content.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the overall project, there is a video introduction to it on its (now funded) Kickstarter page.

Another large part of the project is looking at different approaches to visual reporting: I started a webcomic; have produced comics journalism pieces for the Nepali Times and BBC; and am incorporating more and more illustrated reportage. … Read more


Monday, Dec. 10, 2012


Why do we blame the (visual) messenger for tragedies?

With the click of a shutter, in a dimly illuminated New York City subway tunnel, on the evening of December 3, it happened again.

Actually, it was more like several clicks of the shutter, and the “it” was another tragic act of human inhumanity.

Independent photographer R. Umar Abbasi was the authentic witness to a crime beyond our wildest imaginations. After a verbal altercation, 31-year-old Naeem Davis, now charged with second-degree murder, pushed 58-year-old Ki-Suck Han, of Queens, N.Y., into the path of an oncoming subway train.

Almost immediately after the New York Post published the photograph of Han’s last few living moments on the cover of their tabloid and their website, it seems like everyone — media and citizen alike — blamed the visual messenger for doing his journalistic duty.

In this modern era, with all of our personal digital assistants and the 24-hour news cycle, now more than ever in human history, viewers want — even expect — to see tragic and sometimes morbid reflections of life ASAP! The need for speed drives the habits of iPhone, Android, tablet scrolling users with an insatiable need for the latest.

For the better part of last week, journalists, media pundits, academics and average consumers with voracious appetites for images have debated the media moral of the New York Post’s decision to publish the photograph.… Read more


Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012

What journalists need to know about storytelling on tablets

Poynter’s most recent Eyetrack study reveals some interesting findings about how readers consume news on tablet devices. During a live chat, Poynter’s Sara Quinn and Northwestern University’s Jeremy Gilbert talked about the findings and their implications for journalists.

Here are some of the topics they addressed:

  • How to create stories that satisfy mobile and tablet users.
  • The differences between storytelling on tablets and storytelling on the Web.
  • What the elements of “touch” add to a story.
  • What helps people focus on stories they read on tablet devices.

Gilbert and Quinn, who helped lead the Eyetrack research, offered practical tips and answered related questions from the audience. You can replay the chat, which followed a related News University Webinar, here:

<a href=”″ mce_href=”″ >What journalists need to know about designing & crafting stories on tablets</a>… Read more

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Monday, Nov. 12, 2012

This photo, taken by reporter Amy Scherzer for the Tampa Bay Times, shows (left to right) Jill Kelley's twin sister, Gen. David Petraeus, Scott Kelley, Jill Kelley, and Holly Petraeus.

How NY Daily News, Tampa Bay Times got those cover shots of Jill Kelley, David Petraeus

As journalists reported on Gen. David Petraeus’ resignation from the CIA, photos spread over the weekend of the women involved.

Petraeus resigned after the FBI learned he had an affair with biographer Paula Broadwell. The affair came to the FBI’s attention when another woman, Jill Kelley, complained to an FBI agent that Broadwell had sent her harassing emails.

All three people are married, and there have been no allegations that Kelley was romantically involved with Petraeus.

But in photographic coverage, context is king. And the images of Petraeus and Kelley appear to tell a different story.

This photo, taken by reporter Amy Scherzer for the Tampa Bay Times, shows (left to right) Jill Kelley’s twin sister, Gen. David Petraeus, Scott Kelley, Jill Kelley, and Holly Petraeus.

The Gasparilla photos

The photos that would define Jill Kelley started making their way to the world around 3:15 p.m. Sunday, when Tampa Bay Times Senior Photo Editor Patty Yablonski arrived at work. (Poynter owns the Tampa Bay Times.)

Yablonski “walked in the office and had Veterans Day to deal with and football. It was not a normal Sunday afternoon at all,” she told Poynter by phone.

Times staff writer Amy Scherzer had taken the photos of Jill Kelley with her husband, her twin sister and the Petraeuses nearly two years ago when Scherzer was covering Gasparilla, an annual Tampa social event.… Read more


Wednesday, Nov. 07, 2012

Why photo of the First Couple was Obama’s most retweeted ever

Images and graphics are often the things shared most by people after an event of last night’s magnitude.

Photos capture moments frozen in time.

Graphics can distill the complex.

Interactive graphics can allow people to peruse and discover at their own pace.

Illustration is striking—partly because it is used so infrequently—and because something drawn by hand can convey a very human aspect of mood and emotion.

There were some masterful examples of visual storytelling captured, created, experienced and shared in real-time around the world last night.

Here are a few things that caught our attention.

This image of President Obama and the first lady was tweeted out by his staff minutes after he was re-elected for a second term with the phrase: “Four more years.” Twitter reports it is his most re-tweeted tweet, ever.

“The Obama machine understood both the closeness of the race and the power of his image,” said Kenny Irby. The president and his staff took total control of his image throughout the day. Obama had not been seen or documented since early in the morning.

“I am struck by the fact that this image was clearly documented much earlier in the day and that the caption does not represent it as a reflection of a specific time during the counting of the ballots or some such event,” said Irby.… Read more


Friday, Oct. 19, 2012

Highlights from Poynter’s Eyetrack Tablet Conference

Mario Garcia began Poynter’s Eyetrack Tablet Conference at the Medill School of Journalism – streaming live – with an optimistic vision of the future of the news “quartet.” The four dominant vehicles for storytelling – mobile, print, tablet and online – can work in tandem throughout a media consumer’s day. The key: keeping in mind what makes them distinct while maintaining a consistent brand.

What does that mean for tablets? Know the device’s capabilities and don’t mimic the newspaper experience when you design for the iPad. Avoid the “frustrated finger” that taps and taps to no avail. Garcia’s analogy: If you want to keep a child engaged at night with a bedtime story, read her a popup book. But a flat experience lacking in dynamism will put her straight to sleep.

It also means engaging readers with videos and photo galleries, storytelling tools that might be wasted on mobile and online. In Garcia’s quartet model, smartphones and laptops are “lean forward” devices, able to deliver breaking news and information snippets during the day. They provide the “tapas” that whet the reader’s appetite for a larger meal. Then, between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m., readers want a “lean back” leisure experience, and that’s when tablets and printed editions can be at their best.… Read more


Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012


New Poynter Eyetrack research reveals how people read news on tablets

It’s all about touch.

People were either intimately involved with the iPad screen while reading during our recent eyetracking study — keeping nearly constant contact while touching, tapping, pinching and swiping to adjust their view — or they carefully arranged a full screen of text before physically detaching as they sat back to read.

This intimate or detached touching behavior was one of the most intriguing findings in Poynter’s new research on tablet storytelling. It’s one of many that can help us define how people want their news.

“Intimate” readers were highly focused. They tended to read one or two lines of text, then make subtle, frequent swipes to move a few lines of text into their field of vision like a teleprompter. This was like a pacing tool that helped them to keep their place in the text. Intimate readers made up a majority of the study, at 61 percent.

Using eyetracking gear, observation and exit interviews, Poynter looked closely as 36 people interacted with real news stories on an iPad. We closely analyzed their reading patterns after they looked at one of three prototypes created for the project.

So that we might look for clear differences, we recruited people in two, distinct age sets: 18-28 year-olds — a group we have been calling “digital natives” because they are among the first adults who don’t have strong recollection of life before digital –  and 45-55 year-olds, or “printnets” referring to one foot in the print world, one foot in the “’Net” world.… Read more