When I walked through the front door of my condo one morning last week, I was greeted by….no one. It was weird and hard to believe that The Muse had finally gotten rid of that scrofulous mutt, Homer, her purported service dog.

I had thought The Muse was gone as well – be still my beating heart – but, no, that was not to be.

He never did learn how to fetch her a PBR from the fridge, the “service” he was to perform. He didn’t like me at all, growling at me for no apparent reason. Honestly, at first I thought that was the service he was performing for The Muse.

I had thought The Muse was gone as well – be still my beating heart – but, no, that was not to be. But the condo was quiet, too quiet. I put down the many bags of groceries I had just purchased – mostly to meet her copious caloric needs — and hauled up three flights of stairs and began looking for her.

I found her in the den, with the drapes drawn, the white noise machine on low, sitting at my computer with darkened swim goggles covering her eyes. She was removing the keys on the keyboard one by one.

“Hey! What the hell are you doing?” I shouted.

She winced as if I had slapped her. “C’mon, Elwood, easy now,” she moaned. “I have a yourgrain headache.”

“That’s migraine,” I said.

“That’s what I said,” she said, while popping off another key, “Yourgrain. Ya going deef or somethin?’

“Anyway, just what the hell do you think you are doing?”

“These keys make too much noise during those few times when you aren’t deep into the throes of writer’s block,” she explained while taking a break to rub her temples. “I can’t take the din.”

“But how will I know which keys produce which letters?”

“Hey, man, you type doncha? What, you don’t have the keys memorized yet? Who was your typing teacher?”

“Hell, I am a journalist!” I said with clenched teeth. I was quickly getting a migraine, too. “I have to look at the keys. Now what am I going to write with? I’ll have to get a new keyboard.”

“What? With your phthisic hands? You think they write well enough to deserve a new keyboard? I bet your writing will actually improve were I to put the keys back randomly.”

“Wait just a minute now, I…”

“I know, I know, you represent that,” she said, with a look on her face like a triumphant teenager’s. “Big deal. Listen to me. You want to write better? Don’t wait for me to be nice to you. I think it was Harper Lee who said ‘I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.’

“You came up a little short in the thick hide department,” she added, with obvious satisfaction. “Thick head maybe. But thick hide?”

I was steamed, but I suspected she was probably right, though I would never admit it. Certainly not to her.

She was still pulling off keyboard keys as I grabbed the iPad and headed for the living room. “Let’s see her get the keys off a touch screen,” I said aloud to no one.

Then I sat on the couch and tried to mentally thicken my hide. I tried texting Muse International Headquarters in hopes of receiving inspiration in return. Instead I got a come-on from AT&T. Ugh.

Categories : journalism, The Muse, Writing
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Aug
01

Ask Dr. Design

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Dear Dr. Design:
My wife and I are having an argument that I hope you can settle. I say that you pronounce “sans serif” so it rhymes with “mans sheriff”; she insists that knowledgeable typophiles pronounce it so it rhymes with “sahn sa’riff,” which you say while pinching your nose. Who’s is right? (And there’s a bet between us. I can’t tell you what it is, but I REALLY, REALLY want to win….).
— Kent Wynn

Dr. Design:
First, Kent, having spent some time in the throes of unholy matrimony, I can tell you the answer before I even hear the question. Your wife is right. She is always right, right? That’s part of the Divine Right of All Wives. It’s like it is given to them during the wedding ceremony somehow, through some sort of secret signal or incantation that the minister slips in during the mumbo-jumbo part that nobody ever listens to.

It’s a good thing there’s no annual test on what you agreed to during the ceremony. The wedding routine is kind of like those 55-page site policy statements that we agree to on web sites without even reading the first paragraph. Most men are standing there thinking, “OK, yada, yada, yada, let’s have those drinks and get to the honeymoon!”

One more thing before I get to your question. I think it is incredibly unfair to accuse all typography mavens of liking children a tad too much. It’s one thing to freak out about all-CAPS in long blocks of body type, and quite another to be interested in….(Editor steps in)….what? Oh, that’s a pedophile! I thought a pedophile was a person with a foot fetish. Oops! My mistake. Move along, nothing to see here.

At any rate, the pronunciation depends on who you are with while discussing typography and what part of the country you are from. For instance, if you are from the South, the correct way to say it is, “tahpe without those funny little thingies on the ends.”

If you are from the Northeast, your response would be, “Yeah, so what? Who’s askin’?

If you are from Colorado, you are too whacked out on medical marijuana you got from your hangnail physician (left hand specialist) to really give a damn. I mean, like…who cares?

So Kent, the answer is that, unless you are French or French-Canadian, trying to say it right will just bring on more acrimony and disdain from the Francophiles (don’t ask) in the crowd. Speaking French is kind of like being married: you will never please the other person, so give up trying.

If you would like to ask Dr. Design a question, send it to Dr. Design, in care of bobatnewsdesignschooldotcom. He will get to your question in the order they came in or he will forget about it totally and you won’t get a response for years, if ever.

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Jul
28

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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First newspaper design site on the web

All content copyright © News Design School 2009-2014. Legal disclaimer.

It was the winter of 1994, and I put up my first news design site at http://www.infi.net/~netdzine. According to some estimates, that made it one of the first 10,000 sites in web history. Makes me feel old. If you need advice with your design work, let me know. I would be happy to help. You can contact me by e-mail  (bobatnewsdesignschooldotcom)  .