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Layout tips via The Vermont Cynic

March 5, 2008

Each week, I critique The Vermont Cynic, the student-produced newspaper of the University of Vermont, to try to help UVM’s print journalists improve their product. This week, I’m looking a bit closer than usual at layout and design.

Here’s what showed up in this week’s paper:

Original Page 1

The cover page, as produced, was quite good: sharp color, an interesting photo and a dynamite news mix. The page also showed good use of dominant art with that large photo of Chelsea Clinton. It jumped to equally good layout on pages 2 and 3 (below).

While I saw the value of the pages as produced, I’d like to add a lead headline to indicate which story is the most important and make sure all headlines fill out their designated space. I’d also like to rethink art: I like the clock-camera photo, but it’s pretty small (and is likely 72 dpi and can’t be increased), and the “popo” picture is a bit hard to see. I’d also like to rethink the wording of the headlines: to remove the accusatory nature of the “Freshman films” head, eliminate “girls” (because 20-year-olds aren’t girls at all) and make the bottom headline clearer, more to the point and exploding with specifics.

Then, when it comes to pages 2 and 3, I want to eliminate some gray and introduce a few more graphic elements to add points of entry for readers.

Original Page 2

Original Page 3

Page Redesign 1:

Of the two modifications I created, this modified layout most closely resembles the editors’ original layout. I’ve added a lead headline with clarifying subhead, given the Clinton story more of a feature treatment and used a 1.5-column format for the voyeur story. My bottom headline aims to be more specific about the events happening in that hall. Page 2 would require additional work from photographers or graphics to tell more about the crime. (I’ve suggested a map of the bathrooms as they related to the students’ rooms, which is available on the UVM Web site but would need to be simplified, or simply a photograph of the placement of the clock-camera.) It’s important to give readers lots of places to “enter” each page: stories, text boxes, info boxes, maps, photos and more.

Redo 1 Page 1

Redo 1 Page 2

Redo 1 Page 3

Page Redesign 2:

This final layout is my personal favorite. It has a nicely dominant headline and two new photos. I’ve moved the tiny, hard-to-see clock photo inside and replaced it with a larger, easier-to-see “scene-of-the-crime” photo. Clinton gets even more feature treatment, and I’ve tried a new headline at the bottom. Pages 2 and 3 of this layout have multiple points of entry, which means we would likely get more readers into those pages. I’ve also replaced the page 3 graffiti photo with a photo that includes passersby because I believe the human element adds something important to the photo and to the page.

Redo 2 Page 1

Redo 2 Page 2

Redo 2 Page 3

Now, layout is in many ways subjective, but in my attempts I’ve added some of the basics:

  • A lead headline to direct the reader’s eye.
  • Multiple points of entry.
  • Larger, more prominent elements at the top progressing to smaller, less prominent elements at the bottom of each page, indicating the importance of elements on each page.
  • Headlines that do not accuse or, if they do, attribute the accuser (e.g.: “Cops”).

I spent part of today showing these layouts to my students. The majority preferred one of the two redesigned layouts: about half preferred Redesign 1 and about half preferred Redesign 2. As I say, layout is subjective.

But it’s fun to experiment.

[Be sure to check out all the stories in this week’s Cynic at]

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