Reflection: Design is powerful and holds responsibility

This might be a little embarrassing to admit in this class, but I never thought of news design as anything more than “something pretty” to accompany text. When I was an undergraduate student, I unaffectedly viewed design with a meager, and fast-paced “that’s cool.” Probably—or most oftentimes—the information or the importance of the design was lost on me, or I never took the time to really look at what information was trying to be displayed. Even as editor for my college paper, I think the meaning of design was lost on us: it was more about dressing the paper professionally, trying to force the page layout to imitate The New York Times rather than focus on student life, or more importantly, student needs.

Therefore, it was a bit of an eye-opener when we discussed new design as being powerful and holding responsibility. I’ve never seen news design in that light. To me, design in newspapers and magazines were a way to keep eyes on the text, only adding an element of pizzazz to the page. It made me think of USA Today and why it designed its new layout the way they did. When the paper displayed its new big blue dot, I remember everyone thinking, “um, what?” I came across this quote the paper released along with its new design:

USA Today’s new logo — a large circle in colors corresponding to the sections — will be an infographic that changes with the news, containing a photo or image that represents key stories of the day.”

I too thought that the blue dot was a little off, but watching the circle’s daily change to what editors and designers feel as important makes a powerful statement. I think that us, as journalists (and some of us, as super amateur designers) must learn to guide the importance and responsibility of how we deliver news to our readers: similar to placing the most important story above the fold, in the top right.

I also took away the thought of this new “print interactivity,” and the hope that this interactivity will attract readers to whatever daily or weekly they consume. It’s realizing that design, perhaps, does not have to be so serious and “newsy” all of the time. It’s interesting that as the career for writers, and the power and responsibility of words, shifts for evolving tastes, designers are right alongside for the struggle—enforcing design’s importance and responsibility.

It’s thrilling to think that in this class I can gain a perspective on design that I have never had before. And, more than that, I am excited to exercise that perspective.

– Josh Austin

Josh Austin