Design, Typography & Graphics
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A friend in the user group community recently asked if I critique her newsletter.
One of the most frequent problem areas I encounter in the publishing field is when editors, writers and, yes even business people are expected to turn out a good newsletter. If my car isn't running right, I take it to the mechanic. I don't expect the car wash to fix the motor any more than I expect the mechanic to give it a wash and wax. Rare are the instances where the writer or editor is also a good designer and/or typographer. Yet they're almost always restricted by the software they use, the availability of good clip art or images, and the time to think about the details.
I'm going to restrict myself to just the initial visual and organizational points in this critique. We could spend days talking about minutiae and the array of options involved in a full scale makeover. What I'll do is share some quick and easy areas where a simple fix will make a big difference.
Since the front page is the most important part of a newsletter, lets look at just four things that can really perk this publication.
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Back to the Design Department Front Page
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What do we observe?
I believe the relative importance of the graphic is over stated in this layout. It could easily be reduced and not lose any implied importance.
Additionally, the Banner needs to be separate from the content well. Here, the 'logo' seems to suggest that it is part of the lead story. It also disturbs the heads of all three columns, causing them to stagger across the page. Column heads should be evenly aligned.
2 - The hierarchy of importance
As the banner pushes the column heads out of alignment, it causes another problem. Which article should we start with?
In the "Newsletter Rules" supplement to this article I outline the kinds of editorial content a newsletter contains, and the relative importance those articles should hold. (The "Rules" supplement is published in the December, 2001 PDF issue of DT&G.
Without prompting, I had to assume the "October" article is the lead, or feature. I surmised that simply because it was the first story. However being pushed lower than the image of the compass, I'm drawn to believe the "President Missing" is the feature. Now the reader is subconsciously confused.
Note how the triangle of images; the apple, the oak leaf, and the compass, all compete for importance in the arrival space of the newsletter. They seem to have somewhat equal weight, and therefore shout equally for my attention. Chances are, I'll go for the compass simply because of the pointing devices.
Additionally, there's the problem with the stem of the oak leaf pointing off the page to the left. We would strive to have the reader understand the parts of the front page, and instinctively begin tumbling into the content flow immediately upon arrival. We want to help them get at the information, and get at it with minimum work and frustration.
The editor must declare what the feature article will be, then make the others subordinate. We do that by position on the page, and any visual devices used.
3 - Weight and positioning of anchor elements
By anchor elements we mean things that appear in every issue like the Masthead and the table of contents. These elements are secondary and expected by the reader, so they don't need primary positioning.
I won't comment on the fact that the boxes don't line up. We'll blame that on a mechanical problem at printing time. (Grin)
When evaluating the weight and positioning of anchor elements we have to ask how we want the reader to proceed. In this case, both boxes form a rigid and obvious wall down the right side of the page. This makes them very important. They actually stop the reader flow into the content well.
Perhaps these might be better to the left, as a starting point, or beneath the lead copy... which brings me to the next point...
4 - Reader eye flow.
Where you put things on the page, and how they flow is a critical consideration in any publication. Remember that the reader's eye falls somewhere in the upper, left-hand quadrant of the page, then instantly does a lazy 'Z' shaped scan to the lower right, then returns to the upper half of the page (if sufficiently stimulated) to begin reading. They'll always do that, you can count on it.
So, we're challenged in arranging visual and editorial elements to support that eye flow. We also have to support gravity, because the eye always falls, or wants to move down the page.
Reader eye flow is also critically dependant on a number of wordsmithing rules. The typography in this newsletter needs some refinement to promote reader eye flow, but I'll get to that later.
Once again, if you squint at this front page, your eye is drawn to the darkest areas. Suddenly we see an implied flow from the Apple, curving through the little news guy, and landing on the windmill thing at the bottom right. Why are we there??? Do we want to be there? No. Do we even have any idea at all what the windmill thing has to do with the newsletter? No. But we find ourselves at the exit point of the page, ready to go to the next page.
Arriving on page two presents a real problem because there's no apparent visual clue as to where we came from, or where we're supposed to go. If we follow our natural instincts and begin reading at the upper left hand column, we jump into the middle of a paragraph.
Now I feel compelled to move things around again
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