At first glance, this column many seem to you a bit self-serving. At my design workshops, however, I’m occasionally asked to define the role of the design consultant. What follows is my attempt to put that definition into writing.
Above all else, a consultant brings you experience. He has spent years at the task, honing his skills and preparing for the moment when you most need him.
To help prepare, he has completed the research necessary to acquire a strong knowledge of the past, a broad view of the present and a vision for the future of newspaper design.
He is ready to deal with the training and education that must accompany a successful redesign.
He becomes a teacher, giving your staff not only a knowledge of newspaper design, but also an understanding of why we design as we do. He becomes a mentor, guiding your staff through the redesign and leaving with them a respect for that redesign. With some, he will leave a love of design itself.
Sometimes the consultant must deliver bad news. Like an experienced surgeon, he often is called in to diagnose a patient with a serious illness. At such times, you want to know the worst you face and the best you can do to cure it. The experienced consultant will tell you, honestly and completely. But he gives you that information in the form of a promise, not a threat.
When the diagnosis calls for surgery, the consultant instructs you on the steps necessary to arrive at full recovery.
Those steps form a procedure with which the consultant is familiar and comfortable—and which has proven successful. Though the procedure is common, he applies it in a manner specific to your newspaper.
The consultant possesses a thorough understanding of the newsroom process and newspaper production.
He knows that a redesign that cannot be quickly and easily produced—both in the newsroom and in the production plant—will quickly and easily fail.
He recognizes that every redesign brings with it the opportunity to respond to the needs of your circulation and advertising departments. And he strives to help you capitalize on your work together so a redesign can help pay for itself.
The consultant is an experienced communicator. He is articulate, but more important he is a master at listening when you tell him about your newspaper and community, because he needs to understand them well before he begins work.
As part of that, he asks questions. Often, those are questions you’ve asked time and again and despaired of finding an answer. The consultant often asks those questions in a way that helps arrive at an answer, because he brings a sense of innocence, a “why not” approach to the search for solutions at your newspaper.
Obviously, the consultant must work well with your staff. He must talk with them—not at them—to encourage them to do work they may think they can’t.
In addition to all of this, the consultant brings to your newspaper a creative fire, a joy for the work.
When he looks at your newspaper, he sees much more than ink on paper.
He sees possibilities.