Design Serves Readers
By Edward F. Henninger
First and foremost, newspaper design must serve the reader. An exciting design that the reader cannot follow is a design that fails.
Proper design techniques are reader friendly. They serve to ease and speed the reader's way through the newspaper. They provide balance, contrast, focus, proportion and unity.
Those techniques are key to assisting both kinds of readers:
- Skimmers, who breeze through your newspaper, looking only at headlines, pullout quotes, informational graphics and photos;
- Devoted readers, who benefit from improved typography, better illustrations, graphics and photography.
A good design uses type that is legible in a form that is most readable. It pays close attention to such details as architecture, type texture, internal spacing, type size and length.
It is also consistent. The choices made for the typography of the newspaper apply to all sections, for all pages - the only exceptions being those pages where rules are broken to provide the reader a surprise. On those pages where you wish to appear different, typography and design should immediately and clearly make that statement. But throughout the paper, most typographic elements should be the same, reassuring the reader that the design is crafted to provide unity.
Design is flexible, to respond to demands of the news. A paper that adheres strictly to a formula makes it difficult to put the reader first: the formula tends to become more important than the reader it was developed to serve. In the case of extraordinary events or extraordinary enterprise, we must put into play a design that also is extraordinary.
Your readers come to you for your content.
Good design must serve to illuminate and work in concert with content. It is a basic design: form follows function. The news function is to deliver meaning to readers. Design helps to deliver: sometimes as a long story, sometimes as a small graphic, sometimes a map, sometimes a chart - often as a combination of elements. Each is carefully chosen to place information before the reader in a way that is pleasing and easy to understand.
Fine design is thought-out. It is crafted. It is based on a firm knowledge of design techniques and the principles that underlie those techniques. It allows for the breaking of design rules - but not without an understanding and an appreciation of those rules.
The application of fine design can impart an abiding beauty and elegance to a newspaper. It can become upscale without being snobbish. It can show high-class taste without turning its back on it working - class roots. It can go for the bold, especially in feature pages. It can be creative and stylish while keeping in mind a design fundamental: styles change, style doesn't.
Your design approach must reflect your community to your readers. Those readers should be able to see in your newspaper an image of what they are and what they are striving to be - both as individuals and as members of your community.
Design, graphics, typography, illustration, photography, color - each is a means to an end. Each is a tool that, used properly, helps the reader assimilate and comprehend the meaning behind the news.
Edward F. Henninger is an independent newspaper consultant and the Director of OMNIA Consulting in Rock Hill, S.C.
Reprinted with permission of the Communications Resourcing Team.