What Should the Good Newspaper Be: Design, Layout, Content

After content, design is the most important element of a successful newspaper. This was realized more than 35 years ago (in 1978) in the United States, where the Society for Newspaper Design emerged. It was later renamed the Society for news design (SND).

In 1990 the results of the first EyeTrack research showed that 80% of the readers perceive the general look (design, if you will) of the page first, 75% look at the photos second, then headlines – 56%, photo captions, and outtakes – 29%. At the same time, the main focus is on the texts – 25%.

Already these figures show that bad design, low-quality photos, and weak illustrations kill good texts.

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The editors of successful newspapers, on the other hand, are very reverent about the above points. For example, Gale Green, managing editor of the National Post (Canada), wrote five years ago, “Illustrations, design, are part of storytelling. And editors and designers work well when they think together about the best visual realization of it. How much design should there be? Would the story be more accessible to the reader with visual breakdowns and boxes? How about fact boxes? Or graphs?

Editors play a major role in the design process because they know the texts and how those texts should be presented best. If they ask these kinds of questions, the stories we’re trying to tell only benefit.

Even the most beautiful and powerful texts put on the page without illustrations, visual attention-getting will drown, will pass the reader by. Similarly, a beautiful and stylish design that has nothing to do with the text will only hold the reader’s attention for a second. Editors and designers need to work together to make sure the content fits the design, inspire each other, push the boundaries of creativity, and raise the level of visual and textual journalism in the publication.

And here it is very important that the editor be able to imagine what his story might look like on the page, by what means it might be played out, already at the moment when he is just gathering information. He must then lay out his vision to the designer so that the impact will be as effective as possible. For the reader, it is not only the word that matters but also how it looks. There are known cases when a long text about an event was replaced at the last moment by a spectacular photo with small comments. And this caused a greater resonance among the audience. Or a story in words was smoothly transformed into an infographic, a visualized story. Maybe, it is not necessary that the designer should begin to write and the journalist – to draw, but it is great when each of the members of a team knows a little more than is stipulated by his direct duties. Such knowledge undoubtedly adds to the effectiveness of working together.

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Why shouldn’t newspaper design be approached formally today? Why is design gradually becoming more and more important to any print publication?

The struggle of newspaper publishers for the reader is becoming more and more heated by the day. The era of “solid reading” has been replaced by the era of “selective reading. The reader no longer reads every phrase on the page but stops at what is most interesting. Modern newspapers, competing with other print media, borrow a lot from the more attractive design of magazines and Internet resources. Using the design, newspapermen try to control the reader’s attention.

The newspaper layout designer’s task is to present the material in such a way that everything on the page looks natural and organic, that one wants to read the texts and look at the pictures. Free magazine mockup is a great tool to check the compatibility of the content and images.

The journalist must be able not only to think up a headline but also highlight subheadings, tags, inserts, important quotes. Everyone involved in the process must follow the general rules of pitching and layout.

The designer should have a feel for the optimal allowable size of the photo on the page. One photo can be put large, the other not. If we have a high-quality photo in front of us, framing is undesirable. Conversely, poor-quality photos can be improved by trimming them competently. Headers should also be placed wisely, especially on photos. This method can “kill” even an excellent photo.


The appearance of a publication should correspond to its content. Practice shows that the design developed for a weekly is hardly suitable for a daily newspaper. Alas, there were such examples, but nothing good came of it.

In a well-designed newspaper, everything is beautifully, logically, and conveniently organized. And this can be not only the merit of the designer and layout designer. The presentation of the material should start with the journalists and be supported by the efforts of the entire editorial staff.