Corinne Winthrop, design editor of the student paper at Colorado State University, the Rocky Mountain Collegian, wrote this week to ask my opinion of the redesign they’ve been phasing in this fall.
As Corinne — and her predecessor, my pal Greg Mees — know, I’m happy to offer free advice to college journalists and newspaper staffs. The only price they pay: Sometimes, I like to blog about the work they show me. I might share my tips with blog readers.
And that, of course, is the case this week. What I’ll show you here are before-and-after pages and Corinne’s descriptions. I’ll fold in the comments I fired back her way.
Feel free to let us know where you think I’m off the mark…
First of all, I appreciate your last blog post about the Collegian‘s football section in August! Your feedback about our infographic was especially helpful, and I know the Collegian‘s sports desk loved reading about it.
I’d like to share with you an update concerning our redesigned paper. I understand that Greg Mees sent you a few pages earlier this year, and I wanted to follow up and send you a couple more redesigned pages now that we are a few more weeks into the school year.
The original plan was for Greg to serve as art director this semester, overseeing the redesign changes and how they might alter once implemented. However, after Greg left for Minneapolis, I was put in charge of carrying out the redesign.
Here are some of the bigger changes the paper has seen with the redesign:
> We were using quite a few different typefaces throughout the paper last year, so we brought it down to two. We’re now using Chronicle from Hoefler & Frere-Jones for our serif font and Interstate as our sans-serif font.
And I love the new typefaces. You’ll see them in the samples, in just a moment.
> The other huge change for the paper was the Page One layout. Last year, the page was restricted to a set layout: teases on the top, Strip Club to the right and the main story with a big photo under the nameplate.
On the left is a page from last spring. On the right is a new page. Click these — or any pages here today — for a larger look.
Note the Strip Club feature that Corinne mentioned. It’s on the right on both these pages.
The redesign gives us more freedom with how we lay out the page. We’ve experimented with both the Strip Club and nameplate moving around the page each day and the overall arrangement of stories.
Though some days P1 can be a challenge to design, most days it’s really exciting building a different front page everyday.
Here’s another pair. Note how Strip Club is stripped across the top in this example.
I love the new front pages. I think the nameplate works better black than grey. I also like the way you’re integrating the lead story into the nameplate. You’re probably aware that the Virginian-Pilot does this a lot. We’ve started doing it more often here, as well [at the Orange County Register].
Moving the Strip Club around the page is probably the smart way to go, but in a lot of ways, I miss it when it’s not vertical. I don’t think it works particularly well horizontally.
I also wonder how readable it is, reversed out of black or out of a color. That deep blue sample you sent, for example — most papers would have trouble printing white text on a blue background like that and still have the text readable. If the colors get just a little out of register, you end up with a mess on your hands.
I don’t know. As much as I love the Strip Club… given what you’re doing on page one, I wonder if it might make sense to move it to your jump page. That would be one way to bring more eyeballs inside, perhaps.
Don’t get me wrong: I love Strip Club. And, from time to time, folks ask me about it: “Hey, what was that college paper that runs the Strip Club? Can you send me samples?” You’re probably aware this harkens back to the old “Edge” feature that Tim Harrower did for the Oregonian, back in the 1990s. Fun stuff. Whatever you do, please don’t kill it.
(However, please edit that copy carefully. I’m a big comics fan, so I immediately became absorbed in the Batman Strip Club. And immediately, I spotted a typo: It’s Kevin Conroy, not “Evin” Conroy.)
I love the front page samples you sent me. Two of them were wonderful — “Plaza” and “Poudre.” The “Fresh Welcome” page was a bit flat, but that was because your lead art was split between two smaller pictures. One big pic trumps two smaller photos every time.
Corinne replied a short time later:
A friend told me yesterday that she has been less inclined to read Strip Club since the redesign. She would always pick the paper up just for that, mainly because she knew where it was.
Feedback like this from readers always gets me thinking. I like the freedom the new front page allows but sticking to a vertical Strip Club may make it a bit easier for readers to pinpoint everyday and then we’ll avoid flipping it on its side. I agree, it doesn’t work as well horizontally.
Corinne also sent a number of inside pages. Here is a before-and-after look at the new jump page.
I told her:
The new jump page seems much more structured than the old page. You’re getting a half- to a quarter-page every day here. There’s no reason not to display some kind of visual here as well. What you’re doing with the “Campus voice” is pretty good.
I also like the pull-quotes. Nice and clean.
Your pullout boxes and whatnot look cleaner and brighter without the tint boxes. Tint boxes are so clunky, so “1980s.” One of the first things I do when I go into a newspaper is reduce the use of tints. It really opens up the paper and makes for pages in which the elements can be integrated better with each other.
I wrote this note back on Monday. Since then, I’ve happened to notice how many tint boxes I’m using in my current work.
Mental note: Sometimes, I’m SO full of shit.
Back to my critique…
So nice work here.
The new opinion page is terrific. The new page is a much better canvas with which to display art. And ultimately, that’s whats going to pull readers into your page: The art.
These samples also show off your new page headers well. I love ’em. The two-tone grey approach works well.
I also like the odd spacing in the point-counterpoint column and the way the mugs are offset a half-pica or so.
The sports pages — at least among the samples you sent me — also seem to have more visual oomph, but that might have to do with the color in the photos. I’m a football guy, so football photos appeal to me a little more. I like the bolder lead headline. I don’t miss the all-caps at all.
I also think the serif font is working a little better, here, than does the sans serif. So that was a good change as well.
The only thing that’s bothering me is the lack of space between the lead headline and the lead photo. Granted, you don’t need space for descenders when there are none. But this (“Rams survive shootout“) seems awfully tight.
I like the stadium centerpiece, but I feel the big chart is a big clunky. I think it’s awkward to read all that sideways text. There was plenty of space there to either widen the bars, stretch the chart across the page and then turn the labels upright or simply turn the chart on its side — with the long bar on the bottom, perhaps — which would make room for upright labels.
For what it’s worth, when you put the values on each bar like this, you don’t really need a scale. So you could save some room that way, too.
I didn’t have time the other day to whip up a quick example of how this chart might have been done differently. But now I do:
I took out all the redundant matter, I reoriented the chart so the labels worked better and I maintained all the alignments with the edges of the package. I also changed the color, because the light green nearly matched a color in a photo with an unrelated package.
I told Corinne:
This is chart nitpicking, though. The basic page was well-done. This reminds me, though, that you guys ought to get some more infographics training. You’re working at such a high level with your design, your photography, your photo editing and the other aspects of your work that this chart seems to lag behind just a bit.
As for the chart on the sports page, and other charts we’ve created for the paper, they could certainly use work. The charts in our paper don’t always have a uniform look, but your suggestions will definitely help improve this. Maybe there will be some infographic sessions to attend at SND Lou in November!
I hope so. I remember once my pal Robb Montgomery was hosting a group of Egyptian journalists as they traveled around the country visiting newsrooms. Their trip culminated with SND/Boston, where Robb hoped to find them some infographics training.
However, that particular year, there wasn’t much going on with infographics. Or something. So Robb rented a meeting room and asked me to stay over an extra day to teach a session in basic infographics. Which I did.
Unfortunately, I tried to cram way too much content into my presentation. As a result, I nearly caused three English-to-Arabic translators to pass out due to exhaustion. Lesson learned: When you work with a translator, speak slowly.
If there happens to be nothing on the SND/Louisville schedule, perhaps you can get someone to teach you a “bonus” session in basic charting. Perhaps you can get together with some other student papers to make that audience a little larger — and perhaps more attractive — for a prospective speaker.
Or maybe someone will read this blog post and have an idea. You never know.
Previous occasions on which I’ve written about the student paper at Colorado State…
- Sept. 2: Football preview section: Wonderful portrait work by Colorado State student paper
- Sept. 16: Colorado State’s special pull-out section for a rivalry game this weekend
- Oct. 6: How newspapers presented the death of Steve Jobs
- Nov. 14: Colorado State student paper follows an athlete for a week
- Dec. 9: Behind Thursday’s retro front page of the Colorado State student newspaper
- March 1: Cool poster front photo today by the Colorado State student paper
- May 3: College design standout Greg Mees headed for Boston Globe
- Dec. 7: One way to deal with an embarrassing page-one display text error
- Jan. 25: One cool college tab cover, please, with pepperoni, mushrooms and extra cheese…
- March 11: High-end fashion pages by a college newspaper
- March 27: Colorado State student paper celebrates a local tradition of craft beer
- Aug. 29: Student journalist Greg Mees headed for Minneapolis
- Sept. 2: A look at the Colorado State student paper’s football preview section