What I Learned at #SNDSF

This past April, I attended the Society of News Design conference in San Francisco, otherwise known as #SNDSF - come on, it’s 2016.

The three day conference consisted of a variety of speakers centered around the topics of news design, technology, and journalism. I was fortunate enough to come face-to-face with many of my design idols, and even have my portfolio reviewed.

One session that resonated with me was by Ryan Hildebrandt and Tracy Collins, from the media company Gannett. They spoke about exact design mistakes interns make when they first start out. Not only was this a useful topic, considering the conference was full of students, but it taught me how to make my work more available. They titled their talk “Rookie Mistakes” and had photos of pro athletes making, well, rookie mistakes.

Below are the four mistakes they listed that helped my work ethic, the way I design, and who I am as a designer.

Mistake #1 - Breaking Style

Companies have style guides for a reason. It is very important not to break a company's brand, when designing for them. There are exceptions to this rule in marketing. Sometimes we are instructed to break the style of the company if they are looking for change. However, it is important to master the brand of the company and accept where the boundaries are before moving forward. Change is good, just not too much. As Hildebrandt and Collins put it, “The brand is your bible” .

Mistake #2 - Not Keeping it Simple

For this rule, they comically included a video of Gob Bluth (or if you don’t watch Arrested Development - Will Arnett) performing one of his magic shows. In this magic show, he pulls out all of his tricks in order to impress the audience. If my description isn’t enough, here’s a GIF.


What they were trying to get at is you shouldn’t have to pull out all of your Illustrator or InDesign tricks, in order to show you’re worthy of your job. Keeping it simple is the key. A couple of tips for keeping it simple include:

  • Make one change: whether that be the case, font, colour, outline, or size, one change makes a huge difference.

  • Let your visuals drive the page: people respond to visuals more than words.

  • Not everything has to be big: instead, emphasize one word, and be very selective with what word you are emphasizing.

Mistake #3 - Not Enough Confidence

Low confidence and comfort in your position will reflect in your work. It is impossible for you to work to your full potential if you feel stressed in the workplace. Remember, you were hired for your skill set, so let that confidence shine through your work.

Mistake #4 - Being a Passive Designer

This is a very common mistake in new designers. It is much easier to hide behind your computer screen and try to figure out issues on your own. Which, in some ways isn’t necessarily an issue. However, it is crucial that you aren’t afraid to ask questions. So, ask for feedback on your design, and ask as many questions as you can. You are responsible for your own improvement.     

Now, these are only four of the possible thousands of mistakes we make as designers. Without mistakes, you don’t learn. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake; as long as you learn from it, there is a positive takeaway.

#SNDSF taught me so much about my work ethic, the way I design, and who I am as a designer. I think all of these mistakes above can apply to every aspect of a career, especially in marketing. Style is a major component of a business, which is why design can make or break a company. So take these mistakes and learn from them; I promise you won’t regret it.

Maria DardanoComment