A Design State of Mind
Designers, Remember …

As quoted from “The Elements of Graphic Design,” by Alex W. White:

Design is simpler when you remember it is a process, not a result:

  1. Define the problem you have been given. This is usually a redefinition because what you have been given is an apparent problem. The redefinition must home in on the real issues. If in this redefinition process you don’t become clearer about how to handle the material, you haven’t redefined the problem accurately enough.
  2. Know the material. Digest it fully. At the very least, read it.
  3. Distill the essential from the mass of confusing muchness. Nothing may be missing, and nothing may be extraneous. This is the definition of elegance.
  4. Abstract the main point so its importance to the reader is clear and it is visually arresting. A message that doesn’t first stop readers won’t be read.
  5. Unify all elements so they don’t outshout each other. Shouting at readers doesn’t provide a solution or an explanation or an expression of importance to their interests and needs. Clear, predigested content does.

Again, found in Alex W. White’s “The Elements of Graphic Design,” my latest reading between pages at work.

Award Season Has Arrived …

… And yesterday, our newsroom sent the remaining submissions to the Colorado Press Association’s annual contest. Among my submissions were pages for each of our publications - the Boulder Daily Camera, the Longmont Times-Call, the Loveland Reporter-Herald and the Canon City Daily Record. And this season, I was able to send in my flood-related content, including our newest section, last year’s coverage, etc.

I have incredibly high hopes for this.

My column’s editor even asked to send in two of my wacky columns that run in the Colorado Daily. I know those are a lost cause, but it’s exciting to know I’ve entered a writing portion of the competition too.

Here’s hoping my colleagues and I can do well there!

Adding A Front Page Element

A few months ago, the editor of the Canon City Daily Record approached me with a thought. Since their paper is often, shall we say, rushed, they weren’t getting consistent design. They also weren’t able to get paper sizes that accommodated as much news as they hoped for. (A 6-6 is a tight squeeze for anything more than just local content. And while local content is certainly more important, it’s good to get a dose of national and statewide news in for perspective … at least in this designer/news nerd’s opinion.)

So he asked about adding a rail to their A1, as we had to their sports front a year or so before. (Wow, I’ve been working on this paper for a long time. So thankful for that!)

Here’s a few of their front pages - designed by yours truly - from before the redesign:

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(Note: We were sometimes forced to over-budget this front, but we had room to play with headlines and centerpiece presentation. Since other stories naturally lacked art - as previews or court updates - we needed to get creative with those centerpieces.)

As a designer, the knee-jerk reaction to adding a rail is “… And there goes all creativity”. (Well, to this very design-conscious page designer who likes to push creativity, it is.) But I’d seen their paper’s layouts and had to admit they needed something new. Some of their recent covers hadn’t been anything to write home about, and while a rail can be a little stifling, to those sticking with more standard, conservative layouts, it wouldn’t be. In fact, it would add more entry points to their paper and get a few elements there that their readers would really appreciate.

I was in. And he and I got to work crafting something that would get what he wanted out there in a way I could live with as a designer.

Quite a few versions went back and forth. He added elements and I made my suggestions. We ended up with this (sans the folio I couldn’t get Methode to delete at the time):

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Here’s what I changed:

  • The teaser area was tightened up by quite a bit. They already waste a bit of space with a bulky flag, so I wanted the teases to become more efficient. I eliminated the arrows - they, too, wasted space - and used their orange as a way to add some color to the teases.
  • On the rail, I used that same orange, in a lighter shade, as headers for each element. Those element’s headers are their tag headline coding.
  • We agreed getting some wire content would be useful, especially on days we don’t get any inside.
  • The “UPCOMING” feature was a clever addition on the editor’s part. It would serve as a place to advertise upcoming meetings with the city or county, etc. Something that’s big for smaller-town readership.
  • I threw in the lottery and weather as a way to cut some of the rail’s grey down, and to give readers quick-hit info on that. And of course their index and online information remained the same as before.

My goal was to make the rail efficient, the teasers more space-friendly, and add a bit of a punch to their front. They deserved something that would enhance, not complicate, their A1. And it would also force them to budget wisely what content went out front, since they had less room to work with.

So I passed on my detailed notes outlining what I had changed and how I had trimmed sizes, addressed colors, etc. to the man in charge of creating the placefile.

Here’s how it went, months later, when it came to fruition.

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(Note: I haven’t been scheduled on the Daily Record since the rail’s launch, or I would include my own work. Both pages were completed by my good friend and coworker, Lauren Fagan. She’s a wonderful designer with over 10 years of experience (most of which designing A1 pages for a major daily in New Mexico). )

Some pieces of my and my editor’s layout made it to the final product. Others were altered or ignored.

  • The teases weren’t made smaller, and were given a red color. It doesn’t print quite as well as the orange, on the black especially, but it serves the purpose of getting color to the top of the page, even if it isn’t one of their paper’s colors.
  • The rail is more crunched than intended, running all copy in metro. I had originally intended the briefs to stay in body copy, so the meetings and lottery would stand out as quick-hit info. But I understand the change, to accommodate more news in said briefs.
  • My perfectionist self thinks the rail’s placefile has a few hastily assembled pieces, missing breathing room under the lotto/weather headers, and with overly large weather art icons. Commence a deep breath to drop said perfectionist tendencies.

But I think the rail has done well in getting the entry points they want in the paper, and more news to their readers. It’s turned the front into a more colorful, engaging page, I think. And while design-wise it’s a bit harder, I choose to see it as a new challenge. Or will, when I get to design it again.

I love that we were able to give an editor an element he asked for in a paper he devotes 50+ hours to. He added what he knew his community would want.

I’m glad for that, and so thankful I was given the chance to help make this happen. I’ve loved feeling like a part of this paper’s crew, despite the many miles’ distance. They really are a great crew.

Loveland Reporter-Herald: Front Page - July 23, 2014
Notes:
While not the most interesting page, it’s certainly one that has a few cool elements. Like the teasers. The photo lent it self well to the content - celebratory shot to add some action to the top of the page. I’m also a fan of how the gradient worked out near the art for the food tease.
The centerpiece is clean and basic. It’s not a flowery story, and I left the headline and treatment to reflect that this was a news story.
Otherwise, nothing huge to note. But it’s nice to remember how simple, clean pages can also be those that work well. Better to have this than a sloppy or poorly designed page, even if it’s missing the crazy flourishes other pages have.

Loveland Reporter-Herald: Front Page - July 23, 2014

Notes:

  • While not the most interesting page, it’s certainly one that has a few cool elements. Like the teasers. The photo lent it self well to the content - celebratory shot to add some action to the top of the page. I’m also a fan of how the gradient worked out near the art for the food tease.
  • The centerpiece is clean and basic. It’s not a flowery story, and I left the headline and treatment to reflect that this was a news story.

Otherwise, nothing huge to note. But it’s nice to remember how simple, clean pages can also be those that work well. Better to have this than a sloppy or poorly designed page, even if it’s missing the crazy flourishes other pages have.

The Workings of a Newsroom

So I’m admittedly a young journalist with plenty left to learn about this industry and about the pulse of a newsroom. I’ve been in the professional setting for three years, and have learned a lot. I’ve made sure to pay attention to everything I can, and learn from each and every journalist I get to work with. And here are a few of my thoughts.

On Editors

The managing editors of each paper I work with have their own, distinct style. From loud and tough to more quiet but omnipresent, they’ve found a management style that works. And each of them worked like hell to get to the position they have now. More often than not, they worked at said newspaper for a while before rising in the ranks, and since entering the position, they’ve made it their business to know their communities and know what they need their staffs to be working on.

That said, it’s obvious to me they each demand a high level of respect.

Each and every page I design, I put together with the reader in mind. And at the guidance of these editors, I’m able to prioritize content based on what their community needs (and wants) to know. I trust their judgment, enter conversations with them when I need to, and work my ass off because that’s what they’re doing 50+ hours each week.

It kills me when others either ignore that knowledge or overwhelm it because they think they know better. Unless you have more time in that position, solving problems and building a relationship with said community, you don’t. And you should defer to that knowledge, especially if you can’t equal that experience. Not to say conversations or healthy debate shouldn’t happen, but let us not think we know better than those who have worked hard to know better. Disagree - respectfully. Let go of ego and step back. Make sure that argument is based on legitimate problems, not personal views or laziness.

I love that these managing editors work so hard to produce a great product. They give a lot to things like advertising issues, reader complaints, etc., tackling in-house conflict and economic strains, all to make sure the daily paper keeps arriving each morning. Just as we all should (and do, more often than not) work hard to get that paper up to a high standard.

That Being Said

I’m one of those people who wants to be busy. And one of the great joys I’ve found (as a small-newspaper cheerleader and advocate, especially) is tackling issues these editors come to me with. Whether it’s a special section they’re worried about filling, or a design issue they’re consistently running into, I love being someone they come to to solve said issues. They know what their paper needs, and I work like hell to make sure they get those requests met - pending how reasonable they are, etc. It’s the least I can do to help each paper reach the quality they - and their communities - deserve.

Something we all need to keep our eye on is fresh looks and relevancy with our print product. A sometimes dwindling piece of the puzzle, we need to make sure to innovate the print edition’s look and style and accessibility when we can. And if that means adding a rail to get relevant news up front, that’s what we do. If it means eliminating clunky flags in favor of more design-friendly looks, we should address possible changes. New fonts or styles that freshen the look and eliminate wasted space? Done.

We can’t forget that fresh looks can engage a younger, more fleeting audience. And honestly, evolution of look and style are what keep a newspaper a bit more relevant. Sure, it’s what we’re used to. But we can’t let our consistency or fear of change keep us from questioning what can be cut or added or changed to make sure the paper best serves the community.

I’m done rambling now. Here’s to the editors I respect and admire and learn from each and every day. Who give me chances and opportunities to push my own abilities. I appreciate you and everything you do.

A Few Fun Pages

While hunting for the nation’s response to the Supreme Court’s surprise on same-sex marriage, I stumbled across two other pages that were just … fun. They had some stunning things happening on their front page. News nerd that I am, I just had to show them here.

First, the Asheville Citizen-Times (Asheville, North Carolina). First off, that top teaser photo is gorgeous, and one hell of a photo. It would catch anyone’s eye, and they sure went big with it. But then your eye gets down page and the court’s ruling is big and bold, next to a centerpiece that’s all kinds of unique.

That photo illustration is such a neat way to capture this topic (something that wouldn’t have come out nearly as compelling as a photo, no matter what the photographer tried - content-driven issue). I love how it works, and how the headline is just straightforward and small above it. I’m never a fan of that much body copy running white on black, but I see why they made that choice.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Las Vegas Sun (Las Vegas, Nevada) just has one giant taco. Yep, a taco. And it’s a centerpiece built to help you decode the taco section of a restaurant’s menu. Odd? You bet. But how creative these designers got. You’ve got an infographic breaking down the meats you’ll come across and the variations you’ll find from just a plain ol’ taco. Nothing too fancy, but very cleanly put together. And honestly, probably pretty helpful.

I do wonder how all the yellow translated in print. I tend to avoid gold or yellow in bulk because we’ve had issues before with it not translating the way I hope, or being too light to see. Regardless, it’s a cool page.

The Supreme Court’s Surprising Decision

It’s no secret I’m a proponent of equal rights and getting our nation toward that goal. So when this news from the Supreme Court came out regarding gay marriage, I was excited to see what papers would come up with. (Thanks to Newseum, where I snagged these pages, I got to.)

I found these two as more modest designs, each using infographics on the front page to capture the impact of this news. (I’ve already spent oodles of time retweeting the news pages that went a lot bigger on their headlines.)

The first, from the Boston Globe (Boston, Massachusetts), really made the infographic work with the story and layout. Nothing subtle about their chart to show how the number of U.S. residents living in states allowing same-sex marriage. Dramatic, eh? And a unique way to show how big this decision was. In just a few years, that number skyrockets. It’s certainly not your typical approach.

I’m also a fan of the map, as typical as it is, because it helps you clearly see where changes still haven’t happened. Nothing geographically surprising, honestly, and the graphic makes that clear.

The Hartford Courant, (Hartford, Connecticut) went with a subtle lead, also using a map to show how progress is happening nationwide. I include it because while the news wasn’t breaking for all states, most papers still opted to give it solid play on their front pages.

I also rather liked their headline. Simple and sums up the shock many felt about the ruling. Plus, it’s just a very solid page overall. White space isn’t a stranger to the Hartford Courant.

Boulder Daily Camera: Front Page - Sept. 19, 2014
True to form, once the leaves start changing, we get a photographer out to capture the beauty. And when my editor found this gem in the stack, it was obvious what our main art should be.
Even better, I was told, “I want this as big as we can go.”
Well, you don’t have to tell me twice. Done and done.
As a designer, I’m a huge fan of big art, especially if it’s eye-catching, important or just great art. And this was certainly going to catch your eye as you glanced at the page.
Our reporter and editor were very attached to the headline, and it’s clear why. Clever and a bit cheesy, just as feature-y headers get to be. All in all, a page I’m happy with.

Boulder Daily Camera: Front Page - Sept. 19, 2014

True to form, once the leaves start changing, we get a photographer out to capture the beauty. And when my editor found this gem in the stack, it was obvious what our main art should be.

Even better, I was told, “I want this as big as we can go.”

Well, you don’t have to tell me twice. Done and done.

As a designer, I’m a huge fan of big art, especially if it’s eye-catching, important or just great art. And this was certainly going to catch your eye as you glanced at the page.

Our reporter and editor were very attached to the headline, and it’s clear why. Clever and a bit cheesy, just as feature-y headers get to be. All in all, a page I’m happy with.

A Belated Showcase of a New Publication

True to form, I have finally focused my attention on a post about a publication I helped to create a few months back.

Well, OK, in February.

No matter. Earlier in 2014, editors from the Longmont Times-Call and Loveland Reporter-Herald were asked to create a joint venture to replace their weekly entertainment sections.

Loveland would produce GO, and Day & Night came out with the Longmont editions. And they were great, providing calendars of upcoming events and features on local exhibits or concerts or events in town. Since I first started at Prairie Mountain Publishing, I had put together the GO section. In fact, above is my first.

But we realized it was more efficient to produce one product that could span both towns, since they were relatively close, geographically, sharing events and interests on the entertainment scene.

And so A&E Spotlight was born.

On Feb. 28, we put out the first, which would run on Fridays in both the Loveland and Longmont papers. And this was the product of a full month’s work on my and my editor’s part.

We first needed to figure out what elements we would preserve from each publication. Both had a page-2 layout that essentially gathered the highlights of that week ahead.

And so we decided to keep the Second Story Garage element along the left side, pairing that with the masthead. And we opted for GO’s “Top 5” idea, turning it into a “Looking Ahead” collection of the five events we wanted to highlight that week.

From there, I just needed to set up a style for the rest of the publication. For the calendars and stories and reviews we would run. And I opted for plenty of thin, clean Helvetica weights throughout, and a light gold that would be our accent in boxes. For the most part, Helvetica and Century were my two choices for headlines and standing elements, varying weights based on the item I was creating.

I did this because there was a far larger selection to choose from, and they both seemed to embrace the “entertainment” style I was looking for. Helvetica, as debated as it can be, offers a wide range that can be serious, playful, etc.

Once the big decisions were made, debated and redone to accommodate everyone’s thoughts, we went to press. And since its beginning in February, we’ve grown in size and advertising. It’s turned into a product I think folks are starting to look to for good entertainment news. I’ve been the sole designer so far, which I love. It has really become my baby.

Here’s a few of my favorite covers so far:

I’ll be sure to toss up covers as they come. What a great opportunity, and fun chance to take ownership of a publication like this!

Half-hour to kill? A @nytimes, fruity drink and beautiful #fall day are all this girl needs. #ColoradoLiving #ReadingTheNews

Half-hour to kill? A @nytimes, fruity drink and beautiful #fall day are all this girl needs. #ColoradoLiving #ReadingTheNews