It’s hard to keep up with design trends if you don’t know what’s going on with other newspapers or your audience. Some designs work, I mean really work. Others fall flat on their face. If you need an example, the New York Times is a great place to look for outdated design. But they have a big enough name and reputation: They are allowed to look ugly. For the rest of us, newspaper design is constantly changing and reinventing itself with new “rules” and bold front pages. But to be on that cutting edge takes research, lots of research.
May May Barton, the design advisor for the University of Kentucky’s student newspaper called the Kentucky Kernel, said,
“you have to be always looking and seeing what’s happening out there, what other newspapers are doing. Whether it’s another college paper or an international paper, I think as designers you have to be aware of what’s happening around you.”
Barton went on to list various websites she encourages designers to browse. One that came up multiple times is the website Newseum. This particular website boasts current front pages of up to 800 newspapers around the world. It’s a nice website (one I frequently visit) and gives designers an easy way to see what other newspapers are doing on their most important page.
This kind of research, Barton said, is very important.
“I think you have to look; designers are very visual people. You can look at a magazine that’s on a news stand and pull ideas from that. I look at inside spreads that are easily translatable to any type of print production.”
However, “looking” is not code word for lets-copy-someone-else’s-work. Barton said,
“It’s not difficult to take someone else’s idea and try to recreate it, but that’s not what true artists and designers will do. I think they will take that inspiration and translate that into something they can be working on that might fit the same type of design.”
The reason behind the research is inspiration. Viewing the work of others will often spark “new” ideas in the minds of designers, whether the designers are experienced or inexperienced.
Seeing the designs and the overall trends in newspapers brings inspiration but it’s also good to be aware how important design is for a newspaper. Jordan Smith, the assistant editor of the Frankfort State Journal said in an e-mail that,
“Someone who reads the Wall Street Journal will buy it for the writing – everytime. They don’t necessarily need to see bright colors or pretty pictures to be convinced. Someone who buys the State Journal is a very different case. They DO need to be convinced. A well-written (and probably even interesting) story on pension reform for state workers is not enough motivation for a 55-year-old factory worker to spend money on our product; a picture of his 15-year-old niece on the front is.”
She said, that
“publications like the WSJ and NYTimes stay pretty classic, but the overwhelming trend seems to be toward creating newspapers that have design elements similar to a magazine.” And in her observation of her newspaper she said, “the State Journal needs to be aware of design trends because for us, they better the product we provide to the community.”
Editors and designers to know what’s going on in the design world and in their surrounding community. Once those elements have been identified, it’s time to implement them into the paper. Doing that is not always easy or quick but as The Design Editor of the Kentucky Kernel, Andy Burress, said,
“If you find elements of a design that you really like – being able to pick those out of the finished product – then reapply them in a different way. It can be huge differences.”
Sometimes the inspirations will translate into creative designs within the paper while sometimes the research and observation will lead to bigger changes.
Recently the Kentucky Kernel made the decision, after much discussion, to remake their nameplate. Changing the nameplate is a big step for a newspaper because it is a big part of the identity of the newspaper. But changes like this don’t happen overnight.
Previously, the nameplate was a sophisticated serif font in all caps. Berress said the staff discussed how
“we’ve kind of been something that we weren’t really for a while. We were trying to make it look like a professional paper where we’re a college paper. So we’re trying to appeal to who our audience is.”
And that’s exactly what a newspaper ought to do. After all, we aren’t just writing and designing the paper for other writers and designers. The newspaper is for your community and you need to know them in order to be their newspaper they love, trust and read. Sometimes designs are inspirations invoked by other designs while, often times, the most significant and important changes come from a good understanding of the audience.
So do your research. Browse front pages and inside layouts on websites (here’s a good place to start) and make an effort to understand what else is out there. Get to know your audience and be aware of them when you are designing. To be fresh and trendy, do your research and look for inspiration. Typically it doesn’t just jump out and bite you. You have to be the one looking for it.