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Interview: Mario Garcia

An email conversation with Mario Garcia, one of the world’s most renowned newspaper designers.

Author: Christophe Stoll
Date: 3. September 2010

Speak Belorussian? A translated version of this interview is available here.

Some time ago, we wrote an article about observations and trends in the field of media consumption behaviours, innovative news interfaces and fresh approaches to journalistic storytelling for german magazine Weave (also available online, in German).

In this context we had the honor to talk to Mario Garcia (@TweetsByDesign), one of the world’s most renowned newspaper designers. At the time of this email conversation, the iPad was still in the state of speculation. When the article was published, it had been announced by Apple, but was not yet on the market. Contagioned by the hype, designing for touchscreen devices was a key topic in our article.

Since then, a lot of publications have found their way to the iPad, exploration and experimentation around new digital publishing models and formats are in full action. Most of the large publishing houses worldwide have released their own news and magazine apps (or optimized their websites for the device?). Mr. Garcia now has a dedicated section around the iPad on his blog and is a keynote speaker for The WoodWing World Tour, a conference about publishing for the iPad touring the world.

Mario Garcia
Mario Garcia

Here’s the email conversation we had towards the end of 2009:

There’s a lot of buzz and speculation about “the future of Journalism”. In your opinion, what are the most important tasks and challenges going to be in the next few years?

There is a future of journalism, no doubt. But it will be a journalism radically changed from what we are accustomed to. Storytelling will be at the center of it, but the stories will adapt to the platforms in which they appear. Print will not be king, but will play a role. I think that one cannot separate a discussion of the future of journalism from business models that will make journalism affordable by the companies that produce it. I believe there will be dramatic changes in the business models. Good journalism is expensive to produce, so we will have to adapt, and make radical shifts to accommodate it.

What role is “the packaging of news”, the design of and for newspapers and media in general going to play in this context?

Extremely important, but I see design embracing also information architecture. It is not so much that we will make a product look better through color, design, typography, but that we will actually use what we know about how people read stories, how they follow content, to create much better organization of content in whatever media. Design and packaging are important, but the way content is planned and presented will be key.

There’s this notion of “paperless paper”, where the appearance of paper-based newspapers and magazines could be pretty much literally recycled for high resolution tablet computers. If this has a near future, how is a more print oriented graphic design going to converge with layers of interactivity (eg. conversation)?

As I said in the previous answer: we will analyze the content, use information architecture to take that content and present it thru the best platform, then let design guide how it appears. No question in my mind that there will be digital modes of presentation for all information, but there will always be – at least in the near future – a platform in print as well. Don’t forget the role of mobile phones, by the way.

We interviewed Mr. Garcia for an article we wrote for weave magazine, issue 02.2010

In modern journalism, the writing of an article does not end with its publication. The subsequent conversation and discussion is a vital part of it, but current design solution do not have much to offer. What are your ideas and suggetions for improvement?

This is already happening in digital media; interactivity is a top priority for users who wish to interact with editors and with other readers; it is more difficult to do this in print, but major titles around the world are developing blog summaries and readers’ pages in print to bring in this need of the user to interact. Every newspaper should have, at least once a week, a blog summary page, what the top topics are, and what the readers are contributing through online, from photos to stories, to comments.

Many people seem surprised how popular it is to read the news or even whole books on mobile phones. What’s your reaction?

I am not surprised at all, because I am 62 and I am inseparable from my iPhone and sometimes I read parts of the Sunday New York Times on the phone, and I like it – although for me, nothing takes the place of the printed copy in my hand, but I adapt and I read where I can. That is the way the world moves. One cannot stop this.

Probably an intentional switch between your iPhone and the printed issue of the New York Times could be part of the storytelling concept …

Yes, could be. But when I read the Times in my iPhone, is when I am in some remote place in the world where I have no access to the printed version.

What do “citizen journalism”, crowdsourced content creation and open data APIs mean for digital newspaper and magazine design?

It means what it is already: we have seen with events like the landing of the jet on the Hudson River, or the death of Michael Jackson, that users who have the right technology do participate in the news gathering process. They relay text messages about what they see, or move videos and photos through their phones. Another reality that we need to embrace, not be afraid of and use as well as we can.

On one hand it means more and very heterogenous sources, but it also leads to a whole different pace. Doesn’t this speed and dynamics also endanger the craftsmanship of well designed information? Should we – as several blog posts already suggest – get used to those ugly looking species such as “Google Fast Flip” or “Google Wave” as parts of a new face of news design?

As with everything digital, there is no going back.

I guess we have to get used to that, because as with everything digital, there is no going back. This is here to stay, and, indeed, will be intensified. But one can use crowdsourcing as a first step in receiving the information, then the professionals can retool it, reedit, and present in a way that is not ugly, disorganized or amateurish. I see journalists’ role doing this more and more often.

If a picture is worth a 1000 words, an infographic or interactive data visualization is worth … ?

Infographics are not as strong as photos, since they have to be studied, which takes a few seconds more. Photos and videos do convey the meaning of the story on the spot.

What do you think about the data visualization and visual storytelling work by the New York Times? Do you think other publications are going to step into their shoes?

Indeed, this is the way to go, but the New york Times has a large, well trained staff of people who can do these things. For the rest, this is a goal, but quite a distant one at the moment.

German Magazine de:bug has a special feature on Augmented Reality in their December Issue (138) and makes the assumption that “the actual future of print media is the interconnection of Augmented Reality and Paper”. Several publications are experimenting with it already – Esquire, Popular Science and now COLORS Magazine. The technological bandwidth is between added graphical codes within the content or even more advanced: image recognition. What’s your take on digitally augmented paper?

I have been reading up on Augmented Reality and I am quite fascinated by it. It is pure science fiction, although I know it is really happening, and many universities have made tremendous progress in making this come true. Just the idea of this next step, a sort of fusion between virtual reality, which creates immersive, computer-generated environments, and the real world in which we live and consume information, augmented reality is closer to the real world. Augmented reality adds graphics, sounds, haptic feedback and smell to the natural world as it exists.

To think that we may be reading a story about food – tapas, for example – and really smell what the writers talk about (or taste the wine)? I know that mobile phones are driving a lot of this technology (look at the iPhone) and I am perplexed and amazed (like a child) by it all. Remember, I am 62 years old.

Now about newspapers, and putting stories within the palm of our hand, and making all the other senses come alive, not just vision – if this is the future, I want to live another 40 years to enjoy it.

One question remains: what will happen to imagination? Will too much reality be harmful? Just wondering. Remember, you asked me!

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