The art of newspaper design

By Andrew Vowles

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  Photo Credit:  Lindsay Lapchuk

Photo Credit:  Lindsay Lapchuk

Matt French tells stories not with words but with design.

An award-winning page designer and assistant art director for The Globe and Mail newspaper, he aims to create eye-catching page layouts that give readers a clear idea what the story is about before they read a sentence.

“The designer is there to make the message as clear and effective as they can,” says French, adding that a skillful design draws attention to the article rather than to the design elements, including graphics, photos and typography.

Take the Globe’s front-page coverage of last fall’s final report of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The story was illustrated by oversize numerals that punched out the key points: numbers of victims, witnesses and deaths associated with the country’s former residential schools.

“The story was the numbers, and the numbers are the impact,” says French, B.Comm. ’07. “It’s not about any highfalutin’ image or fancy colour.”

Most days, French, 30, helps design the newspaper’s front page, working with a “cast of many,” including editors, headline writers and the paper’s creative director. Over the past year, he’s designed more than 300 front pages and thousands more inside.

French’s design skills are self-taught, but his career path started at U of G. Always driven to do creative work, he pursued a commerce degree thinking he could “make a living doing something creative in business” such as working for a marketing agency.

During a summer job in a marketing department, French took a stab at creating promotional material for trade publications. Back on campus during third and fourth year, he then worked at Guelph’s student newspaper, The Ontarion, as photo and graphics editor, and layout editor. Recalling those days, he says, “You were able to cut your teeth doing what you wanted. Learning from your mistakes gave you the freedom to make mistakes.”

Following graduation, he worked at the Woolwich Observer. After three years there, he worked for 24 Hours, a Toronto commuter newspaper, and the Toronto Sun, among others.

French got called up to the “big leagues” in 2011. Up to 400,000 people read The Globe and Mail’s weekend edition.

Among his notable Globe projects, he points to an “Unremembered” series of articles last year about the suicides of Canadian soldiers and veterans who fought in Afghanistan, as well as the 11th-hour package of reports covering the 2015 federal election that vaulted Justin Trudeau’s Liberals into power.

Another favourite was the 2012 Remembrance Day cover, with the word “Remember” stamped over a soldier’s image. “It did what it was intended to do: cause the reader to pause and reflect.”

A fan of the Washington Post and the Guardian, French brings what he calls a simple and subtle but graphic approach to his work, as well as a refined sense of visual literacy — all without getting in the way of the story.

Sitting down to assemble a page, he knows that reporters and editors might have put months of work and passion into the article. “At the end, I’m the person responsible for taking it over the finish line, making it sing so that people connect with it.”

 

This story, reprinted with permission, originally appeared in The University of Guelph’s Portico Magazine. 

Twists and Turns to a Dream Job: Sabrina’s Story

By Michelle Doyle, WorkStory Ambassador at Western University

If I told you that Sabrina Silveira is the Alumni Coordinator in the Advancement & Alumni Relations office at Humber College would you have the faintest idea what that means?   

As Sabrina told me “I know many people don’t know what alumni means, nor would they know what the role of an Alumni Coordinator would entail. It’s not an insult…it’s one of the many reasons I have a job!  For those who are unfamiliar with what ‘alumni’ is, it’s just a fancy Latin word for graduate.  In short, I act as the middleman that connects Humber back to our grads.” 

Sabrina’s role varies from day-to-day.  She describes her daily tasks as a set of on-going projects “from graphic design, social media management, copy writing and editing, to event planning and relationship building”.  Sabrina is always “kept on her toes and is able to tap into her creativity” with such a varying, multifaceted job. This is also the reason she cannot pinpoint a favourite part of her job.

Sabrina can, however, identify an essential part of her job - her manager, whose continual support has gotten her to where she is today.  She emphasizes the importance of having a superior “who truly cares for you, looks out for you and appreciates all that you do”.  She adds that most of us are working for the majority of our lives and would all have mental breakdowns without a strong support system around us. Sabrina feels that without this healthy, supportive relationship that she has with her manager, she wouldn’t be able to do all the things that she loves working on today. So, however “strange” it may seem to have a manager be one of the primary individuals you lean on for support, those relationships may be the most important ones, not only for your career, but for your happiness.

So how did Sabrina get here – to the job of her dreams?  Well, her journey started at the University of Guelph-Humber, where she studied media and communications.  In her final year of the program, she landed a position with a student travel agency in Toronto as her internship requirement for her program. Sabrina   isn’t exaggerating when she says “this is where I really began my career” as after only a month into the internship, she was offered a full-time position as a Production Designer!  “In this role I focused largely on designing collateral for the company, as well as writing blogs, monitoring social media, and - one of my favourite projects - designing our destination staff uniforms!”  Needless to say, Sabrina really enjoyed working at this agency and felt that she was really excelling at her career.

However, a year and a half into the new job, she was “faced with one of life’s upsets”. This influenced her decision to get a new job. She wanted to work close to home which made job hunting even more of a challenge than it already was. Sabrina describes the job search process as “possibly the worst thing a new graduate can go through”.  She explains that she felt worthless and felt that everything she had worked for was all for nothing in the eyes of potential employers.  She wasn’t even getting callbacks for jobs for which she was sure she was over-qualified.  After over a hundred job applications, Sabrina finally heard back from one.  It was nothing fancy, but it was a paid position related to her field.


“Whether you believe it or not, there will always be one specific experience in your life (if not more!)  that will change your perspective completely. This job was it for me. To say accepting this position was the worst thing I could have done is an understatement. I will tell this story again and again until I lose my voice, because I know there are others out there that may be in the same situation I was in, and I only wish I can provide some hope and encouragement to them.”  Her first week on the job consisted of coffee runs and cleaning up the lunchroom after people ate - all without the presence of her mysterious manager. To make matters worse, she caught a cold after the first few days but - although feeling horrible- she forced herself to come to work.  But that’s not all. Her HR manager actually phoned her explaining how she was disrupting her colleagues by coughing and sneezing. They feared she was contagious, making her feel alienated and as if she “should have been quarantined”.  This dreadful first week was followed by months of crying alone in the car during lunch breaks and feeling “completely disregarded as a human being”.  So why did she go through this? Well, she didn’t want to quit. She felt that she owed it to herself to push through it. In fact, it wasn’t until her parents begged her to quit that she really took a step back and analyzed her life.

On a Tuesday morning last year, Sabrina received an email from her past manager, blaming her for something she had nothing to do with. His words made her choke up until she couldn’t even breathe. She scheduled an emergency meeting with her HR manager who said there was nothing she could do for Sabrina and that the way she was being treated was her own problem.  Sabrina quit right then and there.  I know, I know. Good for her!!

After that experience, Sabrina started seeing life very differently. “I started to realize that there are two types of people in this world – the type of person who will respect you and the type of person who never will. We’re only on this earth for a finite period of time – why sacrifice your life and mental health working for people who – no matter what – only look down on you? I value my life too much to ever let that happen again.”

This time around on the job search, Sabrina was smart about where she applied. She nailed down the positions that she knew she would be happy in, rather than applying everywhere. Of course, still no replies.   So, she reached out to her professors, deans, old managers, her mentors (“which is probably the best piece of advice I can give anyone”, she says). She explains that she finally didn’t feel alone and had a lot of support from these individuals.  Luckily, a position had opened up in her old department -  a position that mimicked exactly what she wanted in a career.  “It was fate! My previous manager called me in for an interview and here I am today.  I’ve never been happier” 

If you’re gong to take anything away from Sabrina’s story, it’s that you should listen to yourself and make sure you are doing what makes you happy.

Also, keep in contact with your mentors!

From Graduation to Career: Madeleine’s (Scary & Exciting!) Story

My name is Madeleine Laforest. In January of this year, less than two years after my graduation from the Media Studies program at the University of Guelph-Humber, I secured a position as the newest and youngest member of Scholastic Canada’s Marketing Division, as the Marketing and Publicity Coordinator. Working in a four-person marketing team at the national level, my responsibilities include the creation of catalogues, securing events and publicity for our authors, and taking care of our promotional materials.  I am both honoured and excited beyond belief to embark in a role I love and for a company that shares my values in education and the promotion of creative expression.

My journey between graduation and full-time career was one of the scariest and most exciting times yet! It is a tough job market out there and discouraging at times, especially in an era of social media that seems to focus on highlights of peoples’ lives and seldom their struggles and self-doubts. 

I am hoping that by sharing my experiences, I can help you set your own expectations and prepare you for what is in store.

Securing the first job in your field is a combination of hard work, perseverance and luck.  

My journey began in my final year as I started sending out resumes to potential employers for my co-op and hopefully, a full-time position afterwards.  For every 10+ applications I sent out, I was lucky if I heard back from one.  I found that an interface with today’s social media could be an advantage, or disadvantage for you.  It is critical that you stand out from the rest, add a personal element to your portfolio to increase your chances of being seen, and don’t allow yourself to be swallowed up by it.  

You want to get that interview and meet with the employer to convince them in person that you are the right person for the job.  I was one of the fortunate students who received a few responses to my applications and was given an opportunity to be interviewed by more than one company.  In the end, I was able to secure internships at Scholastic and the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

Both of my internships at Scholastic and at TIFF were the result of me seeking out a direct contact at the company, and explaining my school requirement for co-op and my desire to work for them. 

I first came to Scholastic as an unpaid intern during my co-op in my fourth year. At the time I was working as a Junior Graphic Designer in the Creative Services Department. When my term ended, I did not want to leave as I had grown madly in love with the company and had formed many valuable relationships. At the end of my co-op I was told not to get my hopes too high for a full-time position, as they were on a hiring freeze, but I made myself a personal vow that I would not let this dissuade me. 

Fast-forward almost a year later, I came back in the role of receptionist after being tipped off of an opening by one of my co-workers who I kept in touch with. The opening was for a 4-month contract due to an internal change. At the time I was still working part-time as a Parks and Recreation Youth Program Leader, but when I received this message, I jumped on the opportunity with no hesitation.

I was interviewed on the Friday and was asked to start the following Monday. I said yes, knowing that my contract may or may not go longer than the promised four months, but regardless it was a foot in the door.

After four months, my contract was extended, and I was offered a transfer to Scholastic’s Trade Department as Trade Sales and Marketing Assistant that I held for 8 months prior to securing my full-time position as Scholastic’s new Marketing and Publicity Coordinator. I was the fastest turnover from receptionist to an internal position.  

How did this happen? During my four months as receptionist, I showed my eagerness to learn and worked hard by taking on as much overflow from departments as possible. Hence, in the fourth month, I was whisked away by one of the departments and my contract was extended! 

It is important that you never give up and that you continue to pursue your dream. Before securing a full-time position, I had applied to more than five internal positions; many of which I had come so close to acquiring. Despite the crushing disappointment of not getting one of these positions, I continued to apply as opportunities became available. I also agreed to take on more responsibilities to gain as much experience as possible. Then one day an unexpected resignation occurred, and there I was, the most qualified and eager person ready to fill the role! In the end, this marketing role was the best fit for me.

Don’t worry if you don’t get where you want to be right away, everything worthwhile takes time.

As you can see, even within my current place of employment it was quite a journey to get to where I am now. Since graduating I went from being unemployed, to being partially employed, to freelance, to finally securing my current position. So many times I could have thrown in the towel, but instead, I continued to strive forward and prove my abilities above and beyond everyone’s expectations, even my own.

You learn that you can’t take it personally when things don’t work out.  More often than not, you are competing with people who are equally or more qualified, or the position just isn’t the right fit for you. 

One of the biggest challenges I had to learn was to be patient with myself.

It can be easy to lose confidence in yourself when things don’t fall into place right away. While I was looking for a full-time job, I was able to work part-time and at the same time, work on several other projects to gain additional experience.  

As anyone who knows me knows, I have a passion for the video world. As part of the very first Emerge Conference, I was the head of the unit that won the first-place prize for best video for my sizzler reel. During the summer I also took on a position as a Videographer for the Georgian Bay Land Trust.  When the end of summer (post graduation) came around, I quickly realized I was not going to land a job in my field right away. I knew I needed to create work that would keep my resume current.

Always take advantage of slow periods by seeking out more experiences.This was about the time I started talking to an old collaborator about joining him and his co-director for a short film they were creating: Michael Was Here.  After meeting for coffee and hearing the story pitch, I was sold on it and I left the meeting agreeing to come onboard as the film’s producer.

This was a role I had never been in before, but I was convinced it fit my skillset. I discovered just how exhilarating, and how many months of hard work making a film could be! I was there from the initial stages, script revisions, scheduling and casting, creating Kick-starter pages for funding the project, and finally, shooting a film that was predominately filmed outdoors in what was one of the coldest Canadian winters yet! The people I met and the experiences I gained through this project kept me involved in this industry.  In addition to this I volunteered at various film festivals while searching for full-time employment. 

Then, TIFF 2014 rolled around. I took the entire week off to attend industry press conferences and screenings. Also, by keeping in touch with the team I worked with during my internship at TIFF, I was able to get a job as a videographer during the 2014 film festival. This year I plan on submitting Michael Was Here (https://vimeo.com/80317875) to the 2015 TIFF short film selection. There’s no reason why you can’t pursue more than one of your dreams at a time. Every experience builds on another! 

I have made great friends and connections through my projects as a volunteer. I also found great solace in reaching out to professors; they are mentors who know the field.  I always found them more than willing to give advice and guidance. Don’t ever underestimate the connections you’ve made at Guelph-Humber. The intimacy that you have in a small university community is a bonus. Network and connect with people! These are the stepping-stones to a successful career.

With that said, be sure to take full advantage of every opportunity!

Invest your time and effort in your internship and learn as much as you can. Take every opportunity that comes your way to gain and apply the experience. Put yourself out there and try new things, meet new people and network, because every connection made is an opportunity in the making!

With permission of the University of Guelph-Humber

Make Some Noise with Transistor!

By Karli Steen, WorkStory Ambassador

Formed in 2007, and based out of Barrie, Ontario. Transistor is a four member, award-nominated band. They have released two full length albums and are about to release their yet-to-be-named third in 2015, fusing a power-chord rock sound together with blends of blues, punk and country.

 The band's recipe is simple. A hard driving focus and power-filled songs, combine with intricate lyrics, to reveal music that ranges from melodic to heavy. Steve Wishart's vocals twist and turn throughout the songs, weaving an energy of rich harmonies with lead guitarist and backing vocalist Chris Nunes. The group's nucleus is held together by Joel Schonewille's steady rhythms on drums. Bass player Don Lindsay intertwines unorthodox bass lines to bring the songs together. Transistor has performed many shows and appeared at Earth Hour Music Festival, Barrie New Music Fest and Music on Main.

 Behind their unique sound, is a unique career path chosen by each band member. As Steve recounts "All of us have really taken different courses and schooling to get to where we are today. Being an honours graduate of the Georgian College Graphic Design program I have found that my career path has helped to give our band an identity, overall look and appearance. Because of my education, we have merchandise to sell and a website to promote ourselves and a visual presence that we can take pride in.  From an artistic point of view, I can utilize my training to think creatively and outside of the norms to not only brand us, but apply it to other forms of the group such as songwriting or making videos. It's the creativity that allows me to write lyrics to a song or help structure a guitar part. Music is much like design or any kind of art...everyone starts with a blank canvas and as an artist it's up to us to fill it with a picture that others can connect with on whatever level. But in this case our medium is our instruments".

 The band's drummer Joel took Radio Television Arts at Ryerson University. This gave him some audio training in a broadcast domain and an idea of the process radio stations use to select music for their playlists.  Guitarist and backing vocalist, Chris tried out Computer Programming, but never quite finished.  It was in his free time that he learned the art of guitar.

 When asked which school experiences helped the most, lead singer Steve said that he never really excelled in music in school. He didn't like the structure of music teachers assigning the roles played in a band. He wanted to be an individual.  Steve took private music lessons which boosted his confidence. This experience inspired him to learn independently and to decide for himself what role he would play.  Although Chris did not finish his post-secondary program, he notes that the time he spent there was worthwhile: "For the three of us school was our experience that helped define us. It's where we met, forged a friendship and started the roots of our band. Joel, Steve and myself have played together for many years in various bands. In a way, you can consider that a career, as most bands don't last even a quarter of that time together."

 A day on the job can vary, depending on whether the band members are performing or recording.  If they are performing, they have to incorporate extra time to travel, set up equipment, and make sure the instruments are working and sounding right; and then there is the work and effort that comes with putting on a good show.

Recording is a different story, because the band can either work together, or separately. They can work on their sound in the comfort of their own homes, and then come together to make the whole masterpiece. Practices happen once a month, and can last anywhere from 5 to 10 hours. Recording gives the band more time for sleep, and family; but for Chris there is nothing better then when they come over to his place for a jam session, and create new music. 

 There are many rewarding things about being in a band, including the fans, and seeing a song come to life. Steve explains the best part for him: "From a body of work perspective we are about to release our third album, and I always find that fulfilling and exciting...so first and foremost I would say writing the music tops the list. This is followed closely by the atmosphere of being in a band. It's truly like a family at times. Sharing ideas and creative moments right to traveling and performing live and having people listen to your music and like it."

 They admit that they would like to "make it big" with Transistor, but they know the industry is not what it used to be. Nonetheless they will continue making music because it's what they love. When asked for advice for those who may be interested in entering the industry, the band collectively agreed that you can't expect to "get rich quick".  You should make music because you love it; and stay away from today's talent shows that ultimately try to seize creative control.

You can find out more about Transistor at their website or follow them on Facebook, Twitter, or Youtube.

Painting a Different Path

By Karli Steen, WorkStory Ambassador 

Self-employed artist Alicia Wishart always knew her career path would be one that accented her creativity. Her original interest was Animation, so she started her journey with the Art Fundamentals program at Sheridan College, in order to prepare. After finding that the program wasn't for her after all, she took time to re-evaluate, and then pursued Graphic Design.

Though Graphic Design is not a main focus, Alicia says the techniques taught are still very useful: "I can do many of the things that cost people a lot of money. Steve (her husband), designed my website, but I maintain it and do any changes. I do all my own promotional materials, can scan and prepare all my art for reproduction for many other products. I am also able to layout large projects like my book and make it print ready. I tend to follow colour trends that I think people would enjoy in their art."

Alicia had never really considered turning her love for art into a profession, in spite of loving it since high school. She recalls being told that making a living as an artist was an impossible feat,  but she decided to take a chance and try it after she knew her position at the time,  in graphics, was coming to a close.

For Alicia, there are two types of work days - days at home and days at art shows. Days at home usually involve being fully immersed in painting, with a current show of interest playing in the background. Up to 7 to 8 hours can be spent painting; and the process can get so intense, that needs like showering can easily be forgotten.

Alicia described the various elements of a show day: "When I'm at a show, I have to drive to the show and set up my tent. Good situation will mean I can drive up to my spot and unload there. Bad situation means I have to find a parking spot, unload my stuff into my wagon, drag it two blocks and then down a ravine to my spot. Repeat about 5-6 times until all is unloaded and then set up the tent. Takes about two hours to make the tent nice. On show day, I get up and put on comfy clothes that are also decent looking. I'm usually set up in my tent in a park so I have to consider the weather will I be cold, is it raining, will I be sweating like a pig and likely get heat stroke again? It's not much different than working retail I talk to tons of people and sell my gear. When the show is done, I have to take everything down, pack it up and drive to wherever I'm sleeping. It can be a very tiring end to an already long and tiring day."

When asked what she found most rewarding about being an artist, Alicia had this to say: "The most rewarding thing is seeing how much I can accomplish. I did 6 paintings in a 6 month period for school and I thought that was insane. I worked so hard! Now I have done somewhere around 225 paintings in 7 years and feel like I need to work harder. I've made some really great friends from being on the show circuit and feel like I've gained an extended family. Everyone wants to help each other succeed so having that community is very helpful when you need advice. Most people have no idea what our life is like other than fellow show people. I have also had opportunities to do things that I wouldn't have had the chance to do if not for meeting my fans. They treat me well and send me greetings or come to see me whenever I'm in town. I got a behind the scenes tour at the Calgary Zoo and got to pet my favourite hippo, Sparky."

Although Alicia is happy in her work, she admits she does well when the economy does. She will continue painting, but also hopes to expand her artistic talent with cake making. Aside from artwork, Alicia has a fur/shell family, consisting of two dogs, a cat, and two tortoises. They keep her life just as colourful and busy as painting does; and she hopes to one day establish a tortoise sanctuary.

For those interested in the world of art, Alicia stresses the importance of being able to adapt. Art is always evolving and, if you can't evolve with it, it will be hard to last. If you plan to be a self-employed artist, Alicia recommends taking some marketing and business courses, as they will teach you how to sell the art you produce. She also has some advice on art in particular: "As for producing art, go with your own voice and not what others tell you. You have to make it, not them. Art doesn't have to be overly introspective and deep. It can be fun or beautiful or just something awesome. When you follow your own voice, it will show in your work and others will see your passion too.

Check out Alicia Wisharts work here: https://www.facebook.com/AliciaWishartArtist

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