Ed Henninger: Turning Your Design Around

By Ed Henninger
Sometimes a design just goes stale. Over the course of even just a few years, inconsistencies creep in, color use gets out of hand, odd typefaces appear. Stuff happens.
But you can turn that around. You can bring a crisp, clean, compelling look to the tired face of your newspaper.
Here are ten steps to guide you:
1. CLEAN UP the nameplate. Look for those elements that have crept in, like Facebook and Twitter logos, your web address, a UPC code. All of those items can go elsewhere.
2. GO TO flush left for your text type. Flush left body copy helps open up the look of the page and allows you to insert elements like head-and-shoulders photos without creating poor letter spacing and word spacing adjacent to those elements.
3. IMPROVE typography throughout. Make sure you’re using a quality text font. I continue to recommend Nimrod, but there may be others already on your system, like Utopia or Georgia. If you’re still using Times for your text, you can do much better. How about headlines? Are you using a display face that has impact? Is it comfortable? Does it give your newspaper a sense of tradition and credibility? If not, look for something new.
4. SEGMENT your stories. With very few exceptions, any long story can be broken into three or four shorter pieces to create a more attractive package. Readers prefer stories of no more than 15 inches. You can do that!
5. USE INFOBOXES and by-the-numbers boxes. These are guaranteed “hooks” to get readers into a package. They’re a quick list of facts and interesting information that will draw readers in. Once they go through an infobox, readers will be much more likely to give the entire package a full read.
6. CONTROL color use. Get rid of tint blocks behind stories. Throw out color boxes. There are better ways to bring visual interest to a package, like photos, head-and-shoulder shots, infoboxes, charts, maps… Rid your paper of weak colors like pure cyan and magenta. 
7. MAKE DEADLINE. Deadlines aren’t a design issue? Wrong! If, for example, your writers and editors don’t get the content and visual items to a designer in time, then that designer has to scramble. Yes, I understand that at many newspapers the writer, editor and designer are the same person. Still, even that one person needs to make writing deadline as a writer, editing deadline as an editor — and design deadline as a designer. If you don’t give enough time to the design, you’ll have a page that’s filled…not designed.
8. TRAIN staff. Don’t have anyone on your staff who has a rudimentary understanding of the basics of news design? Then the odds are your design just won’t get any better. A writer isn’t
a designer, just like a mechanic isn’t an electrician. They’re different skills and they require different ways of thinking. Look for training sessions from your state press association. Perhaps a webinar will help. Check newspaperacademy.com for one.
9. CREATE a long-term planning process. Once you’ve been part of long-term planning, you’ll never go back. And your design will improve exponentially. The long-term process allows you to plan months ahead for those events that are a normal part of readers’ lives, like Christmas. Mother’s Day. First day of school. Start thinking and planning for these three months ahead of time. This gives you the time you need to decide how you want to approach a package focused on that event — and enough time to give it a compelling look. Long-term planning is one of the major differences between a newspaper that is assembled…and a newspaper that’s designed.
10. CREATE a design style guide. Without a style guide, anyone on staff can feel free to do as he or she likes with the design. There are no rules, no guidelines to keep the design on track. There’s nothing keeping your design from slipping into confusion. Those clients of mine who have kept their design under control have done so because they created — and they stick to — a design style guide.
If your design has gone stale, if it’s not where you’d like it to be, these ten steps are the road to a turnaround.
ED HENNINGER is an independent newspaper consultant and the Director of Henninger Consulting. Want a free evaluation of your newspaper’s design? Just contact Ed: edh@henningerconsulting.com | 803-325-5252.

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