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This View by Nancy LeMay
Nancy LeMay is a five-time Emmy winning broadcast designer who has worked both in New York and LA, in network and local. She is a teacher and a painter as well. You can reach her through her website, and by email at

On Collaboration

There was a piece on CNN last week about a show of 20th Century furniture which is currently on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. What caught my eye was the furniture designed for work. The designers apparently had in mind that the exchange of ideas would be enhanced by furniture which could move with the worker, or could be easily wired for computer telecommunications.There is logic to this.

The designs, however, fell into the arena of the odd: one movable 'pod', whose seating comes from a John Deere tractor, has a colorful semi-circular skirt of plastic behind it where, I guess, I'm supposed to somehow attach my 'ideas'. Another was a 'thinking booth' of some sort which looked suspiciously like the flight simulators we saw when NASA was about to launch another moon mission. With ductwork and cables streaming from the back of it-or was it the front?- only the space agency's logo was missing from the shot.

Now to be fair, I'm not a furniture designer, I'm a graphic designer, and I appreciate that people are trying to 'think outside the box'. But I don't think we need different furniture to enhance the process of collaboration. What we do need is the proximity, the time, and the will with which to do it.

This is the thing which is curious: in most of the news organizations that I've worked for, the graphics and the editorial sides of the operation are completely separate- they are often on different floors, sometimes in different buildings. In the broad strokes, this is OK: the editorial folks order the graphics, the designers produce the graphics, the graphics get on television, end of story. True enough. But what I've described is a one way street.

Graphics have become an increasingly vital part of broadcasts. (Have you watched NBC Nightly News lately)? Most local newsrooms, however, seem not to want to work with graphic designers to help editorially. Why? There are many reasons, some justified and others useless. First there is the perception that we have nothing to contribute; we are simply not interested enough in the news. Not so; most of the people I know who do news graphics are as amazed by the dance of daily events as journalists are. Many of us have been doing this for a long time, and have observed what does and does work in storytelling using graphics. And, too, there's the habit we have developed of doing everything on a 'crash' basis: how often have I contributed graphics to even HFRs at the last minute... High story counts are also the enemy of graphic explanation: I know perfectly well that, if you've been given 1:10 in which to tell a story, chances are it will not include anything more visually complicated than cg over a background- if that.

I do sympathize. All of these things, as well as the many others I haven't mentioned, represent entrenched ways of thinking and working which reinforce the sameness of our product. My experience shows that its' the EP who either does or does not have an awareness of the role of graphics in a broadcast. (One of the EPs I worked for made his broadcast with virtually no graphics- no OTSs', few full screens. It didn't last).

The EP pushes reporters and producers to think graphically, order graphics and then follow through on their production and use. A good News Director makes sure that there is a lead artist attending every editorial meeting. (Don't worry- we won't leak the sweeps stories. How insulting is that)?

We should be part of planning: say your health producer is going do a series two months from now on advances in heart surgery. Why doesn't the producer sit with the art director now, over coffee perhaps, to find out whether or not there's someone in the shop who can do cutaway illustrations of the procedure? Or a 3D animation? Magazines do this. Newspapers do this. Book publishers do this. Ad agencies do this. But TV newsrooms, by and large, don't.

These are old habits which are dying hard, and they do not serve us. Boatloads of viewers are turning away from what we offer them because they perceive correctly- the safe haven of sameness to which we have anchored ourselves. Although it does take time to do some things (don't expect that 3D heart surgery animation to be done in an hour), we can't hide behind 'it's too difficult', or 'it's too expensive' much longer. For one thing, it isn't: the graphics system you needed 5 years ago to do that animation cost 20 grand then. Now it costs 2 grand- software and hardware included. (Not a capital expenditure)! And the people with the skill are there, ready, willing and able to help you with your vision. Find us and work with us. Special furnishings are not required.

About the Author

Nancy LeMay is a five-time Emmy winning broadcast designer who has worked both in New York and LA, in network and local. She is a teacher and a painter as well. You can reach her through her website, and by email at