The joys of designing for great content


Good journalists know how to find interesting angles. They dig around a topic until they draw out enough details to bring a story to life.


The best stories these writers create tend to:

  1. Have a hero and supporting characters
  2. Capture a sense of tension and challenge
  3. Feel truthful, relevant, simple, and compelling

These characteristics are sources of inspiration for editorial art directors and designers. We get the fun job of stoking the flames with the oxygen of visual content, interaction, and packaging design.

It’s a critical job: If an amazing story looks bad, no one will read it. The right design will capture and maintain a reader’s attention.

A designer’s job is harder—and less fun—when stories lack these elements. So-called advertorial stories often lack accuracy or simplicity. Marketing fluff pieces lack tension. Clickbait piles of nothingness lack characters with whom readers can relate. Spend a lot of time polishing these objects, and you might as well line up to be executive director at the Museum of You Know What.

As an art director, here are a few exciting things about genuinely high-quality journalism: 


If people are reading your story, they’re already interested.

People generally find stories by clicking on links and thumbnails in their feeds and search results. Maybe they’re interested in a highlighted character or subject. You know that you have readers who are likely curious. This gives a designer the opportunity to come up with the right moments of surprise and delight—to draw them in further and keep them there for more of the story.


You can increase readers’ understanding with visual and interactive inventiveness.

Smartly chosen imagery helps readers relate to characters or better understand complex topics. User-controlled interactions make information more impactful and memorable.


Real stories are a force for good. No B.S.

Good art direction and design brings real stories to life. Whether through photography, layout, video, illustration, interactivity, or a combination of them all, every ounce of creative effort can help communicate something real and truthful.

Art direction and design, when applied to marketing fluff, can feel like an attractive distraction from the truth. Design for great stories, by contrast, feels like an attractive amplification of real life. 


Photos (clockwise from top left): Tiny Lasers, Big Gains; The 3D Movie that Rewired a Brain; Digital Art's Mainstream Moment; Technology Helps Whale Photographer Capture Life-Size Images; #Mindblown; Tiny Lasers, Big Gains.

Topics: journalistic content, art direction, content marketing, storytelling, design, creative direction

Ian Clazie, Executive Creative Director

Ian Clazie, Executive Creative Director

Ian uses empathy and storytelling to make beautifully effective experiences for businesses and the people they're trying to reach. Before co-founding digital-marketing agency Ready State in San Francisco, he held creative leadership positions at Razorfish Australia and MRM San Francisco, wrote a book about online portfolios, and studied illustration at Art Center College of Design and Rhode Island School of Design.