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Tim Frank

The co-founder of NewsPageDesigner.org talks about the site´s incredible journey and its impact on his career.

February 20, 2013
(photo: Tim Frank)

We’re back with our series of interviews with people  who are making things happen in the world of data visualization,  and this time we invite you to know a bit more about the NewsPageDesigner (NPD) social network, one of the first Internet references, in terms of editorial design.

I came across NPD in the early stages of my research for the best infographic design sources, almost four years ago, and I was particularly astounded by the diversity of nationalities present in their user base. It didn’t take long to start meeting interesting folks and since then we’ve been featuring designs posted there on a regular basis.

NPD was created by Timothy Frank and Eric Kaiser back in 2002, evolved with time and keeps growing , both in users (mainly visual journalists and editorial designers) and works published. We had the opportunity to ask Tim, currently the Director of Gannett’s Asbury Park Design Studio, a few questions about this project and its impact on his work:

Visual Loop (VL) – Can you tell us a bit about your background in visual journalism/data visualization?

Tim Frank (TM) – I came late to the party, landing in newspapers in the late 1990s after painting circus banners and running a photo business. Starting as a graphics editor at a couple small papers, early successes came in part because I wasn’t bound by rules or traditions.

After developing some notoriety at the Sun Journal in Lewiston, Maine, where NewsPageDesigner was started, I was invited by Tracy Collins and Chris Kozlowski to manage news design and graphics at The Arizona Republic. There I learned how to polish the work and to navigate the culture of a large newsroom.

In 2005, I had an opportunity to follow Jeff Glick as creative director at the Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It was a great opportunity to be able to integrate graphics, design and photography all under one umbrella.

The graphics team had been building interactive graphics before Flash even existed. They were also producing beautiful full-page explanatory graphics each week. Eventually, we grew the staff to ten graphics reporters and artists who did their own reporting and produced pieces for print, interactive and TV.

In 2008, we had the opportunity to reinvent the paper from the ground up, taking a magazine approach to the broadsheet paper. The collaboration during that period was as good as I have ever experienced. In our best year there, I think we brought home 47 SND awards. You can see some of that work here.

I moved to Gannett in 2011 to launch the Asbury Park Design Studio. If consolidation was an inevitable trend, this was an opportunity to try to get it right. We now have about 75 designers designing 15 newspapers and all of their related products. We had everyone up and running after the first 18 months. Now, we are working with newsrooms to enable us to do our best work. There is a lot yet to do, but here is a look at some recent work.

VL – Back in 2002, you and Eric Kaiser started NewsPageDesigner.com, which was the predecessor of NewsPageDesigner.org, that you established in 2009. Tell us a bit about that whole story.

TF – When I was at the Sun Journal, I was a regional director for SND, looking to build a community. It made a strong impression when Poynter.org ran a collection of front pages of the 9/11 attacks on their site. That was probably the inspiration for building a site.

Eric offered to do the programming and the Sun Journal offered to host us on one of their servers. The first portfolios were actually work that I posted myself from people I knew at other papers. The hope was to get at least a few dozen people involved but with the help of other SND directors, the site took off.

The Sun Journal continued to host the site long after I left, but finally shut the site down in 2009 when they needed to replace the server. That’s when we started over in the new platform.

The first portfolios were actually work that I posted myself from people I knew at other papers. The hope was to get at least a few dozen people involved but with the help of other SND directors, the site took off.

VL – And today, 4 years later, NewsPageDesigner.org is arguably one of the best places to explore high quality editorial work. Can you share some numbers behind the site’s success?

TF – Thanks. The biggest challenge is that there is so much work to see. Here are some numbers:

NewsPageDesigner is approaching 5,000 members who have posted over 67,000 pages. In January, the site had 20,000 visitors who collectively visited 270,000 pages. The most active countries on the site are United States, Mexico, India, Turkey, Indonesia, Brazil, Guatemala, China, United Kingdom and Spain.

VL – I’m sure you’ve seen not only amazing works, but also some of the cultural differences between users from different countries. Have you been able to find some kind of design patterns/trends, having those cultural differences in account?

TF – The international participation is my favorite aspect of the site. I have been strongly influenced by the boldness of the South and Central American papers and by the discipline and structure of some European newspapers. Some of my recent favorites have been posts with Arabic typography and it’s great to see the exuberance of Indian designers.

One would think that there are universal tenets of design that should apply to work in any culture. And there are some basics, like clarity of purpose, functionality and emotional connection. But the application of those tenets is very different when you compare work from South America, eastern Europe or Asia.

When pulling images to feature in the slide show, I am always looking for a diversity of work, while trying to get better at understanding cultural differences, when looking for interesting work to feature.

One would think that there are universal tenets of design that should apply to work in any culture. And there are some basics, like clarity of purpose, functionality and emotional connection. But the application of those tenets is very different when you compare work from South America, eastern Europe or Asia.

VL – It’s somehow inevitable that I ask your opinion about the current scenario of the newspapers and magazines market. Are we facing the extinction of these media formats, or do you feel that it’s all part of a natural evolution?

TF – I am an optimist, but there’s no denying that the market will continue to evolve. My expectation is to intelligently navigate the transition. Many American media companies haven’t done anything more creative than cutting costs. I am rooting for the companies that figure out how to be relevant and unique.

At Gannett, we are seeing that the right content, presented in a noticeably compelling way, can still drive readership. That’s made me more confident that we can make a difference.

Of course, evolution can open new doors as other close, as opportunities shift away from traditional media companies. It’s cool that there is so much interest in data visualization and explanatory graphics right now.

Evolution can open new doors as other close, as opportunities shift away from traditional media companies. It’s cool that there is so much interest in data visualization and explanatory graphics right now.

VL – Any final thoughts? New projects you’re working on?

TF – I got into this business hoping to make cool stuff on computers, but it turns out that the real benefit was all of the amazing people we get to work with along the way. And luckily, NewsPageDesigner opened the door to let a whole lot more playmates into the sandbox.

Trying to build creative cultures in 15 newspapers at once keeps me busy enough that there isn’t as much time for NPD as I’d like. I approve every member that comes in, try to monitor the site and choose images for the slide show. Fortunately, the members provide quite a bit of activity.

It makes me really appreciative of a site like yours that actively curates and generates content. Thanks for doing what you do. Great stuff.

VL – Thank you so much, Tim.

TF – Thanks!

 

 

We really appreciate Tim’s availability and detailed answers. If you want to get to know his work a bit better, visit his website and, of course, don’t forget to drop by NewsPageDesigner.

Written by Tiago Veloso

Tiago Veloso is the founder and editor of Visualoop and Visualoop Brasil . He is Portuguese, currently based in Bonito, Brazil.

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