What works, what doesn’t

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I have been asked to bring back this feature of News Design School. Since NDS is only a blog now, it will show up as a blog post. I hope to cover all sorts of design, not just newspaper design.

lynchburg news & advance

From newseum.org

In the What Works category, I submit this front page from the Saturday, July 26, Lynchburg (VA) News & Advance. What Works is the restraint when it comes to color use.

Back when color was young, few papers had the ability to use color halftones, at least not without sacrificing too many press positions to the four-printing-plate separations needed to print color. It was also hard to get color right on the old letterpress units that were in use by most papers back then.

So what did they do? They put multi-color tint boxes behind type all over the front page. Counting tints (color with white added) and shades (color with black added), some papers would have seven or eight colors on the front page.

Recently, however, newspapers have gotten wiser, acknowledging that the most important color is in halftones, tint blocks are weak uses of color, and that in today’s newspaper world less is more. Especially with red.

Aside from the color halftones, the only editorial color is the red on the two kicker heads and the circulation figure above the flag. The Index at the bottom of the page is not exactly editorial, and my guess is that the color functions as content dividers.

Excess: Nah! Restraint: Works!

The second example came to me in an email, and it demonstrates one of my pet peeves: Designers who don’t take responsibility for the words that go with their graphic bling.

exampleI have drawn arrows to three content areas that do not completely agree, and they should. Numbers 1 and 2 say different things: the first mentions “Basic” and No. 2 does not. A little thing? Is there a difference between lightning and a lightning bug? Designers need to make sure that all information is in agreement and is complete, among other duties. Here, it is not.

No. 1 also talks about presentation design, which is a bit ambiguous and Nos. 2 and 3 say nothing about that kind of design. Finally No. 3 is talking about the main or primary elements of design. It doesn’t say anything about the accepted laws or truths. It’s a different meaning of the word.

Now, I can’t be certain that the designer had anything to do with the copy. But the real point is that designers should be involved, if at all possible. Don’t eschew your responsibility to be a professional communicator.

Design: Works! Content: Oops!

Categories : color, design critique
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A design challenge that we in newspaper design rarely talked about until recently is dealing with “big data.”

Computational power has increased quite a bit in recent years and yet another round of buzz words has arrived, with big data and “data visualization” two of the most prominent. This is at the same time as datasets were growing and were filled with more and more information. Big data.

Not that it is any different from the visualizing of data that people did a decade or so ago when the area of interest was “information graphics.” Some back then even called the people who created these things “visual journalists.” They still do today to a certain extent.

But the big deal today is that with those gains in computer power and storage, datasets have become much richer and more complex. So turning those datasets into an easily understood visual presentation has become more complex, but with an opportunity for creativity as well.

If you are tasked with presenting a large amount of data, you could present it in a list or in a table, but that does not necessarily maximize the understanding of the receiver of the communication, which is – or should be – the goal of all written and visual communication.

I like to call it “meaning transfer,” because that should be the goal of all professional, journalistic communication: the transfer of what the communication means, not just the communication of raw, unfiltered information. Edward Tufte would likely be a little wary of data visualization because in a lot of ways, it means putting in non-information gee gaws just to create visual interest.

But wait! If the visualization, as superficial as it may seem, e.g., displaying a dataset of hotels not by price or customer ratings but by how literary characters might evaluate them (as odd as that may seem), actually helps comprehension, then isn’t it an integral part of the information transfer? Where should the line be drawn?

That is why I never liked the term “information graphics,” although “meaning graphics” doesn’t have the same ring to it.

But if you transfer information without the meaning or the context, then what have you achieved?

Especially in today’s information glut-world, a little less info and a little more meaning would be a positive change from the polarized Hatfield and McCoy political world of competing ideological information we live in today.

Good journalism, which includes good writing, editing and design, and it must include all three to be optimally effective, is interested in meaning transfer, not simple information transfer. Design can be an integral part of good journalism and not an add-on.

What do you think? Start the conversation below. Thanks!

Categories : Design, journalism
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Old newspaper joke

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The Wall Street Journal is read by the people who run the country.

The New York Times is read by people who think they run the country.

The Washington Post is read by people who think they ought to run the country.

USA TODAY is read by people who think they ought to run the country, but don’t understand The Washington Post.

The Los Angeles Times is read by people who wouldn’t mind running the country, if they could spare the time.

The Boston Globe is read by people whose parents used to run the country.

The New York Daily News is read by people who aren’t too sure who is running the country.

The New York Post is read by people who don’t care who’s running the country, as long as they do something scandalous.

The San Francisco Chronicle is read by people who aren’t sure there is a country or that anyone is running it.

The Miami Herald is read by people who are running another country.

Not sure of the source, but I just love this.

Who reads your paper?

Here’s my take: The Florida Times-Union is read by people who don’t care who is running the country as long as they are Republicans.

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