Better graphics in The New York Times Magazine
While the Times is an industry leader and usually very well respected, the graphic design and art direction in The New York Times Magazine could be improved by adhering to the principles of infographics and design. On 'The Page One Magazine' are examples of too-small point size, low contrast text, and charts arranged without reason.
Design Exercise: Get a copy of the Sunday NYTimes and critique the page design and layout.
• Graphic Design (visual communication) is not about making text and images pretty or arranging elements on a page, it's about clarifying the message for the benefit of the target audience.
• The purpose of infographics is to facilitate understanding, minimize confusion, and ease the work of the reader.
• Great designers make design decisions from the POV of the reader, not themselves.
Unappealing email newsletter and how to make it better
I get this email newsletter, Times Insider, each week. All I see on the screen is a standard format old-school letter. Not appealing nor does it pique my interest. Click, Delete. Done.
Instead of a letter that I don't want to read (who does?), they could easily jump right to the lead story - the headline and the visual are much more interesting.
The letter is ego-driven - the editor tells us what she likes and is putting in this issue. Does the reader care who the editor is and how she introduces stories? Old-School Journalism - copy to read linearly. Today's readers scan, they jump to what is appealing. Repeat: letters of text only are no longer appealing.
Below: Because of the useless letter and the large photo, look how far down the reader must scroll to get to the first headline.
Some examples of poor chart design
Unnecessary inconsiderate legend
Below: three options to improve communication and clarity.
Tip: Avoid legends when feasible. Note: it is very often feasible.
Poor readability: all caps, condensed font, tight kerning, poor contrast, small point size
Randomly arranged charts
Why are the countries arranged in that order? I can't find a reason - it just seems random.
There are two better options:
1. Alphabetical - allows the reader to more easily find a specific country.
2. By amplitude - least to maximum - allows the reader to compare and rank nations.
Below: The heading, Brand by Maximum is incorrect.
Original version should be Brand with Maximum - as it is not (Arranged) by maximum.
The poll question was Do you sing in the shower? But, that isn't what was in the headline. Why not? If the headline is accurate, there is no need to repeat the question at the end of the body copy. The regular reader knows this feature is results from a poll. I suspect most don't read the copy - they read the question and view the results.
• Changed the headline to be more accurate and clearer.
• Deleted the repeat of the question in the copy.
• Reset the text copy with a narrower column width.
• Enlarged the result captions to be easier to read.
• Put the results in ascending order and aligned, not a random placement.
Arrangement of elements in a list
Why the maze to decipher - is this the puzzle page? A test?
No, it's a chart of information that shows odd requests made by teams of their hotel.
Better options: Below left: improved. Right, even better:
1. Straight links to clearly communicate the content.
2. Alphabetized list of countries to improve finding a particular one.
3. No horizontal and vertical graphic lines. There is no need for the overused outdated vertical line to separate the black disk from the heading. Nor does the line beneath the heading serve any purpose. If a graphic element serves no purpose, it is just crap - clutter that the reader has to process and then ignore.
Another example of poor arrangement
In the original graph on the left - notice the bent lines that lead the eye away from the item being referenced. Sup? I can't think of any reason why a designer would think that those angled lines improve comprehension of the message or the aesthetics of the image. They just detract and confuse. The tweaked version on the right is clearer and more appealing.
Flush left alignment of elements in a chart
The graph in the middle of the page is a comparison of games per month. To visually clarify a comparison, it helps to align the icons so that the width of each row starts from the same zero point. As printed in The Magazine (left), there is inconsistent spacing and an awkward alignment. There is no advantage to having the months aligned left - we can easily scan the list.
Tip: Align the elements that convey the message content, not the message labels.
Garamond is a beautiful typeface. The original face by Claude Garamond has inspired numerous current faces. However, the letter 'h' becomes a 'b' when italicized. It reads okay in the sample below, primarily because of the large point size and its within a common word - The.
Tip: Be careful selecting/specifying Garamond if there will be an Italic 'h' in the copy.
Placing text over image
Rarely does this work. The dimensionality of the image is flattened by placing text on top. Contrast and clarity is usually impaired
Tip: If you want the image to be seen, don't put text over it. If you want the text to be read, don't put an image behind.
Weak ads on the back cover of The New York Times Magazine
Not from the Magazine's design staff, but some more good design lessons.
The concept of the ad is apparently that this new terminal at New York's JFK Airport has been designed for a world class experience while traveling. The target market is those who spend more time in airports than the casual traveler. But, traveling has become more of a hassle. American Airlines, according to this full page ad is not countering that hassle.
Take a good look at the photograph: cold, long walkways, no moving sidewalk, no courtesy carts, no gate destination in view. Not a single seated person. We don't even see many inviting seating areas. Each traveler is pulling or carrying luggage, on a polished hard floor.
There is just nothing appealing in this photo that would appeal to a world traveler. In fact, it supports the notion that traveling is now a chore and not as much fun as it used to be.
The copy reads, "Experience a terminal like no other." Thank God. Hopefully, other terminals are better than the one depicted in this ad.
Lesson: all elements in a design piece should support and enhance its basic concept.
Those elements include typography, layout composition, color, photographs, logos. The photograph in the AA ad does not enhance the concept of world class design for travelers.
Assuming the photo was appropriate and did enhance the concept, there is another lesson here:
Align elements to provide greater integration and order within a composition.
Notice how the flush-left headline below aligns with elements above it in the photograph, but the smaller flush-right text copy does not. The example below on the right has been altered so that the text copy also aligns with photographic elements. A blog reader posted that she even saw a house - conveying the subtle subliminal message that the terminal has the comfort and security of home.
We assume the concept here is to contrast the experience while in an airport lounge to that of the airplane itself - the lounge is more refined. This ad should contrast the experience of sitting in rows on an airplane to the freedom of sitting in a comfortable lounge. The photo, however, shows rigid, monotonous rows, just like on an airplane.
Better: shoot the photograph from an angle that diminishes the alignment of the rows and enhances the openness of the lounge. Maybe more warm colors (like those shown in the background) and less view of an airplane.