Design is visual journalism. It’s a phrase I’ve heard tossed around in some variation time and time again, whether its in a graphics class or at the college publication I work at or during the newspaper internships I had. Designers are journalists. Design is visual journalism.
Admittedly, as a writer, I never quite understood it. Designers to me had the job of taking journalism, being the articles written by journalists, and making it pretty. They’d incorporate photographs, illustrations, maps, color, bold headlines and graphics to create a functional, visually appealing front page. That way, people walking by a newsstand would notice the visuals, pick up the paper, and read the articles written by the journalists. If the articles were long, designers were there to help the readers push through, by using stylized pullquotes, charts, boxes and sidebars. It seemed to me that designers were almost in a way responsible for making sure that the people read the articles, so that journalists’ efforts wouldn’t be wasted.
I’ve recently realized how narrow that viewpoint was, especially since I began designing more. News designers are journalists because they must understand news judgement, and be able to apply it to the paper’s design. They need to comprehend the day’s news and prioritize it with size, shape and colors. It’s visual journalists who know how to best convey the tone of a story and what treatment should give it, regarding anything from an underdog sports team’s upset victory to the death of a public figure. Should they use photographs? Illustrations? Special fonts? Is it appropriate to crop the photo or place text over it? How large should the headline be?
Making good design isn’t enough, the goal is to establish good communication with readers — and that’s exactly what journalists do.