November 21, 2014

Visual staffs are usually the first to get cut from the budget, Mario Garcia said Thursday at Poynter, but in journalism, sometimes it’s good to feel desperate.

“Desperation can be your best ally,” he said.

In the 1980s, no one was desperate because ads brought in so much money. So change came slow. Now, change is rapid and the opportunity for experimentation is everywhere.

“I’m not going to say that it’s as bad as the Titanic, but you see the violin playing up there and you say ‘Is he going to be the last to go?’”

On Thursday during Poynter’s Master Class featuring Garcia and hosted by Poynter’s Kenny Irby, Garcia shared lessons learned over his long career and hundreds of projects. The course of the three-hour conversation began in Cuba, where Garcia was born, and wound through his work as a designer and re-design consultant, a design thinker and an educator. Here are three lessons from Garcia’s talk.

1. Adapt to change.

The message of Garcia’s talk was this — no matter what organization you work for, school you teach at, or university you attend, you have to not only face change but also adapt to it. Every college student should take a class in change, Garcia said. There should be sections on “Adapting to change, reacting to change, and bringing change to those you work with.” He called on editors and people in newsrooms to believe in themselves and their ability to change. “They can face disruption and emerge from it better,” he said. To educators and academics, he was more specific: “Change the courses. Throw away. Go near a river and throw away that old syllabus and incorporate what is new.”

2. Stop relying on the old recipe.

“Innovation is learning that stories can be told without the traditional headline, summary and text,” Garcia said. “We create a palette of stories, that are primarily for mobile devices, and in a number of ways can tell what is happening — through numbers, through quotes, through photos, through video.” Designers should bring back the archetypes of magazine design, including icons, Garcia said. Digital journalists have to remember that their readers, though they scan much of what they read, are informed about the topics they’re reading about. In fact, he said, audiences are much more informed than they ever were in the past, because mobile devices provide people so much freedom to customize when, where and from whom they get their news. “For journalists in traditional newsrooms, this is very difficult to comprehend, because we all learned that you have to assume that people don’t know,” Garcia said. “So you would begin to tell me the beginning of the story and then eventually you tell me what just happened now.” That’s where design should come in, he explained. If the designer creates an icon, a visual way for the reader to know what the story is, then the reader can be attuned to this heuristic and feel comfortable jumping in to what’s most current. The reader doesn’t waste time in this case, finds your update useful, and moves on to the next thing.

3. Don’t waste too much time on your homepage

So much of your audience gets to your content from social media, Garcia said, that to spend the bulk of your time designing your homepage is foolish, and akin to painstakingly decorating the front door or foyer of your house. “Most people are coming in – your neighbor comes in through the backdoor, through the garage, through the kitchen,” he said. “And you have spent considerable time and money creating a look for the front of your house.” In designing other areas of your site or your paper, though, you should be attuned to the culture and aesthetic of the audience. Choosing a color because you like it is not enough, he said. Some sort of rationale or evidence for your choices is essential. “What you like is of no interest to anyone,” he said.

You can watch the replays of the Master Class with Mario Garcia on NewsU, and catch the first Master Class, with David Barstow.

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