The Role of News Design in Newspapers and Magazines

News design is a process of planning content on a news page, based on various editorial and graphic guidelines and objectives. Main editorial objectives range from the simple ordering of news articles by date, to the balanced, clear presentation of advertising, and the integration of reader-enhancing features such as sub-headers, bolding, italics, and other visual cues to enhance the reading experience. Graphic goals refer to the overall appearance of the news page. They may include fonts, colors, images, and other visual cues that contribute to the creation of a visually attractive news story. The integration of these elements is guided by specific aesthetic objectives.

In the past, news design often consisted of a single art director, or at the most, one art illustrator, whose duties were limited to the editorial chores assigned to him by the editor. Times have changed. Today, a “newspaper” employs several different styles of graphic design, each contributing to the distinctive look of the newspaper page. While the editorial goals remain the same, newspapers have added in a number of features designed to increase the attractiveness of the paper and attract a particular type of reader. A few decades ago, news design consisted mainly of typography and was not much different than doing a simple rewrite of a novel. Since then, however, newspaper pages have become a fertile ground for advertising and have incorporated many different graphics and visual cues designed to persuade the reader to click through or to take action, when they see a story, or picture.

Newsroom personnel can be quite accomplished in the art of news design, as they can in desktop publishing and design, due to the close relationship that exists between graphic designers and news readership. Desktop publishing has moved beyond the simple reproduction of text on a computer screen to include applications as diverse as calendars, RSS feeds, image galleries, podcasts, games, radio and video streams, and instant messaging. There is a whole world of multimedia available to today’s newspaper reader, who has learned to become familiar with a wide variety of images, video clips, audio files, and interactive features. Many newspapers and magazines are even producing their own blogs, which can further entice their readers with up-to-date information on the go.

In contrast, a typical website does not allow for a user to browse and search through hundreds of web pages. Newspapers and magazines are designed to be read right away, and web design is often limited to a basic system of html coding to let users access the information. For example, the article index in a standard web design for a newspaper contains only the most recent five links, and links must be manually arranged within the site to display properly. Readers are presented with a predetermined list of links, rather than browsing through an entire website. For this reason, web design is often considered a more appropriate medium for disseminating news and current affairs than for writing articles.

This is not to say that both web design and news design are worthless. Good design can greatly improve reader interaction and provide informative content for a publication. Additionally, good web design allows for more interactive features, such as automatic video sharing and commenting. However, when all is said and done, the end user will still decide which publications and features are important to them. For many people, news and current affairs remain a primary source of information, and newspapers and magazines remain a primary news source for many Americans. Therefore, web technology plays a much larger role in news design than the appearance of a website would.

Many newspapers have made great strides in their web technology in recent years. New York Times websites have utilized Flash technology, and Boston Globe newsletters and blogs use sophisticated text-shadowing and pop-up boxes. Many newspapers have embraced social networking websites like Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace, which allow their readers to interact with the paper through a variety of social media tools. While a website may have some appeal in terms of branding and marketing to a particular demographic, these tools may not prove to be very successful for attracting and retaining customers. News designers must therefore learn to think about the design of the news page as a whole, as well as the functionality, content, and appearance, in order to provide a complete experience for their users.