Page design: How important is it?

I greatly apologize for the infrequency of my posts, and (as I always say) I’m going to try and be more consistent with my blogs. I’m going to shoot for one post a week, so stay with me!

The inspiration behind this post was a conversation on Facebook unintentionally started the other day by Brian Manzullo, recent Central Michigan University graduate and former editor-in-chief of Central Michigan Life. He stated,

“I know newsrooms are shifting toward the web (at least some), but it’s sad how badly newspaper design has fallen by the wayside. It really can make or break whether someone picks up your product.”

This much is true, newspaper design sure has become a lost art, however I feel when it comes down to it, the design of a paper alone will not be the deciding factor as to whether or not someone picks up an issue. Therefore, I replied to his comment with,

“Thing is though, I’ve always took pride in making a page (or pages) look good with their design, but when it all comes down to the quality and substance of news, I feel it trumps design any day.”

Over the short period of time I have known Manzullo — and by reading his blog I have noticed him as a journalism student seriously concerned about the future of the field. But in all reality, every aspiring journalist needs to be worried about the future of their career. I know I sure have.

Although I have no recent page design experience except for a final project I had to do in my editing class a few years ago, the only design experience I had was my senior year in high school as sports editor for my school newspaper in Saginaw, Mich.

While at Heritage High School’s Heritage Voice, I had to design the layout for my section and I took great pride in how those pages looked. I quickly understood the time and effort I spent to make those pages look great in my eyes, may not have looked the same to the reader. At the same time I realized no matter how the pages I designed looked, they were still going to get read. The stories are the meat and potatoes of the newspaper; not the way it looks. To me, content is more important than design any day.

On that note, from my junior year as a staff writer to my senior year as an editor, the newspaper did incorporate a new nameplate and transitioned to larger issue. The new product was far superior to the old. The nameplate before and after the change are below.

The "old" nameplate

The "new" nameplate

As you can see, the revamped nameplate sure is more visually appealing to the eye than the last, but albeit a high school newspaper where we were more concerned with content rather than the way it looked, there is a good chance the design was not a reason people picked up the paper.

A friend of Brian’s was inspired by comments he and I made, so he wrote this Although I agree with the beginning of his piece, it was the latter end of it with which I had a few qualms because I think he may have misinterpreted what I was trying to convey. It is completely understandable Mr. Marcetti may have misinterpreted my comment, given it was brief without further explanation, but let me expand on my thought.

I personally do not feel newspaper design alone can bring in new readers, but it is an important part of the equation. As I stated before, content rules all. If a flawless looking newspaper is littered with questionable journalism and poor editing, readers will be turned off. On the other hand, if a newspaper looks bland but the editing is done well and includes exceptional journalism practices, readers will stick around. To most, I would say, design plays a minor role in a reader’s decision to pick up reading material. Magazines are a prime example of this, however since they are clearly more niche than newspapers they are able to get away with inferior design.

Page designers, much like offensive linemen on a football team, are grossly under appreciated. They do what they are paid to do with little or no recognition from anyone else but their peers. Page designers go unnoticed and most don’t even know who they are. Linemen protect a team’s multi-million dollar investment at quarterback, are not compensated accordingly and are typically not recognized off the field. Frankly, at the end of the day, no one outside of the newsroom (or outside of a football organization) is concerned with the page design or who the left tackle is for (insert team name here).

As Manzullo and Marcetti have both said, it is a shame the quality of newspaper page design has declined recent years and it is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. But, it’s not as important as some say.

Web design, however, is an entirely different beast…

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One thought on “Page design: How important is it?

  1. I believe news paper design is futile. As a whole, American’s have become less and less practical as time goes by. Everyone I know who reads a “paper” weather it be a local entertainment print, local or national news they read it front to back. This does not include magazines. I have never heard anyone say “you know the Daily ??????, now that’s a nice looking news publication!? And I’m almost certain I never will. A lot of people who do read “papers” are fairly practical. I do believe this is one of the reason people chose internet news over paper copies. It’s faster, plain and simple. I don’t have to look for the continuation of a story from page 1A on page C3. You get the story beginning to end. I have never had to stop a chapter in a book, flip 10 pages, find the chapter I’m on, try to remember where I left and continue reading. I have heard lots of people complain about that, but then again books haven’t gone anywhere. If the news papers would realize that the people who read the paper will read it front to back so why not put an entire story in there start to finish with no page turns or at least multi page turns maybe more people would stay reading them. they might even be able to get new readers. People read the news to see what’s going on. And as Americans do best, they will do it in what ever manner is easiest. Anyone out there aspiring to be a news paper designer remember “Start to Finish” it’s simple, it’s easy, it’ll keep readers. Have a nice a day!

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