Like a silent invasion of army ants, some silly design ideas have crept in and taken firm hold in newsrooms from Kansas to Kiev, from Tennessee to Tbilisi.
It’s time to take a look at 10 of these notions—and do some debunking.
1. News text must be set justified: There’s no proof that flush left typography is any more difficult to read than justified. In fact, readers in one recent study were actually clocked at having read an article faster in flush left than justified. The long-held dogma is that justified should be reserved for news and flush left for features. Ask your readers what they think—in several of my redesigns we’ve taken all text material to flush left without hearing one complaint from readers. To the contrary, readers like the additional openness that flush left brings to their newspaper.
2. Centered headlines are for features only: Newspapers large and small have shifted to centered headlines, agreeing that it helps to create a more open look. If it’s a style you think might work for your newspaper, it’s worth looking into. Again, readers don’t find this objectionable and they welcome that fact that your paper may look just a bit different.
3. Italics are difficult to read: Well, yes, they can be—if you run an entire story in italics. But not a headline. Not a subhead. Not a pullout.
Not a summary paragraph. In fact, the addition of some italics helps to add some welcome contrast to your look.
4. Photos must look toward the story: There’s some legitimacy to this claim but there’s no need to turn your page inside-out just to make the photo look toward the story. And we must certainly resist the temptation to violate a more important rule: don’t flop a photo horizontally just to make your design work…and just to have the photo looking toward the story.
5. Don’t “bump” heads: OK, aligning two headlines together that are the same size, same typeface and same amount of lines isn’t exactly the smartest thing you can do on a page. But…place a one-line headline in 48 point bold next to another headline that’s three lines in 24 point italic? Let’s give readers some credit: This placement isn’t really gonna confuse them. It may not be the best design but it’s not going to send your readers into apoplexy.
6. Jumps are OK: No, they’re not. In survey after study after focus group, readers tell us they do not like jumps. Many of them will tell us they never ever follow a story that jumps. So…we continue to jump. I just don’t get that at all: our customer tells us he really dislikes something we do…and we continue to do it? Where’s the sense in that?
7. The fold is critical to design: Yep—on the front page. Ok, you could argue that it also matters on section fronts if you’re rifling through the still-folded paper looking for a story on a particular section front. But some (including myself) think that’s a stretch. The fold certainly has no significance in the design of inside pages.
8. Boxes work best to create packages: Not necessarily. There are other methods, the most simple of which is to rule off a package from other elements on the page. Often a single hairline rule will do the trick. Boxes tend to detract from the more open, airy look we’re trying to create nowadays.
9. Tint blocks are OK: No way. Tint blocks for the most part signal a failure to think of something better to add a visual element to a story. Planning would have given you the time to snap a picture, find an illustration, draw a map. Failure to plan will give you…a tint block.
10. Don’t disrupt the flow of text: If you adhere strictly to this dictum, you’ll never place a pullquote in a leg of text. And why not? Magazines have been doing this for decades—are we to assume that newspaper readers just aren’t as sophisticated? Of course, such placement requires care but there’s no reason why we shouldn’t attempt it.