What works, what doesn't

What works, what doesn't

The difference between beautiful and plain is sometimes small, even in newspaper design.

This is the first in a series of critiques I am calling, “What Works, What Doesn’t.” I’ll use
it as a way to discuss newspaper design. I hope you will join in and leave comments, so we can have a real conversation about each pair of pages. Let me know your thoughts.

The two papers are the Niagara (NY) Gazette and the Albany (NY) Times-Union. (Click on images for larger versions.)

gazTUBoth are fairly typical fronts at first glance, but a closer comparison shows some important differences. The Gazette, which is a taller page in reality, uses teasers above the flag; the T-U uses a series of teasers in a partial rail in column one. Both use all-caps, red labels well. Red is best used in small doses.

I really like the clean, traditional nameplate of the T-U, uncluttered except for the weather ear. On the other hand, the Gazette displays what happens when designers hear the siren song of the Silhouette Overlap. Not only is the name of the paper unnecessarily and unattractively occluded, the silhouette includes a part of the boxing ring rope that the figure is leaning on! It looks quite odd.

The Gazette’s skybox typography looks a little jammed in there, but I do like the nameplate typography and the Niagara Falls graphic in the center is cool.

The Gazette’s headlines are largely the same sans serif typeface, and it’s not that pleasing to the eye. It looks a bit over-condensed (enlarge for best view). Weak typographically. The T-U headlines are superior, in part because of better contrast, which is easier to get with serif faces. The Gazette also uses italics for the deck heads. I like italics to stay away from the news pages. Please.

I prefer the look of the main heads in serif, with the decks in sans (compared to the sans over roman italic in the Gazette). Also, the largest head on the Gazette page is the Whistle Pig (for some reason), but it is almost invisible against the bold, condensed sans main heads.


The T-U art is played large — especially considering the smaller space — whereas the Gazette’s main art is too small.

The T-U layout uses both horizontal and vertical modules well. The Gazette page is largely vertical.

The initial cap in the Gazette’s Whistle Pig story is a good idea, but it should be the same typeface as the headline, which would reduce its overwhelming presence. It ends up being too strong a visual element. Always use the head face as an initial cap.

The T-U uses a map and a small info graphic (“2008 storm”), which adds to the visual interest as well as the information density. The Gazette presentation is pretty standard and lacks visual interest.

The Gazette uses a fairly standard Index in one column, whereas the T-U has a nice, six-column presentation, which includes art and references to the web site and to the next day’s paper, both excellent ideas.

I think these two pages show how little things on a page, how small decisions about type and color and layout can make the difference between a page that works well and one that doesn’t.

What do you think?

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