Understanding the Principles of News Design
News design is the method of organizing written content on a paper page, usually according to graphical and editorial guidelines and objectives. Main editorial objectives include the ordered placement of news stories in a logical sequence, with an emphasis on readability and balance, while aesthetic considerations involve artistic integration of marketing and advertising. This form of communication is usually achieved through graphic design tools and methods.
The history of news design dates back as early as the eighteenth century in Europe, when newspapers first appeared as a public service. Newspaper editors had to set the tone and style of the printed news, while also including important business, political, and cultural information. In the United States, however, newsrooms developed as a commercial activity during the nineteenth century. It was during this period that advertising became a major revenue stream for many newspapers. Advertisement was first shown in newspapers through a process of layoff ads which were published weekly. Since this first step toward advertising, today’s newspapers have become huge business operations, competing not only with other forms of print media such as magazines and books, but also with the Internet, television, and radio.
A first attempt at news design by a London based newspaper designer was published in the Illustrated London News on 2nd September 18orne, with the headline “A day in the office”. This design, often referred to as the “undefined front page” became a standard design for many British newspapers. The Illustrated London News would often receive requests for additional cuttings and details from readers in a form of a question or comment, thus the term “undefined front page” became part of the standard vocabulary of many newspapers around the world. Many newspapers still use the “undefined front page” in their news design, though it is increasingly rare for a newspaper to make a completely unspoiled “cut and paste” approach to their news pages.
In the United Kingdom, newspapers have adopted different styles of news design, such as the much-cited “cut and paste” technique by freelance designers and the much-maligned “bleak” method by established UK news designers. But the key problem lies with the editors who select which style of design to use and the way that this is communicated to the public. Most editors choose to keep their newsprint under the broadest possible constraints in order to retain reader attention. But in practice, a bewildering number of editors seem to prefer one style of design over another, to the point where the end result looks like an endless jumble of words which lack meaning or coherence.
When presented to the public in this manner, news design can be described as a compromise between effective communication and visual clutter. For example, a feature story might contain ten different images which all compete with the same text, all vying for the attention of the reader. If these images do not relate to each other or if they are all of low quality, then the reader will be left with the impression that the feature story was a distraction and was not of any substantial interest. News organizations have recognized the principle of balance since the introduction of the double-page spread. This is where the first page of the newspaper is reserved for the lead item, and the second page for the supporting facts. The web design for the second page provides additional opportunities for communicating important information without requiring the reader to physically travel to the relevant section of the Web site.
The principle of balance is important in all areas of human life, including the visual use of news design. In the print media, this same principle is translated into the art of copy-editing. Many newspapers have learned to successfully employ the principles of copy-editing, which has reduced the amount of perceived clutter and raised the level of coherence and readability.