Bloomberg View: Op-Ed illustration for All
I’ve been complaining for awhile that when searching for thoughtful, relevant typographic-illustration work I’ve constantly returned to The New York Times opinion editorial page and not gotten much further. Typographically speaking, unless you want a bicycle that spells your name, or some other such decoration, thought-provoking type-illustration is hard to come by… and then I’m proved wrong.
Bloomberg.com/view, started in May of this year, is a rich opinion and editorial website from Bloomberg.com*. Everyday the site is updated with an amazingly simple, deft image that gets you more excited about reading than, well, headlines. Each illustration tackles a pretty complex subject and they’re rewarding to take in (full disclosure, I’ve done a few illustrations for Bloomberg.com/view and its no picnic, one was on Al-Qaeda and the other on Congressional Supercommittees.)
How did you come to art direct the View page of Bloomberg.com?
Three of the editors that launched Bloomberg View were previously at the Times Op-Ed page where I occasionally filled in as an art director, and contributed regularly to as an illustrator. When it came time for them to find an art director they asked if I was interested. Phil and I have been running our studio since 2008 and weren’t ready to shut the doors, but it was an interesting challenge and hard to turn down. This was back in April, and I came on board initially for three months to create a strategy for how illustration would work, design some icons and other core elements like branding for their blogs. The website and logo were designed by the time I got there, but I helped clean them up. During that time Phil and I were still working on client projects with the help of a great intern and a lot of working on the weekends. After that frst few months it was clear there was still work to be done, so since the beginning of August we’ve taken the art direction on as a studio project. Phil and I share the duties and also work on it with Ryan Waller and Vance Wellenstein, who share our space and are collaborating with us on other projects.
As a talented visual problem solver yourself, did you set out with a particular ethos for how to work with designers/artists?
The art on the page needs to stand up to the same criteria that the words do: op-eds need to express an opinion and offer a solution; editorials need to be consistent, well informed and offer a solution or suggestion; columns have variety, are smart and fun to read, and should give the reader a new perspective on a given topic. All of that needs to happen in a few hundred words, and the art needs to do it even quicker. The work we make and commission looks the way it looks because of these conditions. Speed is another factor since our turnaround times are usually same-day — maybe six hours to think about, sketch and finalize an illustration. We also try to make as many jokes as possible to lighten up what can otherwise be some pretty heavy stuff.
How do you balance the work you create for the page and the work of others? You are not completely hands off, there are many illustrations (in blue) with no credit attached?
David Shipley (the co-executive editor of Bloomberg View) wanted to feature the editorials prominently on the page, so we built that into our art strategy. Unlike op-eds and columns, editorials have a consistent point of view, and are delivered in the same voice every day. They are also unsigned which in 2011 might seem like an unnecessary tradition to uphold (their intro editorial did a great job explaining all of this). Most news organizations with editorial boards attach stock photos to their editorials or leave them empty. We knew that wasn’t the way to go (using a photo of a cigarette for an editorial about smoking doesn’t say anything), and it made sense for us to illustrate them since, like the editors, we’re part of the organization and we’d be able to maintain an equally consistent voice. Having to make at least one of these a day has been a real challenge, and has forced us to keep them simple and to the point. This is also keeps them different from the art we commission. And they’re blue.
What’s up with the blue?
This was part of our strategy for keeping the voice consistent and separate from the op-eds and columns. The blue is a nod to the logo, and is a way to separate View content from other kinds of Bloomberg content which is photo-heavy and orange and black. It also lets us make a vector illustration or use photography and maintain a level of consistency. Only having one color definitely makes it more of a challenge but also makes it easier since there is one less thing to think about. There are very few illustrations that need color to work. And it’s a nod to the black and white illustrations we’ve admired from the New York Times op-ed page. I always felt that the Opinion Pages website worked so well because the art was black and white as a result of how it would run in the paper. It’s a beautifully backwards system that works in their favor.
Lots of publications that offer exposure and editorial content have trouble compensating their illustrators fairly, how do you approach this?
We have a very fair daily art budget to work with which is a testament to Bloomberg’s understanding of the value that art adds to the content they publish. I think that’s clear with what’s happening over at Businessweek where they are doing unbelievable work.
In a recent Eye magazine interview with Bloomberg Businessweek’s Richard Turley he mentions the fact that designers and editors sit side-by-side, is this true in your case? How closely do you work with authors, editors?
Bloomberg View isn’t in the same building as Businessweek but the desk arrangements are similar. When I was working in the offices preparing for the launch we worked side by side. Now that we’re handling it from our studio there’s less face to face contact but we call in for daily meetings and email throughout the day. We bounce everything off the editors and ask for input constantly. Running an idea by them is an important step and a big test on whether an illustration works or not, especially since they understand this stuff way more than we do. If they can find humor in an illustration about the S&P credit downgrade than we know our readers will get it, even when no one else will. For those that don’t know the difference between AAA and AA+, we’d like to think that our illustrations will teach them something, or at least get them to read the article and figure it out. That’s how it works for us anyways.
* originally I posted that Bloomberg View was part of Bloomberg Businessweek but actually it is part of Bloomberg.com or Bloomberg news. I think I was confused because they are both handsomely designed (and share a name) but in any event, sorry for any confusion.