Society of News Design Conference Key Takeaways


The Society of News Design hosts an annual conference that brings creative minds from across the country together to learn about innovative ways to improve newspapers and magazines.

I attended this conference last month and was able to network with designers from notable news organizations including the New York Times, National Geographic, Time Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Gannett and so many more! It was an amazing experience to learn from these designers.

Looking back and reflecting on my week in North Carolina, I’ve come up with five takeaways that can apply to graphic design and public relations work for a variety of clients:


One of the sessions I attended, “Designing with … BEER,” was just as great as it sounds. Suzie Ford from the local NoDa Brewing Company spoke about branding and how her company has redefined itself. When changing its label design, NoDa’s main priority was how to stand out among other beer containers in the grocery store.

So what did it do?

NoDa created labels using bright colors and engaging images, including its 2014 World Beer Cup Gold Award Winner, Hop Drop ‘N Roll IPA, which it packages in gold cans. Don’t be afraid to stand out and be different. That’s what NoDa stands for, and it’s consistent with its design style across the board.

Make the most out of the project

When Nebraska punter Sam Foltz was in a car accident with former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler, Tim Parks from the Omaha World-Herald got thinking. He knew this story deserved more than one story intermixed with the rest of the sports coverage. It deserved a special section, he thought.

Parks ended up winning World’s Best for his design for the special section.

When comparing his section with the coverage from Lansing media, it was obvious how Parks’ special section stood out. Parks made the most out of this horrific situation and created a way for family, friends and the community to honor Foltz’s life.

Shoot for your target

Dheerja Kaur, product head at the media company Skimm, was part of a keynote session on “building products and teams that win,” where she discussed how Skimm works to attract readers. The company has a very specific target demographic, which guides the writing and development of its products.

The “Skimm Girl” is a young adult age, mid twenties to low thirties, who wants news on the go. Kaur said that the staff jokes about what she is up to on a daily basis, her mannerisms, etc., to get a feel for the target.

While the Skimm has a very specific demographic, public relations professionals can reflect and create an identity that aligns with their clients’ goals and pinpoints specific details about their targeted audience, including when they would see clients’ content, how they would be reading it (print or digital, what platforms, etc.), what draws them to your brand and why they care.

If you can’t find the solution, create one

With digital design taking over traditional print, designers are having to create news ways to make their storytelling more visual online. New York Times Associate Editor Matt Ericson talked about how his newsroom is creating new tools to better communicate stories.

Although the New York Times has more resources than many other publications and public relations firms, its message remains relevant — if you have a problem, find a solution. If you can’t find a solution, create one.

Traditionally in a newsroom, a reporter sends a story to copy editors, who send the story on to designers who lay out the pages. Ericson and his staff created online tools, such as Scoop, that allow designers, reporters and copywriters to work on the same file at the same time. With newsrooms cutting staff, including designers, the Times created an application called Mr. Chartmaker that allows non-designers to create charts and graphs to support their stories.

Tell the story your audience wants to hear

So you’ve determined your target audience. Now it’s time to give people what they want to hear (or read).

Multinational digital company VOX media has mastered this. It has developed eight different media influential brands to target different audiences. Whether it is technology, sports or home décor that interests you, VOX has a brand for that. This allows the company to get advertising and distribute content to very specific audiences.

For example, one of VOX’s brands is Racked, which targets a younger demographic looking for affordable clothes, shopping tips and shopping guides.

From a PR standpoint, the key is to find your niche with your client and dive in. Pitch diligently and directly to media and bloggers that your clients’ audience will be reading regularly.

Katie Winkler is a student practitioner at Martin Waymire and a recent graduate from Michigan State University with a major in journalism with a concentration in visual communication and a minor in public relations.