Part 21: Showing the Layout

It's been a crazy week.

We're doing a huge (18-page) infographic as our November cover story and that's taken a sizeable bite out of my time these past few days--so apologies for the lack of updates these past few days. But on September 15, I showed this version of the layout to Bob, Nancy, Jason, Anna and Wyatt. This meeting is called "Presentation" on our tracking sheet; it's typically a point when Wyatt and I are reasonably sure of the design direction--we have a working hed and dek--and live photo selects are placed in a layout.

This meeting is structured to give Bob a chance to weigh in, to address any concerns he may have, to ask questions or simply affirm the chosen direction. Usually, he has a good sense of what he's going to see, so there aren't any huge surprises. But sometimes, the design may not have worked out, or I've suggested an alternative approach, another set of display copy, or we've scrapped our plans entirely and we need to show our new idea. The story editor (Nancy) is at this meeting to answer questions and offer her perspective and although Jason was at this meeting, writers are almost always not invited.

While it's not essential, having Bob's blessing for a layout is really helpful in the next stage, when I show Chris Anderson, our EIC. In this case, Bob liked what he saw, which really surprised me. I thought the sideways type might throw him for a loop, but in fact, he really responded to it. We debated the merits of the highlighting, we talked about using the thumbnail movie stills and we assessed our needs for display copy. Nancy and Jason had some good suggestions and so we all agreed to show Chris the opener later in the day.

A Chris meeting is a slightly more formal affair. Bob and I try to gather a few layouts at once, so that we can kill a few birds with one stone. We lay trimmed spreads out on a big table in our magazine room and talk through our theories, presenting the progress of the piece. Wyatt and I speak to the design and Bob speaks to the edit and the story and the editor is present to answer Chris' questions (and again, in this case, Jason was present). So we showed him a few other stories and then this layout:

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When Chris sighed and put both hands over his face, I knew it was trouble. I explained what I had done, tried to walk through my design moves, but sensing the coming rejection, I can't say it was my finest moment of rationalization. Chris asked where the photo of Charlie was. He hated the sideways type. He felt like we were being confrontational with the design, challenging our readers. I tried to explain that I had done that to reference Kaufman's work. He thought it was too wordy. I said he's a writer. No dice. Bob and Wyatt leapt in to help, but it was too late. Chris wasn't buying what I was selling. He wanted something much simpler.

Back to the drawing board. 


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