Design: It’s more than making stories pretty
We have an obligation as journalists to do more than produce a good story. We have to produce a readable story. We have to produce a story that tells our readers something new.
Design, just as much as content, can do this. When readers glance at the front page or open up a new browser window, they aren’t looking at body copy. They see headlines and pictures and graphics. Then they decide to go further.
Editors are doing a disservice to talented writers if they don’t think about the visual elements or if they think about design as just decoration for a story.
In an email, Charles Apple, a journalist and blogger for the American Copy Editors Society, wrote, “When a reader picks up a page — or opens a browser or app window — and begins to read content, she’s not just reading content. She’s reading content VIA our design.”
In a world where people have shorter attention spans, design is more important than ever. According to Apple, “Good design TELLS a story. Or ENHANCES a story.”
Jay St. Pierre, the lead sports designer at the Omaha World-Herald, echoed Apple’s point. He wrote in an email that great design makes content shine.
“You can write the best story of your career, but if a designer plugs it into a hole without photos on Page 6 of the A section, that story won’t be well-read,” St. Pierre wrote. “On the contrary, that same story packaged as a well thought out centerpiece will grab the reader’s eye and draw him/her in.”
There is another great reason for thinking about design. Political scientists Brenden Nyhan and Jason Reifler are the authors of paper entitled “Opening the Political Mind?”
In this paper, Nyhan and Reifler argue that when a person has a false perception of a fact, a graphical representation of the data is one of the most effective ways to change that opinion. So if there is solid information that disrupts the status quo, the best way to present it is in a visual form.
To me, this means that good design is essential for a worthwhile publication. The best writing is useless if no one reads it. Do your readers and reporters a service and invest in great design. Both Apple and St. Pierre emphasized cooperation and communication between designers and reporters.
“I love working with reporters who think a bit more visually,” St. Pierre said. “I love when reporters bring ideas to the table. There’s been numerous times I’ve taken a writer’s idea for an illustration, added onto it and loved the outcome.”
And if you want to talk headlines, well I’ll take Apple’s advice and send you over to The Atlantic, for those.
_ Christina Condreay