Let’s amplify visual voice

“Across the industry, we employ product designers, but the need for editorial designers and art directors with minds for digital is equal. Organizations publish hundreds of stories a day. We need a lot of designers if we are going to make an impact.”

We won’t give editorial design the focus it deserves in 2018, but we need to do better than 2017.

Legacy news organizations put an emphasis on editorial and graphic design for decades inside the pages of their print newspapers. Beautiful, full-page illustrations, well thought-out typography, carefully chosen and placed images. And all of this to keep someone reading and delighted inside a product people had already purchased or likely subscribed to. We encounter these visual opportunities daily in the digital space. We have a chance to use these same design choices in a 2:1 share image to draw someone in on places like Facebook and Twitter. Instead, we’ve decided that a default image and crop will work.

From the very beginning of The Lily, my team and I made the choice to never publish a story without an original piece of art to accompany it, tailored to the platform it’s publishing on. We were tired of seeing overused stock images. Tired of the same wire photo used on story after story. Tired of a lack of visual identity. Everyone is posting a story weighing Al Franken’s punishment? We’ll create our own art. We’ll make sure it’s unapologetically rendered in Lily style. And then, in the endless feeds on Facebook and Twitter, we will stand apart in the crowded space and claim attention. Our images, and thereby our stories, are harder to skip.

Across the industry, we employ product designers, but the need for editorial designers and art directors with minds for digital is equal. Organizations publish hundreds of stories a day. We need a lot of designers if we are going to make an impact.

Designers should be part of the story-planning process from the beginning. This is not new. But designers (we call ourselves visual journalists), should be running some of these platforms. The best recent example of this is Instagram Stories. When a Story is created, choices involving typography, colors and alignment must be made. It’s critical that someone who understands these design principles be involved in — or in charge of — creating the Story. It will look better and more professional, ultimately resulting in higher and more meaningful engagement.

It may be true that young people finding our stories on Snapchat and Instagram respond well to informal, familiar interactions. In their search for authenticity, it is our responsibility to uphold our credibility not only with the information we are sharing but with its visual presentation.

We are getting better. News organizations are making an effort on Instagram. Enterprise stories are getting visual treatments that adapt well to Twitter and Facebook. But there are still stock images out there. Our brands should be recognizable. We can get there by refocusing on editorial design. Let 2018 be the year of visual identity.

Amy King is editor-in-chief and creative director of The Lily, a publication from The Washington Post.

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