February 25, 2008

Confessions of a Design Editor

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Confession: I buy but never read The Economist, because I know the mere act of carrying it around will make me seem more intelligent than I actually am. Nothing screams a well-informed interest in Cuban politics quite like sans-serif fonts cleanly juxtaposed against the photo du jour on The Economist’s front cover. If you’ve ever judged a book, magazine, or newspaper by its cover, then you know that the design of a publication speaks volumes about its intended demographic.

Let’s begin with an assessment of respected national papers. The Wall Street Journal, the design incarnation of your bespectacled grandfather who enjoys bowties, Cuban cigars and trouser socks, greets its readers every day with a formidable six-column block of text and anachronistic hand-drawn column monikers. Sure, the Wall Street Journal might know what a photograph is, but they’re more interested in delivering serious news straight to their readers, whom, according to unofficial statistics, are coincidentally also into bowties, Cuban cigars and trouser socks.

Contrast this with USA Today, which must certainly play the design equivalent of a hyperactive five-year-old the day after Halloween. This design wild child razzles and dazzles its readers with big headlines and even bigger pictures—and did we mention everything is printed in a dizzying Technicolor array? USA Today is meant to be looked at rather than perused, which allows it to be comprehensible to anyone who is semi-literate.

And what’s our age again? The Sun may hail from 1880, but our readers certainly don’t. And the design department is just barely coming out of its infancy. Unlike other schools with established journalism programs, we as an independent newspaper have no one but John C. Schroeder ’74 to hold our hands through navigating how you, the twenty-something collegiate reader, would benefit most from our page design. But we’ve gathered a few ideas:

OK, so we may obstinately cling to our faux-rebellious tabloid layout. The perpetual black sheep of the Ivy League, we just can’t seem to conform to the larger broadsheet layout of our peers. But that doesn’t mean we can’t strive to be as—what’s the word?— “profesh” as the Columbia Spectator or the Daily Pennsylvanian. Professionalism doesn’t depend on the size, but rather the use of the available means (that’s what she said). Currently, we’re working on importing elements such as graphic illustrations and an inside-this-issue banner on the front page, staples of any daily newspaper. Through these elements, we hope to make the content of our paper more readily digestible so that you can stay on top of important campus news at a glance.

At the same time, we understand that as a busy college student, you probably have enough information thrown at you on a daily basis. Sometimes you just want to relax and do the crossword. We sympathize. While we are adding more elements to the front and back page of the newspaper, we always strive to maintain a clean and unobtrusive layout that doesn’t overwhelm the reader. And you can always look to the Arts section for our more creative designs. We’re currently collaborating with Arts to make sure that your favorite columns receive the eye-catching designs they deserve. After all, we are a college paper, and columns about snack food pertain to our lives just as much as news about the Student Assembly.

Ultimately, our design says just as much about you as it does about us. If you feel inadequately represented by our use of serif headlines, sorbet-colored info boxes, or anything else—please let us know. We want to design a paper you’d be proud to carry around campus.