Q&A with Brad Walters, features designer at Washington Post

Brad Walters is an art director and features designer at The Washington Post. He previously worked at The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., and the Herald-Journal in Spartanburg, S.C. In this interview, conducted by email, Walters talks about what it’s like to work at the Post and what’s in store for print designers in an increasingly digital media.

Q. Describe your job. What do you do in a typical workday?

A. In a nutshell, I get paid to draw all day! How cool is that? More specifically, I design and art-direct covers and inside pages for the weekly Health & Science and Local Living sections of the Post.

Part of the job is highly creative — conceptualizing graphics, brainstorming cover concepts from scratch — and part of it is technical and heavily deadline-driven. The features design team is a collaborative group, so we’re constantly bouncing ideas off one another and pitching in to help each other when it’s needed. I sometimes write for the paper as well, but that’s far less typical nowadays.

Q. Your career before The Washington Post included stops in Raleigh and Spartanburg. How is the Post different from the newspapers in those cities, and how does that affect what you do?

A. The biggest difference is that the Post, by virtue of its size, offers resources that smaller papers often can’t. For instance, I’m fortunate enough to have a modest freelance budget with which I can hire illustrators to produce original artwork for certain stories. It’s not something I can do all the time, but it’s a nice way to bring diverse voices and themes to our pages.

As in Raleigh and Spartanburg, the Post is highly focused on growing its local audience, more so now than ever. As Warren Buffett noted in his memo to his newspaper editors and publishers this past week, “newspapers that intensely cover their communities will have a good future.” Let’s hope he’s right.

Q. You’ve worked both as a copy editor and as a designer. Which role do you prefer, and which skills overlap?

A. The primary overlap is that I think both copy editors and designers serve as the gatekeepers and guardians of the interests of readers. In a more practical sense, it’s incredibly useful to be able to write spec headlines for display packages that stand at least a chance of making it into the paper. While everyone is encouraged to weigh in on all aspects of a story, the fact that I was a copy editor in a previous life makes me feel more comfortable doing so.

Q. You’re a print journalist in a media world that’s becoming increasingly digital. What do you see as the future of newspaper design?

If the news out of New Orleans and Alabama is any indication, I think there’s no question we’re moving toward an all-digital media world. Personally, I still read the dead-tree edition of the Post every day and have grown accustomed to how the print product organizes the news, and I think it’ll be a long while before we hit that tipping point where print can no longer wholly sustain itself.

The good news for visual journalists out there is that no matter what the medium – print, web, mobile – the need for smart, clear design and unique visual communication is only getting stronger as the media environment becomes more saturated. Print journalism may eventually die, but visual journalism – and journalism as a whole – is as important as it’s ever been.