Dr. Mario R. Garcia

visual journalism designer / editorial consultant

Cuba / US

The Wall Street Journal. The Washington Post. Paris Match. Die Zeit (Germany). Aftenposten (Norway). El Tiempo (Colombia). Six renowned media out of more than 750 in 122 countries that this legendary and multi award-winning design/editorial consultant has worked with in the due course of his long professional career. He is a trained journalist and became a specialist in mobile storytelling as well as the transformation of newsrooms for the digital world. „Change happens, when you take the path of innovation“, Dr. Mario R. Garcia is quoted on the homepage of his media company. „The best tools are those that last over time and they are what allow us to face the challenges of disruptive changes.“

Dr. Mario R. Garcia

visual journalism designer / editorial consultant

Cuba / US

Dr. Mario R. Garcia
Dr. Mario R. Garcia | © Dr. Mario R. Garcia (private)

You don’t need to study a profession to become a legend in it! The living proof for that claim is Dr. Mario R. Garcia. In an interview with new-world-encounters.com he confessed: „I have never ever visited an educational course in design.“ His career path was completely different. Mario R. Garcia (* 15 February 1947 in Placeras, Las Villas, Cuba) arrived in the US in 1962 as an refugee soon after the Castro Revolution. Learning American-English quickly, the teenager became bi-lingual. From being 19 years old he worked as a journalist – mainly for the Miami News and Miami Herald.

While studying journalism Señor Garcia who was interested in Spanish and Latin-American literature, added comparative Science of Literature at the University. Besides his studies he kept on working for the dailies and was in heavy demand being the only one among the editorial stuff who spoke Spanish as well as English. „When I came back to the newspaper, there were the designers. They weren't called so then, but layouters, who did the layout of the pages. For me, it was so peaceful, so beautiful, such an artistic approach to journalism that I would sit there for hours and watch what they were doing. And then at some point I did it myself. That's how I got into newspaper design“ (new-world-encounters.com).

The man who once started with „learning by doing“ is the world's leading newspaper designer for a very long time. He has received over 300 Society of News Design Awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award. People Magazine en Español selected him among the 100 Most Influential Hispanics.

Dr. Mario R. Garcia often tells everyone that he is, first and foremost, a teacher. His coaching career as a journalism professor and publications adviser started at his alma mater, Miami-Dade Community College. From there the avid runner became a professor of graphic arts at Syracuse Universityʼs Newhouse School of Public Communications (1976–1985), and the University of South Florida (1985–1991). In addition, Mr. Garcia has been a Distinguished Professor at the University of Navarra, Spain, as well as a lecturer at universities in 25 countries throughout the United States, Europe, Asia and Latin America.

Garcia founded the Graphics & Design program at The Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg (Florida), where he is still a faculty affiliate and continues to be involved with EyeTrack research.

The founder and CEO of Garcia Media (offices in New York and Buenos Aires) has reveived his Ph.D. from the University of Miami. He is author of 14 books including „The Story“, a trilogy about mobile storytelling and design.

Dr. Mario R. Garcia lives and works in New York City.


Interview November 2022

Legendary media designer who didn't study design: his concept is "the marriage of words and visual images"


How does intuition present itself to you – in form of a suspicious impression, a spontaneous visualisation or whatever - maybe in dreams?

Intuition is a constant companion for all of us.  For me, it translates into something visual. I can be hearing the briefing from an editor or publisher about his/her vision and I already, images of how a certain website, app, newspaper or magazine could look like appear. I normally turn to a sketch pad and put down ideas before they disappear. Intuition comes first, but I think it has to be helped by how we communicate with those around us, especially when it comes to creating a new concept.

Will any ideas be written down immediately and archived?

I carry a notebook with me, and I have a Notes app on my phone, and I don’t let ideas escape. I sketch design concepts, I write sentences, and I remind my journalism students at Columbia University that sketching is key to preserving ideas and then observing the continuity of a project — from conception to implementation.

?: How do you come up with good or extraordinary ideas?

I don’t know if my ideas are extraordinary, but in my field of visual journalism we must deal with content. It is not inspiration and then drawing what comes to mind.  I must pay attention to how design can enhance content. So ideas are going to be based on the goals of the project, the audience for which it is intended, and how we can make it easy for the content to be easier to consume. You just pay attention to your surroundings, and find inspiration everywhere. Sometimes a postage stamp, a poster, a street traffic sign, all become sources of inspiration —— or the menu of the restaurant.

Are great ideas based on intuition and do they reveal themselves in a kind of clear as well complete version that just has to be realized? Or is it endless trials and errors (after the first spark) that result in constant developments up until the final result?

I think that ideas come and grab you by the neck, sometimes not letting go. Next step is to take those ideas and analyze them for how they can be applied to the project at hand. Intuition helps, but also experience to take ideas and transform them into functional, working concepts that facilitate how people consume news (in my case).  But sometimes first ideas are not the ones that will work best, so I remind my students not to “marry” their ideas, but to be ready to review and to discard and come up with new ideas.  Many times the first idea is not the one that survives.  But, in my own personal experience, I would say that the original thoughts remain 85% of the time.

What if there is a deadline, but no intuition? Does the first fuel the latter maybe?

When that happens, the best thing to do is NOT TO INSIST and stare at a blank page. Go for a walk, a run, a swim. Get away for a while, two hours, two days, and revisit the project later. It is not everyday that ideas flow.  We all have cycles in which we are not as actively creative, nothing to despair about. Take that first idea and consider what is good about it, there is. Usually some element that can be saved. Go for that and then continue to think from there.


What inspires you and how do you stimulate this special form of imaginativeness?

I am inspired by my surroundings. I observe elements of architecture, color use in fashion, posters, advertising, and I visit galleries to see how local artists paint and see the world. I also find tremendous inspiration in seeing the work of colleagues in my field.

How do you separate the good from the bad and which ideas are worthwhile to be explored further or whether one idea has the potential of being outstanding really?

My field is visual journalism and so, while we deal with a lot of creative energy, we also must be conscious of the fact that people consuming news content come there to get stories.  So, sometimes an idea that pops up may be aesthetically pleasing, but it is not journalistically sound for a specific story.  Years ago, as I analyzed this phenomenon, I thought that the way to explain elements of creativity for journalists and designers was the concept I called WED (Writing, Editing, Design), the marriage of words and visual images. It has become the foundation of my work.  Design alone is not enough for good visual journalism. The writing and the editing must be there to support it, then design enhances the content. The best idea represents the content best.

Has it to appeal to you primarily or is its commercial potential an essential factor?

I do not work in advertising, so I pay attention to marketing studies for the audience consuming the products that I am designing. Which platform are they using to get content? Nowadays, mobile platforms are the most used. So I spend considerable time coming up with ideas for how to make content consumed on the small screen of a phone easier to grasp.  I call this the journalism of interruptions: how do you write and design for a medium that I also a phone, a camera, etc.  Ideas have to seduce the user fast and retain him there. Not easy.

Do you revisit old ideas or check what colleagues/competitors are up to at times?

I do not revisit old ideas, but I have some concepts that I follow on all projects: Make it easy to find. Make it easy to read. Make it attractive.  And I do look at the work of other designers in my field. We learn from each other.


Which time/place/environment suits your creative work process the best (tranquillity or pressure) and which path do you take from theory/idea to creation?

As someone who flies one million miles a year, and who has done that for decades, I have learned that I can’t wait for solitude to sketch and to create. So, I do this while flying, at airport lounges, or sitting at home on my couch looking at the skyline of New York City. But everyone is different when it comes to where they work best.

What is better in the realization process: speed and force creativity i.e. grasp the magic of the moment, or a slow, ripening process for implementation/elaboration?

It is a combination of the two: the first good idea gets you out of the gate, but then, especially if working with groups, others join in to enhance the idea, and take it in all kinds of directions. But, I repeat, in my experience with more than 700 projects, I can always go back to my sketch books and find that 85% of the original concept has remained to implementation.

If problems occur during creativity or one’s stuck even, how can these be solved?

In those cases, don’t look back, don’t try to continue to work with an idea that did not work. Scratch it, start with a new blank page, and then things will happen.

How important are self-doubt and criticism (by others) during such a process i.e. is it better to be creative on your own, only trust your own instincts, or in a team? 

Life is about working in teams in today’s creative environments, and that is why I have my students work in groups of two for their final project. They must relate to others, listen to others’ views.  However, I think if we are proud of an idea, we must defend it and present it to others with pride. Trust your instincts and sometimes what is clear to you, the creator of the idea, is not so clear to those in the team, so present and pitch your idea as clearly as possible.

Should a creative always remain true to him-/herself including taking risks & going against the flow or must one, for reasons of (commercial) survival, make concessions to the demands of the market, the wishes of clients and the audience’s expectations?

Of course, you must remain true to your idea.  Never apologize for the idea you are presenting, but be open to expanding it, changing it here and there.  After 50 years in this business working in 122 countries with 750 projects, I can say that I was never asked to alter an idea simply to comply with commercial demands.  I am happy to say that I never had to face that decision, which must be a tough one.  However, in many cases, a concept for a logo or home page design does not hit the spot as presented, and it must be altered, but remaining true to the original.

How is innovation still possible if one has established a distinctive style and, just in case, is it good to be ahead of one’s time even one hazards not being understood?

This is the challenge. Don’t rest on your laurels. Focus on the next project, start every project as if it was your first.  I have always refrained from discussing “my style” because a visual journalist should not have a style — -leave that for painters and sculptors, and poets.  In visual journalism projects — and creativity —- react to the specifics of content and audience. I take pride in the fact that my projects don’t look similar, or so I think!

When does the time come to end the creative process, to be content and set the final result free - or is it work-in-progress with an endless possibility of improvement?

There is a time when you “freeze the cake” and you know when that moment comes.  Creatives could be changing and altering forever if given the chance. That is not realistic, so set yourself a deadline for when everything is set and ready to go. IN the world of journalism we usually begin with a date in front of us.

In case of failure or - worse - a creativity crisis how do you get out of such a hole?

Well, “a creativity crisis” is something nobody wants to face.  There is a difference between such a crisis, and your concept NOT appealing to those for whom it is intended.  Your creativity may have been superb, but the result is NOT what is suitable for a specific group.  I have dealt with this. Or, you present three options to a client, and you are fond of ONE of those as your most creative, but it is the one that the clients reject and take out of consideration first. That hurts a little.


Should/can one resist the temptation to recycle a ‘formula’ one’s successful with?

Well, sometimes it is NOT you the creator who wants to recycle an idea that was successful, but the client himself will come in and tell you: “I would like you to do for us what you did for ……..”.  I listen, but I also insist in doing something different, and we usually win this battle.

Is it desirable to create the ultimate/timeless work, but doesn’t “top of the ladder” bring up the question of “what’s next?” i.e. isn’t such a personal peak “the end”?

I don’t have an answer for this, because I don’t think most creatives think of themselves as creating their last piece of creative work. I don’t.


In my book, The Story, I mention three projects that I am very proud of for the degree of transformation that took place there:

Die Zeit, Germany

The Wall Street Journal, USA

El Tiempo, Colombia.

My favorite work: "The Story"-trilogy: Transformation - Storytelling - Design

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