3 questions with Kelli Sullivan

Kelli Sullivan is the deputy design director for projects at the Los Angeles Times, specializing in longer-form news projects. A lot of the best journalism the paper produces goes through her screen before it gets to readers. She shared a panel on visual storytelling with Jenn Crandall of washingtonpost.com on Saturday afternoon, emphasizing that designers have to be responsible for their own planning -- nobody's gonna do it for them.

We caught up to her afterwards for a little Q & A.

You went from features to news. Most people do that in the other direction. Why the switch? Which do you prefer?

I made the switch because I had done pretty much everything at newspapers except news. When I was in features I worked more and more with photos through calendar and projects like the oscars and the projects really appealed to me. When I went over, news needed my help with projects and that was appealing to me because I knew I could make a difference.

(The news side folks) scare the hell out of me. But everybody has been good to me and warm and embracing.I still love features. I may still go back there. Features has a special place for someone who likes to design.

In your presentation, you talked about the need to be ruthless when editing the visuals for a package. You're one of the nicest people I've ever met, how do you become ruthless?

You do it on paper. And then you make Michael (Whitley, her boss at the LAT) tell them (evil laughter).

It's really hard to tell a photo editor who is recommending 10 pictures that you want to use 5. It's really hard to tell them that 5 are better than 10. It helps to be able to show that you can run 5 better than you can run 10.

They're generally pretty happy about that.

What's the difference between proactive and pushy?

It's a fine line. I can be very nudge-y. Some people may think I pester them too much. You find nice ways to do it.

It's just communication and stories and photo edits. Sometimes I can be a pain in the neck. In the end it works to everyone's advantage and they remember the project and not the hard part.

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