LESSONS LEARNED — CLASS OF 2013

Hi everyone … Here’s some advice, encouragement and a few warnings from my Spring 2013 students, who were asked to write to you about the five most important things they learned. These are in no particular order, and there’s great stuff at the end, too.

My advice about this advice? Take heed.

 

1) I’ve learned that good design is innovative. People will get sick of looking at the same thing every day and design really helps to add to a story in a way that writing or even good photography can. When used well, design can be used to help tell the story in its own way.

2) I’ve also learned that successful design takes both the audience and the mood of the story into account. Even if you have great ideas about creating a beautiful page, it will all be a waste if the audience does not recognize or appreciate the design or if the story is written in a way that doesn’t match the design.

3) I’ve learned that photos can often make or break a story. Blurriness or pixilation can be really distracting, as can busy backgrounds. While it is far from impossible to overcome limitations in terms of photos, having access to good photos can open all kinds of doors for your design. I think I liked working with the picture story the most because of the high quality of all the photos we were able to use.

 

•••

 

1. The importance of not being “married” to your work. I think the most frustrating thing for me was realizing that some of my designs didn’t exactly work or have a future, no matter how much I tried to tweak them. I would spend hours making a graphic illustration that just didn’t look exactly right or speak entirely to the story, and wouldn’t want to just scrap the idea for a simpler one because it had taken me such a long time to make.

2. Simplicity. Minimalism. Taking things away from your work to make it stronger. I think at the beginning of the semester I would consistently fall into the trap of “decorating” for graphic design, thinking to myself “well, what’s going to make this design look the coolest? More color. Oh, and more technicalities so that it looks really artistic.” But that’s not the point of graphic design, as I’d learn later on. In comparing the earlier versions of my prototype to the later ones, it’s clear that by deleting and minimizing a lot of the excess, unnecessary designing, the overall result turned out looking that much stronger.

3. I learned how important it was to work on the grid, especially with the website. In general, I would work on the grid but break style every once in a while by placing things in the center of the grid or slightly off the gird. Sometimes, in terms of the website, I would roughly place things on the grid and not make sure that they snapped to the grid completely. In this sense, in comparing my original website to my final one, the result was much cleaner and looked more structured, simply because I made a stronger effort to follow the grid.

 

•••

 

From the class, I learned that 1) good stories are buttressed by good design, 2) design is purposeful (not decoration) and 3) design takes time. Now, more than, ever, I understand that regardless of how well-reported and written a story is, the better presented it is, the more people will read. Also, design isn’t decor or pure art — there should be a method and well-reasoned thought behind why and how an element is placed on the page. Designers should always bear the reader in mind and consider how a design choice may be interpreted by an audience. Lastly — design is time consuming and often requires a succession of revisions. Everything, down to point size, should be well-reasoned and often requires multiple attempts to exact.

 

•••

 

Regarding news design, this semester has been an interesting experience. My awareness of the relationship between news design and storytelling has been heightened both by seeing examples of work throughout the semester in class and at SND, and by having to think about content for the Caz project. The way a story is presented impacts how it is read, and this semester has really highlighted that for me. I’ve also become more aware of the different considerations required for different formats. Designing for iPad this semester has affected the way I approach digital news design versus print news design, but seeing other people’s Caz projects also made me think about the different approaches required for newspapers versus magazines. And most of all, this semester has made me more aware than ever of how much you really need to THINK about the choices you make as a designer. The way you choose to design a page has the potential to have a lot of impact, and it’s important to give each element the proper amount of consideration.

 

•••

 

1. Sketching makes a world of a difference. I got away with not sketching many of my designs before I got in front of the computer, however, with the portfolio, I really had to lay down and sit on all my thoughts, then sketch them all on a notepad to truly organize all my thoughts. This helped me in the long run, because some of my favorite pages and deign were ounces that I sketched first.

2. I also learned that grids and column make a huge difference. In my previous graphics class, the professors never explicitly explained the importance of creating columns, so going into this class, I didn’t completely understand. I now see the beauty behind the simple tool. It’s amazing and makes prevent s a lot of headaches.

3. Lastly, I’ve learned that it can be fun to conceptualize my own photos. It was great to have an archive of images to work from. But sometimes I felt limited and shooting new photos and using my old photos for this assignment was a fun process in designing the magazine. It also strengthens my pride in my original work.

 

•••

 

1. challenge yourself. Forget about going by the rule book or being too scared to use something like a bright or dark color. You won’t become a good designer by never taking chances.

2. Research. It’s so critical I can’t stress it enough. Having an original though is so hard to come by and I think a lot of us expect to have them. But there’s something to be said for being able to just gloss over magazines and appreciate already beautiful, creative and innovative design and be inspired by it. Take what’s out there and try to mold it into something of your own—you’ll be surprised of what you’re capable of.

3. FEEDBACK. FEEDBACK. FEEDBACK. I’ll be honest and say that I’m the first person who’s wary of getting critique because I begin to get overwhelmed—and then that overwhelming feeling leaves me unmotivated and down about whether I can design at all. But it’s the feedback from others that only help you to become the best designer you can be. There’s always something to learn from those around you, and idea you may not realize until they point it out. It’s so imperative to have a second pair of eyes on your design to let you know where you’re excelling and where you could use improvement. Take it and really put it to good use.

 

•••

 

1. Good design is not a product of good technology. It doesn’t matter if you use your iPhone or a DSLR camera; a good photo is a good photo. It doesn’t matter if you sketch or mock up a page in InDesign; a good idea is a good idea.

2. Good design takes time. Leaving yourself enough time to mess up and start over is critical, because the first draft is almost never the last draft. Design also takes planning, from beginning to end, and that can only happen with sufficient time.

3. Good design uses contrast. It’s not just black versus white, or heavy versus light; it’s everything, from one story to the next, from color choices to size. It’s how we are able to distinguish one element from another, and without using contrast, good design is near impossible.

 

•••

 

1. Always be in service of your content. Assisting at SND hammered this point home more than anywhere else. Your news design should always assist in making the content clear to read and navigate, as well as frame it in the appropriate context. Any elements that could distract, or worse, detract from that mission should be exorcised. I’ve tried to keep this in mind throughout both my projects in this class and outside of it, often with varying success. However, I feel that I am getting better at avoiding the temptation to overdesign and adhere to the mantra of “less is more.”

2. Stick to your color palette. Sticking to a small selection of colors that work well together will help you present a final product that is visually cohesive, even if other elements like content or photography must unavoidably vary. When putting together my Caz prototype, I found that I often had to go back in and change up the color scheme on certain sections in order to make the entire publication look more uniform. Sometimes it was a difficult, and even painful process, but the final product looks much more like many facets of one publication rather than a compilation of assorted sections.

3. Keep your potential viewer/reader in mind. Knowing just who is going to be reading the publication or website that you’re designing for makes a world of difference. Word choices, emphasis on particular imagery, and the selection of typefaces that will be put to use are all details that will be at least partially determined by who the audience is. The New Yorker and Wired have totally different aesthetics because both of those magazines are aimed at very different groups of people; they have a full understanding of who their audience is, and what they will prioritize and seek out when it comes to content. Being ahead of the curve in this aspect will help any news designer craft engaging stories in any medium that will reverberate with the desired audience far longer than someone who didn’t take the reader into consideration.

Of course, these are only three facets of the many lessons I learned about News Design. One of the most valuable effects this class has had on my artistic and journalistic process is that it has allowed me to view everything I’ve been working on through a very critical news design lens. I feel that my work continues to benefit from working out the visual storytelling inherent to good news design as I work on new stories, as well as visual projects such as infographics. I still have a lot to learn, but the building blocks this class has provided me will hopefully be reflected in all of my porfolio work going forward.

 

•••

1. I think that most important thing that I learned over the semester is know your audience. Between working on the Cazenovia prototype and Front Page Africa (which has two very different audiences), contouring design and editorial to audience taste was a challenge. It was two very individual projects that needed specific details and designs. That lesson was furthered at SND when I saw hundreds of papers covering the same topic in different ways. With One Degree (my Caz prototype), I tried to relate my content to a wide, educated and young audience. If I’m being honest, I never truly thought about news design contouring to the audience, but rather letting it work with the editorial. I’ve learned how important it is to let the editorial and design work in harmony.

2. Color is key. While working on my Caz prototype, I kept thinking to myself, “I don’t want there to be set colors. I want it to be consistently sporadic.” And, although I still find that true with what I’ve developed, I have learned to reel that in and focus on the colors that I am using. Throughout my final publication, the colors are consistent and carried throughout the publication.

3. Typography is incredibly important. Aside from focusing my color, I struggled throughout the semester to land the perfect typography, not only for my nameplate, but also good body copy. I kept choosing ones that I thought looked good together, but never truly studies. I guess I was making rash typeface decisions. It took me until the poster project to really grasp how vital typeface is to a publication, not only for aesthetic purposes, but also for overall consistence and publication identity.

I know that the list could go on (and on and on), but audience, color and typography are three of the biggest things that challenged and frustrated me the most. At times it felt limiting, like when choosing or scrutinizing the choices I made. In the end, however, I learned that color and typography are two of the most important things that a publication can offer, in addition to knowing how to use color and typefaces in relation to the publication’s audience.

 

•••

 

1. There are some people out there who really, REALLY like newspapers. I was I was surprised by how much people got into it at the SND judging. I guess that shouldn’t have surprised me, though, since it’s their job. But I had no idea that the news design community was so large, vocal, and passionate.
2. Use of color – I noticed that a lot of the foreign papers we looked at used color in ways that US papers don’t. Newspapers like “Dagens Nyheter,” “The Grid,” and “I” use color in for things like folios, drop caps, and pull quotes throughout the pages. It’s subtle, but it makes a big difference, and works as an eye-catcher.
3. I don’t really think I’d ever want to work for a newspaper. But definitely a magazine. I think newspapers/news design is a little too fast-paced for me. I like to take my time when I design things, so that I can really put thought into how they should look. While I learned in this class that you can still be very creative if you’re a news designer, I don’t think the lifestyle would be for me.

 

Prof. Strong