Henninger: Time to take a close look

Henninger: Time to take a close look

By: Ed Henninger

As I’ve been working with various press associations recently, I’ve added another service: one-on-one design evaluations for those who bring in copies of their newspapers.
One association director told me that those who were part of the evaluation process said “…you gave them a lot of ideas on things they need to work on to make the product better. So they’re apparently accepting that challenge.”

I am delighted to hear that—especially the part about “accepting the challenge.”

My evaluations are not pat-you-on-the-back-and-tell-you-what-a-great-job-you’re-doing sessions. I like to think I’m tough but fair. And honest. And frank. Most of all, I like to look at a newspaper as a reader would…and ask the same questions and make the same comments a reader might.

Sometimes, that can be a bit disappointing for the person whose paper I’m reviewing. I can’t be concerned about that. I’m there to help, not hype. I want to offer an honest assessment of that paper’s design, the way I see it.

When I go through that process, there are some basics I look for. It might work for you to do the same with your editors and designers.

The top nameplate gives your newspaper a sense of authority and credibility. The bottom nameplate? Uhhh…not so much.

The top nameplate gives your newspaper a sense of authority and credibility. The bottom nameplate? Uhhh…not so much.

Here are things I focus on:

TEXT: Is it large enough to be read comfortably, without being too large? Is it set in a legible typeface and used in a readable fashion?
Is it aligned to a baseline grid?

OTHER TEXT: Are you setting lists in a typeface and format that’s different from text? Is it easy to scan? Is it divided into subsets where possible?

HEADLINES: Do your headline fonts appear dated? Is there a good range of bold, italic and regular typefaces? Are some just too small? Are you using good headline hierarchy on the page? Are you sticking to one typeface family or using too many funky fonts?

COLOR: Is it used sparingly and with good purpose, or are you scattering color willy-nilly on your pages? Do you have a signature color and are you using that well?

SPACING: Are you allowing enough space between the separate packages on the page? When a package is special, are you setting it off with enough negative space?

BOXES: Are you still using them? Don’t. Use rules between packages instead. The lighter the rule, the better the look.

CONSISTENCY: Are your basic design elements such as standing heads, column sigs and page labels all set in the same style? There’s no need to make these different. As a matter of fact, a consistent look helps to add credibility to your newspaper.

ORGANIZATION: Does the flow of content make sense, or is some broken up? Example: Does sports begin your B section…and then continue on a jump page behind classifieds? If so, how do you get sports to be a contiguous whole?

THE NAMEPLATE: What does it say about your newspaper? Is it classy…or silly? Is it cast in a typeface that tells your readers their newspaper is credible and careful…or is it too playful? Is it dated…or classical so that it stands the test of time?

Go through your paper soon. Do a design evaluation of your own. Take a hard look and be honest with yourself.

Does your design need work?

Does it look dated?

Does it do everything you want it to do for your readers?

You can answer those questions for yourself…if you take the time to do a thorough evaluation.

WANT A FREE evaluation of your newspaper’s design? Just contact Ed: edh@henningerconsulting.com | 803-327-3322

IF THIS COLUMN has been helpful, you may be interested in Ed’s books: Henninger on Design and 101 Henninger Helpful Hints. With the help of Ed’s books, you’ll immediately have a better idea how to design for your readers. Find out more about Henninger on Design and 101 Henninger Helpful Hintsby visiting Ed’s web site: www.henningerconsulting.com

ED HENNINGER is an independent newspaper consultant and the Director of Henninger Consulting. Offering comprehensive newspaper design services including redesigns, workshops, staff training and evaluations. E-mail: edh@henningerconsulting.com. On the web: henningerconsulting.com. Phone: 803-327-3322.