Image via WikipediaMy post earlier this week about the days of makeup and SprayMount drew a couple of starry-eyed comments from fellow ancients who could remember the smell of galley being pasted down onto board, which was lovely. But a link I got from Nieman Labs yesterday night really made me stop and think about these things. Bear with me, this might just be relevant somehow, in some way.
Digital design agency Information Architects took part in a pitch to redesign Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger and lost the pitch in what they describe, rightly IMHO, as a ‘beautiful failure’. They had applied ‘new world’ design thinking to a newspaper. And golly, what an interesting set of ideas they presented. Their piece on it is linked here and I do recommend a read.
Newspaper design has long been predicated on the need to control the readers’ eyes, big bold headlines scream important story, type is arranged to give the reader a progression through the page, elements are balanced so that readers’ eyes find information in a logical, flowing way. Typography is used to denote importance – a bold cap in white space draws attention, an italic caption under a picture is an element we recognise and expect. In fact, if the text floating immediately under a picture weren’t a caption, we’d be wrong-footed by the discontinuity.
But Information Architects did a brilliant thing. They designed their newspaper as a paper for a digital age reader, recognising the fact that our habits, our expectations of the format of content, have changed.
The first thing that really got me going was that they had put important text keywords in blue. I thought that was amazing. Although, obviously, paper doesn’t hyperlink, we now know what blue means – it means a keyword. Together with their decision to go for a big body text with big leading, this meant their proposed body copy didn’t look like a newspaper. But IA had already realised that: they took the conscious decision to throw out ‘conventional’ newspaper design – the idea that a newspaper should somehow follow rules that made it look like a newspaper.
They did a lot of other cool stuff, too – mixing column formats and using infographics, big pictures and left to right, top to bottom prioritisation of stories, much of which was informed by using a ‘web-centric’ approach to design. But it’s the blue keywords that would have been a ‘beautiful’ revolution.
While you obviously can’t click on the blue words in the paper, IA’s idea was that by scanning these keywords, you should be able to read the basic, core, news on the page in 10 seconds. The paper’s website would mirror these keywords with a link to a series of sub-links arranged chronologically. That’s a huge decision, meaning that the journalist, or in this unfair world the sub-editor, would have to pick out the keywords for the reader – a new skill in itself. And then the web team would have to work with those words to provide depth and context behind them (something you could see a technology like Zemanta taking a role in). It’s an exhilarating idea that links print to web and challenges the way that information is presented, managed and prioritised by the ‘traditional’ medium because it recognises the way we have changed in the way we browse, consume and identify information.
(Zemanta is a cool plug-in I use to provide me with contextual information related to blog posts - it selects copyright-free images for me to use and provides 'autolinks' for posts. I don't usually use the links but I did in this post both to 'blueify' it and also to show how a technology like Zemanta could be used to help automate the production of links for a project like Information Architects' newspaper. Okay, okay I'll be a good boy and get back to the snarky, goofy stuff next week, promise.)