On print redesigns

Brothers and sisters in the print design world, you know I love you.

You bust your collective ass day after day to dress up content that may or may not be as award-winning as your design work, and in the end, you usually just get laid off for your troubles.  Because when management looks around that newsroom and sees you drawing pretty pictures, they usually don’t quite understand the importance of your work, compared to, say, an education reporter. (Your mileage may vary, of course.)

All this is just to say, hey, redesign away.  Make beautiful pages.  I lust after your hot L and your reverse-type flags.  I wish every paper looked as cool as yours.

But try not to mistake fresh design for fresh content.

A print redesign — or an online one, for that matter — needs to be accompanied by training for the whole newsroom, especially if you’re designing using different story forms.

If you’re going chart-crazy, make sure you train reporters on how to format data for different types of charts.  If lists are your thing, give the news staff some good examples of A1 lists to follow.  Putting a set of briefs in rail?  Try training the copydesk to distill stories down to the right word count in a hurry.

This should be obvious, but is it?  You tell me.

Keep an eye on print design here:

15 Replies to “On print redesigns”

  1. of course, you are right. Training and commitment to continually improving the journalism, the staff, and the reader experience is the real hard work of a redesign. If you stop the inertia a redesign project brings – you shortchange the improvements you can bring to bear on all three.

    Some other sources of redesign expertise and case studies of redesigns:

    Society for News Design
    Visual Editors.com
    Brass Tacks Design
    Ron ReasonLucie Lacava
    Palmer Watson
    Tim Harrower

  2. Redesigns are a waste of time and resources. Same with most designers; fire them, and the newsroom immediately gains credibility and professionalism.

    Newspapers have fooled themselves for too long. People don’t get the newspaper to look at it; they get it to read.

  3. Well said Ryan.

    I’ve never been part of a print redesign, but have been through many online redesigns. Each one involved training in a train-the-trainer format.

    @Wenalway

    You obviously do not understand the goals of good design as applied to content (print or Web).

  4. I’ve worked in the magazine world, not newspapers. I’ve yet to see reporters trained on how to format data for different types of charts. Do you have any favorite references? (Other than Tufte — maybe something a bit more basic?)

  5. Designers obviously do not understand the goals of good journalism as applied to content. They can’t comprehend the content, so they fear it, and they try to make it less important.

    Also, I’ve yet to see most designers trained on how to handle different types of content. They can’t summarize or write skyboxes, and these are two critical skills as newspapers accelerate.

    And I find it amusing when designers claim people who don’t agree with them just don’t get it. Their redesign efforts have failed across the board to attract readers, so I’d say they are the ones who don’t get it. Just check the scoreboard. The facts all go against them; all they have is their pathetic concoct-and-chant strategy.

  6. Oh, and Mark Friesen is a well-known drooling design dolt. I advise not listening to him; only real journalists with real ideas deserve any credibility.

  7. Wenalway — I actually agree with you on 2 points.

    1) Many designers can’t write or summarize or create headlines or skyboxes. This is a critical skill that j-schools seem to look over. I was lucky enough to be a designer, copy editor and writer at a smaller publication, and I felt I did well wearing all the hats. Don’t think all of my coworkers felt the same, unfortunately. But larger pubs have very segmented staff, and they hire strict designers for strict designing.

    2) Redesigns have for the most part failed. This is a whole nuther blog for me, but I agree it’s more like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic than it is “reimagining journalism.”

    And here’s where my comment ends, because wenalway had proven himself to be a troll by name-calling. Will not feed the troll from now on.

  8. There is a fundamental difference between print and Web redesigns. I have had this same head-butting experience for ten years (I worked online).

    When I finally got control of the online department, we did usability studies, designed for browser speed and functionality and left out every bell and whistle.

    The results: a 4-fold growth in traffic and a 3-fold growth in revenue in less than two years.

    If we did in print what we did online — I believe it would have EPIC FAIL. We removed design from the process online; at Wired, design was integral (not so much anymore) to the brand and the stories.

    The mediums are different. They do different things. They are consumer differently.

    The rules for one don’t apply to the other in the same way the skills of a butcher don’t qualify you for brain surgery. (I will not reveal whether online is butchers or brain surgeons 🙂

  9. Brad,

    As one who’s been in both the butchery and brain surgery business, you’re exactly right. Although I’d submit that you didn’t remove design from the online process, you just designed differently. As Steve Jobs once said, design is “not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

  10. @Mark:

    We did design differently. We got rid of the graphic designer, deleted every icon and image, made a functional site that worked in Mosiac — then used images and ads as our color.

    But clearly there was design and information architecture.

    That was a much better way to put it.

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