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Design Comes to the Newsroom

One of the most radical changes Frank Ariss proposed was to redesign
the Tribune name plate, a move few newspapers have been willing to
make. Photo by Mike Carroll

One of the most radical changes Frank Ariss proposed was to redesign the Tribune name plate, a move few newspapers have been willing to make. Ariss was first hired to dress up the newspaper’s Textura flag, but that soon turned into a total redesign. PHOTO BY MIKE CARROLL

When the newspaper was fun

Mike Carroll, who was supposed to stay at the Minneapolis Tribune for a year, worked for the paper for nearly 40 years. After the redesign project was done, he became the design director at a time when few newspapers had such a position. He held that job for 17 years, and then designed feature pages.

During his time, Carroll watched as the Cowles Communications empire crumbled. The parent company had begun losing money before the redesign was completed. In 1970, it sold some of its holdings, including Look and Family Circle, to the New York Times Company for stock worth more than $50 million. In 1974, Cowles sold its AM and FM radio stations in Des Moines but kept KCCI-TV. The Minneapolis Tribune merged with the evening Star in 1982. In 1983, Cowles Communications sold off most of its remaining assets, except the Star Tribune. The rest of Cowles’ holdings were sold to McClatchy in 1998 for $1. 4 billion. “It’s the old story in a way of the family newspaper disappearing,” said Allen, 89, who retired to Honolulu. “The Cowles sold the newspaper to get money.

The new Tribune nameplate incorporated a logo that matched the angle of the paper coming off a print roller or the newspaper page being opened by a
reader. Photo by Michael Carroll.

The new Tribune nameplate incorporated a logo that matched the angle of the paper coming off a print roller or the newspaper page being opened by a reader. PHOTO BY MICHAEL CARROLL

“We won awards, had other designers of newspapers coming to see what we’d done. Tribune management changed and design changed. They wrecked the Ariss design, abolished it, did something different.”

In December 2006, McClatchy sold the Star Tribune to Avista Capital Partners, a private equity firm with no experience in the news business. The price was less than half of what McClatchy had paid for the paper eight years earlier. In February 2008, stories surfaced that Avista would sell the newspaper’s headquarters, the building that Editor and Publisher in 1943 called “the finest newspaper plant between Chicago and the West Coast.” A month later, Avista announced that it would cut its staff by 3 percent through buyouts. Mike Carroll was one of those who took the money.

Allen wrote a book, “A Design for News,” that told the story of the Minneapolis Tribune. Published in 1981, it was a striking document, designed by Mike Carroll in the Tribune’s modern style — including Helvetica text.

In the book, Allen wrote: “The newspaper whose present design is flexible enough to sustain change and whose designers and editors work together for change will be the newspaper that lasts and grows.”

“That was back in the good old days,” Mike Carroll said, “when ownership was a lot different. Things were rosy. There was money to be spent and they spent it. That was when the newspaper was fun.”

The presses are ready to roll for page 1, section 1 of the Minneapolis Tribune of April 5, 1971. Photo by Michael Carroll

The presses are ready to roll for page 1, section 1 of the Minneapolis Tribune of April 5, 1971. PHOTO BY MICHAEL CARROLL

What design is

Frank Ariss left the Minneapolis Tribune in March 1972, having designed not only the newspaper, but also Tribune stationery, carrier bags, the company trucks, the company airplane, even John Cowles Jr.’s office, right down to the custom-made furniture. He took on one other newspaper design, that of the San Francisco Examiner. He was ready to unveil his prototypes with the Examiner’s executives on Feb. 4, 1974 — the day that publisher Randolph Hearst’s daughter Patty was kidnapped. When he arrived at the Examiner’s office, he found out that the project was off.

“I’ve lost jobs for a lot of reasons,” Ariss said. “That was the first time I lost one because of a kidnapping.”

In the years since, he has done everything from annual reports to installations for such companies as 3M, AT&T, Dayton Hudson, Weyerhaeuser, Honeywell, the Guthrie Theater and the BBC, to name a few. The examples in his portfolio, posted on frankarissdesign.com, the Web site he designed and built, show the same diamond-edged clarity he brought to the Minneapolis Tribune.

These days, Ariss and his wife, the writer and business-meeting consultant Mary Rolph, spend all of their time at their cabin in Pepin, Wis., on the Mississippi River, having put their historic Minneapolis townhouse up for sale. At 71, he is as busy as ever, with several projects underway, including one involving High Performance Computing. But the mobility of the Internet allows him to work full time in the country, where he can take a break from the design desk to pursue his interests in astronomy, gardening and boating.

“I love what I do with a passion, but I love other things, like planting my spuds or looking at the moon,” he said. “These are the things that feed my soul. I don’t need design conferences, I don’t need to listen to other designers.”

He says he is “still trying to figure out what he wants to do when he grows up.”

“He has said that very thing ever since I met him,” Mike Carroll said. “I had lunch with him a while ago, and he was just as arrogant as ever. I was waiting for him at the Nicollet Island Inn, and he came in the double doors dressed totally in black with huge black sunglasses and a red handkerchief in his coat pocket. It was just so classic.

“He had heard that I’d retired, and he asked what I was going to do. I said I was going to wait a bit. He has no intention of retiring.”

Ariss said of design, “It’s part of me. It helps to define me.

“Let me be very clear up front with what I think design is: It begins when you first start talking to the client, and it doesn’t stop until the client’s check has cleared the bank. Everything in between is to my mind designing.

“The intensity I put into a project I need to get back from the people. But in this day and age, with standards, which have come down, it gets more and more difficult.

“What’s really important to understand on the Tribune culture, I did some really damned good work, but I did some damned good work for some damned good people. John Cowles. Bower Hawthorne, he was an editor’s editor. It was in the day when an editor was a dictator, and not even a benevolent one.

“Around about 4 o’clock, 3:30, when the newspaper started coming down the slots, the swearing, the cursing and all the rest of it that went on, it was magnificent. It’s what it took to make that newspaper work. And there were some damned good people, so I could do a good project because they wanted a good project.”

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COMMUNICATION AND JOURNALISM 350 | UNIVERSITY OF ST. THOMAS | © 2010
INSTRUCTOR: Michael O’Donnell | mjodonnell@stthomas.edu | 651-962-5281