The Crimson

Print Design

Date

May - September 2018

Duration

5 months

Team

Simon Sun, Derek Xiao, Hannah Natanson, Morgan Spaulding, Hanna Kim, Truelian Lee, Elena Ramos, Brian Yu

Tools

InDesign

Introduction

When I first joined the Crimson’s design board in 2015 as a freshman associate designer, designing for the daily paper was a test of faith: there was no written style guide, rules and guidelines were passed down by word-of-mouth and quick trial-by-fire demonstrations to new designers, and quick turnarounds meant there was little room for creativity or innovation. The board leadership had just redesigned the daily layout earlier that year, and as such the previous style guide-- written in 2004, when the paper just began being printed in full color-- was discarded, but no replacement was procured. The lack of that consistent design language was a hot topic for the 3 years I spent in the organization, among many other imperfections brought about by that redesign.

When I was elected Design Chair in 2018, I had run for the position on the basis of finally producing that style guide. However, after discussing the state of design with other executives, we opted to go for a full redesign in addition to publishing the style guide, an effort that was conducted largely remotely over the summer between myself, my co-chair, the President, the Managing Editor, and a small team of four other designers.

Research

Prior to making any design decisions, we conducted some surface-level qualitative research. This consisted of one-on-one interviews with the Chairs of each content board (news, arts, sports, multimedia, editorial) to determine their issues with the current daily design, as well as content analysis of each specific page of the daily paper and a historical review of the 2004 style guide. We also drew from our existing experiences as designers working on the daily layout.

Research Questions

  • What were the pain points during the daily production process?
  • What are the drawbacks and successes of the current design?
  • What do content boards want the design of their content to look like?

Key Insights

  • Designers were frustrated by the lack of visual diversity and flexibility on the front page. Front page designs have been stagnant, dominated by the “thirds” design with little to no variation from the standard “3 photos per third” layout. No creative elements caused every issue to look fundamentally similar. News board was frustrated by the high frequency of single column headlines on the front page, which made flowing in content difficult, and for more distinctive layouts for feature stories. Designers wished for more opportunities to “step outside the box” with features.
  • Non-news content did not have a way to be featured on the front page. Arts wished for more prominent placements on their days of publication.
  • Sports wished for additional stats and photos to be shown.
  • Editorial content often would not fit the page and the newly created illustration board did not have sufficient space on the ed page.
  • Overall framework and professional feel are successful. Changes to fonts, colors, and ordering of content should be kept to a minimum.

Design goals

We synthesized our findings into 3 main goals
  • Flexibility: make it easier for designers to flow in content and fit the page regardless of content type, word count, story priority, photo size, ads, and other such parameters; empower designers to have room for creativity
  • Variation: ensure that readers do not see similar repetitive layouts within a reasonable time frame; break up monotony and avoid “walls of text”
  • Representation: ensure that all content boards have their content shown and that contributors are more prominently given credit, whether that be designers, writers, or photographers

Design

Each designer took charge of a specific area of the redesign after group discussion, with the Chairs and President overseeing the whole. I took charge of redesigning the front page.
View Style Guide

Major Changes

  • Switched to 6 columns from 5
  • Added “honeyboxes” to provide possibilities for additional information
  • Created templates/formats for coverage packages and feature stories
  • Added subheadlines
  • Created a section on the front page for Arts when they publish
  • Reformatted editorial page to allow for illustrations and longer content

Reflections

While I am proud of my work on this project, having the knowledge of the design process that I now have would have benefited tremendously. For instance, we were unable to conduct much deeper research due to the accelerated timeline at the end of the school year, as well as my limited understanding of design research at the time. In retrospect, I would have done deeper interviews with the boards, conducted some research with the design board as a whole rather than relying on my own experience, and looked into some focus groups with readers (a survey, perhaps), in service of asking additional research questions about readers’ experiences. Another place for improvement would be the user testing phase. We did a soft launch of the redesign during the week before the semester started, making tweaks along the way, but this was the first use of the layout, and it would have benefitted from internal testing beforehand, for instance by bringing in designers not involved in the project.