Some might see the space on the outside edges of this page as “wasted.” I see it as good use of negative space.
Perhaps the most important of the nitty-gritty Top Ten:
Make deadline. Always.
Nitty-gritty design top ten
A CLIENT RECENTLY asked me to put together a presentation for his newspapers on nitty-gritty details that can make or break a design.
I came up with more than a couple dozen…and then narrowed them down to a top ten.
My thinking is that any one of these can make your design better, but leave one out and your design suffers.
So, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty:
1. Measure in picas and points. You can express the depth of ads and photos in inches. For everything else, picas and points are the best way to measure elements and spacing.
2. Align text to a baseline grid. This gives your newspaper a more planned, polished and professional look. And, once your designers master use of the baseline grid, it will make editing and design go more quickly and more easily.
3. Use headline hierarchy. This helps readers navigate your pages more readily by giving them a sense of which stories are more important. And remember that headline hierarchy is more than just about size. It also goes to factors such as font, length, number of lines and placement on the page
4. Use a dominant photo. Give readers one photo that leads the package. Placing a number of two-column by four-inch photos on your sports front just creates clutter.
5. Control story length. Ask readers: They’ll tell you they will only read about 12 to 15 inches of a story…and then their attention wanes and the look for something else. Train your writers to keep stories within the 12-to 15-inch limit.
6. Segment stories If you have a story that requires more length, look for ways to break it up. For example, a story about five candidates running for a county judge position need not be one article that’s 50 inches long. It can be five pieces, each about 10 inches, and packaged together on the page.
7. Control color use. There’s a temptation to use color just because you have it. Let’s not. Proper, controlled, subtle color can give your paper a refined, more credible feel. Poor use of color just makes you look cheap.
8. Control content placement. Readers expect to find specific content in the same place from issue to issue. Obituaries, for example, should not move from page 2 in one issue to page 6 in the next and page 3 in another. Consistent placement is key.
9. Use consistent design. Consistent design also is important. Keep your design elements, such as column sigs and standing heads, reflective and consistent throughout your paper. Again, this helps to bolster your credibility.
10. Make deadline. Always. Plan, communicate and focus your efforts so that everything—everything—is done by deadline. Failure to make deadline often results in cutting corners and hurrying your design efforts. And consistent failure to make deadline will result in a design that is consistently poor.
There’s my top ten. Would you add anything to the list? Sub something else for one of these? What do you think?
Narrowing text type to wrap it around an ad…
yep, that’s a rookie mistake
Rookies make mistakes
LET’S FACE IT: If you have a “new kid” doing design on your staff…well, you’ll have some design mistakes in your paper from time to time.
It takes a while—perhaps months—for the design rookie to learn what works and what doesn’t. And during that time, he’ll do some things that may make you cringe. It’s OK—as long as you work with him to make sure he doesn’t repeat them.
Here are a “top ten” mistakes you can watch for—and correct:
1, A DROP CAP in an indented paragraph. This is a mistake common to many new designers, but one that’s obvious. Your readers may not know how it happens, but most of them know it’s just not right.
2. CENTERING indented type. Like the indented drop cap, it’s an easy enough mistake to make—and correct.
3. JUSTIFYING TEXT vertically to have the type fill a deeper space than needed. Those who have been doing design for some time may continue to make this mistake, because it’s a quick and easy way to fill a hole. But it’s lazy and it contributes to design sloppiness.
4. USING THE SPACE BAR instead of the tab key to align columns in tabular material. It may be a quick solution, but it’s uninformed and it contributes to a “whatever works” approach to design.
5. USING A TINT BLOCK behind a story. This is a design approach whose time has gone. Rookies may try to resurrect it, but it’s just something we don’t do anymore.
6. POOR USE OF COLOR. The rookie may choose to use color type in a headline. That’s OK (sometimes even preferable) on features pages, but not in news. The rookie may be tempted to run a sports headline about a big win in your high school team’s school colors. Let’s help him get past that.
7. ALLOWING HYPHENATION in a headline. Think this just can’t happen at your paper? Well, it does happen, so just watch out for it.
8. ALLOWING HYPHENATION in a pullout. Just like a headline, a pullout is a display element. And if hyphenated type is the default in your design software, then it’s easy enough for the new kid to make this mistake.
9. NARROWING TYPE next to an ad. When he has to deal with a story that runs above ads, the rookie may think that part of the solution is to narrow the text next to the ad (see illustration). Nope. This makes the text difficult to read and it can create word-spacing and letter-spacing problems.
10. USING FUNKY FONTS. When dealing with a story about a snowstorm, the rookie may be tempted to run the headline in a typeface where the letters are snow-covered. Or he may look for a headline face with animals in it for a feature on pet adoption. Let’s make it clear to him that we just don’t do that.
Rookies will make mistakes. A young basketball player may sink a shot in his own goal. A new driver may signal left…and then turn right. It’s OK. Mistakes happen. We need to help our rookie designers learn from those mistakes…and not repeat them.
A designer can tell you why the nameplate at top works…
and why the one at bottom is awful.
Is your ‘designer’ a designer?
DURING A RECENT phone conversation with a publisher, she told me: “We have a designer who does that.”
I had seen her paper. She doesn’t have a designer.
What she has is a person who assembles pages. And there’s a difference. A person who assembles pages finds ways to make things fit. There’s no design involved. It’s just shoehorning stuff into holes and getting the paper done—sometimes on deadline.
So…how do you tell if your “designer” really is a designer? Here are some of the things I’d look for:
TREATS TEXT with respect, never going off the baseline grid and never tracking too tightly.
UNDERSTANDS that headline hierarchy is more than just size.
UNDERSTANDS and appreciates the value of deadlines…and meets them.
KNOWS WHAT a color wheel is…and how to use it.
MEASURES in picas and points…not inches.
USES THINNER rules when rules are called for in a design.
USES COLOR with a purpose, not whimsically.
KNOWS HOW to fill space when a story comes up short…without it ever looking like he/she has filled space.
NEVER WHINES about the space he/she is given to design in.
CAN EXPLAIN a page design or a design element to someone who really doesn’t understand design.
KNOWS what is meant by the term “optical center.”
UNDERSTANDS and appreciates the value of planning.
UNDERSTANDS and appreciates the value of visual elements.
UNDERSTANDS and appreciates the value of design consistency.
UNDERSTANDS and appreciates the value of negative space.
UNDERSTANDS and appreciates the value of deadlines—and meets them.
KNOWS HOW to get or prepare a chart.
KNOWS HOW to get or prepare a map.
KNOWS HOW to get or prepare a graphic.
KNOWS HOW to get or prepare an infobox or by-the-numbers box.
COMMUNICATES design approach clearly to others.
COMMUNICATES the value of design to those in other departments—especially circulation and advertising.
INSISTS on being involved in discussions of special reports and special sections.
UNDERSTANDS that great design is not the practice of putting more things into a page…but in taking things away.
WHEN ASKED about a design decision, never says: “I don’t know…it just felt right.”
FOCUSES on the needs of readers. Always.
So…does your design staffer do these things? If so, you are blest. If not…
The infobox at left has more impact, but it’s so dark the text will be very difficult to read. Better to use a much lighter screen…or a shadow box.
Design is: How it works
“DESIGN IS NOT just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” — Steve Jobs.
That’s it. In one brief sentence.
Of course, readers want a newspaper that looks right…and feels right. They want the look and feel of their paper to reflect their community.
But what they want most of all is for their newspaper to work right for them.
Ask readers, and they will tell you they want:
TEXT THAT is legible, with size and spacing that keeps makes it comfortable to read.
DESIGN ELEMENTS like standing heads, section flags and columns sigs, that are simple and clean.
CONSISTENCY of these design elements throughout the entire newspaper.
DISPLAY FONTS that are readable, crisp and appealing.
SHORTER STORIES that are written clearly and flow easily.
EDITING that makes these stories even easier to follow.
PHOTOS THAT grab reader attention because they have interest, information and impact.
PAGE STRUCTURE that makes it easier for readers to see what goes with what.
SPACING between packages that helps readers see that structure.
COLOR USE that makes sense.
TINT BLOCKS that add impact—but don’t make type difficult to read.
SEQUENCING that makes the different content areas of your newspaper (e.g., news, opinion, sports, features…) easy to follow.
CONSISTENT placement of that content from issue to issue.
We can give readers all of these. And, in the process of doing that, we can rid our newspapers of those elements that create clutter and confusion.
If we start with how design works, it just makes sense that we’ll create a better design.
WANT A FREE evaluation of your newspaper’s design? Just contact Ed: firstname.lastname@example.org | 803-327-3322