March 31, 2008

What's in a Design?

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My first encounter with design was when my first-grade teacher told me to draw a design across a faded sheet of construction paper. As I sat there, a fat, violet Crayola marker resting in my fingers, I felt a looming sense of uncertainty concerning the instructions at hand. A design? Did that really mean we could draw anything? Even at age 6 my Type A personality craved for more restrictions.

Now when I hear the word “design”, I instinctively think of things less structured, more free-spirited. I think of spin art, collage-style ads, sharp futuristic fonts, Doug Funny’s beret-bearing sister with the sunglasses and orange hair, zig-zaggy, brightly colored graphics, crazy geometric prints— you know, artsy stuff, “designy” stuff, if you will.

And typically it is this aspect of design— the more creative, more imaginative, more exciting aspect of design that gets the most attention.

But there is another, almost completely separate aspect of design that works hand in hand with creative, visual design: It’s the distinction between “I’m going to paint a design on my bureau” and “I’m going to design my bureau”. The design of an object does not only entail its visual appeal, but it is also the object’s plan, its inherent structure, its purpose. Everything that is part of a design is part of it for a reason. Likewise, newspaper design is not just how the paper looks — it is how the paper reads.
It’s kind of like a big puzzle, really, the kind that my now-nineteen-year-old Type A personality thrives off of.

A good newspaper design is able to influence a reader to read one headline first before another. It can make a page look less intimidating so that a reader actually reads more than just the headline. It makes sure the reader doesn’t get lost when reading an article, doesn’t get distracted by the photo or graphic, but doesn’t ignore it either. A good design ultimately helps to make the most of the paper’s content — so that articles, photos, ads and promos alike are all presented to the reader in a way that is easiest for him to process, so he doesn’t have to pause every so often to try to figure out where things are. That kind of design allows its readers to read the paper like the zero-patience, ADD, used-to-easy-and-instant-gratification people we are. It serves all these purposes, while simultaneously fitting in all the newspaper’s content, being efficient enough to maintain the paper’s tight deadline each night, and looking appropriately “designy”, too.

So the next time you open The Sun, or any newspaper for that matter, take a look at the layout of the articles, the size and style of the fonts, the arrangement of the columns, the placement of the photos. The design choices made are not arbitrary ones— there was thought behind those choices. It’s not as easy as we (hopefully) make it look.