Field Notes | The Economist | Final Thoughts

Studying the Economist this semester has greatly influenced my understanding of news design. Even when wasn’t I consciously thinking about it, the publication’s design approach shaped how I presented information visually in my Caz prototype.

What I admire most about the Economist is its organization. Its designers avoid getting caught up in bells and whistles that seem trendy but add little to no value for readers. Instead, they try to present information in the clearest, most logical way possible. And for the most part, it works. I can always find the stories that interest me, and I am never confused about which section of the magazine I am in. Designers take a vast amount of information and present it in a way that seems approachable rather than overwhelming. Everything from color use to typography remains consistent, giving the publication a cohesive feel. Readers can focus on content rather than continually having to adjust to new ways of presenting information.

Interestingly, the Economist’s greatest strength is also its weakness. Simplicity and clarity are important, but design can also be about beauty or expressing an emotion. As we discussed in the first lecture, design is not just functional, but aesthetic. Sometimes the Economist’s designers appear to forget that. Readers will not necessarily want to engage with a page simply because it is clean and well-organized. An expression of some emotion or aesthetic appeal is needed to entice them. Although the Economist uses words in a witty, clever way with a distinct voice, its design creates a serious and conservative tone. I wish the magazine’s design contained the same energy and innovation as its words. The magazine’s photography suffers from a similar problem as the design. It presents information, but does not typically create a “moment’ or emotionally involve the reader.

In my own design work, I hope to emulate the Economist’s attention to organization and clarity, while also remembering that it is okay to experiment and even have fun with design. Design isn’t just functional, although function is important. And you don’t have to sacrifice function to connect with readers emotionally.