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November 01 2010

16:00

Getting lapped by innovation abroad? Mario Garcia’s path to better designed newspapers

In seeking out inspiration for its print redesign, Canada’s Globe and Mail didn’t look south of the border, as one might expect. Instead, the national daily focused its gaze overseas, pilfering design tips from newspapers in southern Europe, Latin America and Asia. Editor-in-chief John Stackhouse went so far as to call the U.S. market “fairly depressed in terms of newspaper innovation.” It doesn’t get more blunt than that.

Not to flog a dead horse, but newspaper design guru Mario Garcia reported a similar sentiment back in 2008, this time from an anonymous Indian editor expecting to ooh and ah while touring American newsrooms. The editor was less than impressed.

“I am disappointed, to be honest,” he told Garcia. “I went to the U.S. to learn, to get ideas on how to improve our newspapers here, but in every case, I was faced with newspapers that are hardly innovative. Why are American newspapers less willing to experiment, to take that leap into the future, to analyze their products and to adapt them to the realities of a multi-platform world?”

To be fair, that was two years ago and major dailies are, slowly but surely, becoming multi-platform vehicles. Still, the disappointment expressed by Stackhouse and the Indian editor speaks to what Garcia calls the general dearth of innovation in American newspaper design. For whatever reason — financial difficulties, tradition, sacred cows — American design innovation has stagnated. (For the record, design consultant Ron Reason is more optimistic than Garcia on the point.)

“When you look at newspaper design overseas — like Spain and Latin America — they’re much more adventurous, much more interesting, much more magazine-like,” Newsonomics author (and Lab contributor) Ken Doctor says. “It’s all about presentation; there’s a visual surprise.”

The surprise, however, has more to do with information architecture — how papers structure headlines and sections — rather than color and typography. “Pure design is just cosmetic,” Garcia told me last week. “It’s not going to solve the problem.”

Garcia, a sort of newspaper-design Carmen Sandiego, has consulted newsrooms in over 96 countries, including Hong Kong, where he’s currently working with the South China Morning Post, and Colombia, where he recently helped re-launch the Bogotá-based El Tiempo, which he chronicles, step-by-step, on his blog in refreshing and lengthy detail.

Garcia readily admits the continued (and often growing) interest in print overseas has given foreign newspapers some of its room to innovate. American editors are “plagued by a sense of malaise, that print is going to die,” Garcia says. Foreign newspapers, on the other hand, take a more carefree approach: As circulation increases, why not take some risks? The outcome might be a fresher, more navigable newspaper. “American newspapers think of death and dying; foreign newspapers think of birth and renewal,” Garcia says.

Over the course of our interview, Garcia laid out some design innovations popping up in the foreign market, citing the United Arab Emirates’ Gulf News, which devotes an entire, editor-run page to online citizen journalism, and New Delhi’s Hindustan Times, which reaches its millions of readers by publishing nearly 20 regional editions. It’s as if The New York Times ran an edition for each of New York’s five boroughs.

Foreign newsrooms, he argues, are well attuned to the newspaper’s role in the online/mobile/print/tablet nexus. Papers are usually considered supplementary, rather than top-dog, all-that-matters news sources. Here are three ways Garcia sees international newspapers innovating design:

Information architecture comes before design

In its redesign, El Tiempo eschews traditional sections in favor of a more guided approach. The paper splits into three sections: Debes Saber (What you must know); Debes Leer (What you must read); Debes Hacer (What you must do).

Debes Saber covers local, national, world, sports, and business news. Garcia describes it as the “kitchen,” where you hastily gather news over your morning coffee. Debes Leer, the “living room,” provides opinion and analysis; it’s the newspaper’s salon, a more leisurely, end-of-the-day read. Debes Hacer, the “outdoors,” covers health, fitness, food, and fashion.

Garcia writes in his blog that he was “thinking like a reader” when he sat down to help overhaul El Tiempo. Indeed, El Tiempo’s compartmentalization gets to a news consumer’s most basic needs. “It’s about how you get the content flowing better for people who have less time,” Garcia says.

Respect the cult of personality

“People desire to hear the opinions of others, even if it’s nonsense,” Garcia says. Analysis should be on the front page, not reserved for back-page editorial sections. English-language weekly The Moscow News, which will be relaunched as a daily — under Garcia’s guidance — in early 2011, will publish celebrity journalist commentary on A1. Garcia concedes American papers might find this unseemly — where’s the objectivity? where’s the integrity? — but a newspaper, he says, should be the most obvious place to find must-read writers.

Sound like tomorrow, not yesterday

“To find your place, you need to relinquish your time advantage,” Garcia says. Online provides the five w’s as they happen; print needs to find, and accept, its place as an ancillary source of information.

Foreign newspapers are less afraid to publish “headlines in the future tense, running second-day headlines on the first day,” Garcia says, pointing to Spain’s El Pais, which routinely pushes stories forward by focusing on what comes next, not what happened yesterday. More recently, The Independent’s Metro-style i, the UK’s first new national daily in quite some time, scatters snappy news briefs around ideas-driven articles, refusing to dwell on yesterday’s news .

American newsrooms may be handcuffed by traditions and finances. Garcia thinks they see him as an “interior decorator,” which may explain why he hasn’t consulted stateside in three years. But American editors, like Stackhouse, may be wise to pay attention to design changes in the foreign market: Before long, they may be the ones globetrotting to international newsrooms.

March 29 2010

18:07

Eye-Tracking Tablets And The Promise of Text 2.0 [Wired]

From Wired.com: “For example: What if those written words were watching you reading them and making adjustments accordingly? Eye-tracking technology and processor-packed tablets promise to react, based on how you’re looking at text – where you pause, how you stare, where you stop reading altogether – in a friction-reducing implementation of the Observer Effect. The act of reading will change what you are reading.”

Read More at Wired

[Hat tip to Journerdist Will Sullivan]

Share: Twitter Facebook del.icio.us Digg StumbleUpon Reddit Yahoo! Buzz FriendFeed NewsVine Mixx Suggest to Techmeme via Twitter MisterWong

January 15 2010

21:30

NO REAL NEWS IN HAITI, DEATH AND GARBAGE IN THE STREETS, AND ROBOTIC ONLINE JOURNALISM IN THE WEB

Mario García, the well known Cuban American newspaper designer, writes in his blog after a review on how the international press has done presenting the news from Haiti, and ends his post asking about the Haitian papers.

“Although I have tried to get a pdf of a Haitian newspaper, I have not been able to do so. Perhaps they are not even publishing, but if anyone has access to a Haitian newspaper, please do send me a pdf.”

Are you kidding?

Here in Wales, we had a lot of snow in the recent weeks, so milk was not deliver, posted mail was late, food supplies didn’t arrive… but John, our loyal and brave newspaper boy (that must be in his late 50’s), delivered the papers to our front door everyday.

With no excuses.

He is my hero!

But to ask about what the papers in Haiti are doing is too much.

Just go to the web and see what they have online.

It’s as tragic as the earthquake.

This country, yes, is very poor, so you cannot expect too much for their on and off line new operations.

And here is the proof from today’s homepages.

Life as normal?

Soft news day for the Haiti Star:

haiti star

Here, at least, the front a picture tells the real story:

Haiti en marche

The Haiti Progress, an “alternative” voice, is almost out of business, just talking about…Peru:

Haiti Progress

The Haitian Times is in real news business, but continues offering appropriate advertising when the population goes almost naked, and I suppose not too much interesting in lose weight:

HATINIAN TIMES

Le Nouvelliste does better than the rest, but still keeps a non sense poll that sounds like asking a dying country if they prefer to have holidays in the French Riviera or Cascais:

Le Nouvelliste

And they have created this special bare website that delivers real pictures and real news from the chaos.

Help.Haiti

So I don’t know Mario about any print papers here, but don’t expect too much.

If, as Leo Bogart used to say, “the crisis of newspapers is always the crisis of their cities”, Haiti is a dead matket.

November 20 2009

10:23

What if a newspaper was designed using principles of user experience design?

What if a newspaper was designed using principles of web user experience design*? That’s the question that design agency Information Architects asked themselves when they put together a pitch for Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger. They lost the pitch, but the blog post about their ideas is fascinating reading for anyone interested in usability and reinventing the print package for a multiplatform world.

front page

Their innovations included making the text scannable with blue text for key words (see above), high contrast, and being limited to two fonts. They cleaned up the logo (optimising it, essentially), and printed comments next to the articles they commented on. The blog post contains lots more images. In addition, they’ve put the original PDFs of their pitch online too – linked below:

Garcia Media has more context including why Garcia felt they failed.

H/t: Adrian Short. *I should have said user experience design not web design, which was the original headline.

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