You’ve heard it here before: Place the visual first.
THE WAY I SEE IT, the word “design” is synonymous with the word “plan.” If you have no plan, you have no design.
And the word “plan” implies that you’ve given the look of your front page some forethought.
That’s not quite true at some newspapers, is it?
Too many editors/designers “wing it.” Oh, they may have a vague idea of what they want to put on the front, but that idea goes out the window as soon as they get a story that’s too long. Or…they don’t get that photo they expected.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower, during World War II, said: “Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”
He was right. We need to have a plan for the page, but we also need to be flexible. If that story is too long, what do you do: Do you cut it, jump it or run it longer? If you were planning on a vertical picture but get one that’s much better—and horizontal—which do you run?
Flexibility is important, of course, but it just doesn’t work if you don’t have a plan to flex from.
Some points to consider:
HOW MUCH: How many story/photo packages am I going to put on the page? Do I have all the visuals I need? Are five/six stories too many? Are three/four stories too few?
BANNER: Is there one package that demands to be placed across the top of the page? What’s the visual to go with it? How long is it gonna be? Should I jump it?
LEAD VISUAL: Do I have one? Does it go with a story or does it stand alone? How big can I make it so it has impact? Where do I place it on the page?
OTHER VISUALS: Do I have a visual element with every package on the front? If not, how do I get that to happen? If I do have those elements, where do I place them so they don’t fight each other for attention?
JUMPS: How many is too many? Where do they go?
MODULES: No doglegs or odd-shaped packages. Each has to be designed into a rectangular module.
ADS: Do I have only banner ads? If, so they’re not a concern. But what if there has to be a two-column-by-four-inch ad in the bottom right corner of the front? How do I design with that and still keep the page modular?
HEADLINE SIZE: Am I using good headline hierarchy? Am I avoiding the use of a teeny headline at the bottom of the page? How big is too big on the lead headline?
TYPE WIDTH: Am I following the grid? Should I take one of the stories and give it an odd measure, to help it stand out a bit?
All of these need to be part of your thinking when you begin work on your front page. Remember: it’s a plan. And plans should be flexible. But if you want to do “design,” then you need to do “plan.”