Just before London, a look back at Beijing

Seeking outside wisdom to improving visual reporting

By Shu Hong,
Art Director, Beijing News

During the 2008 Olympic Games, the Beijing News Agency invited an American consultant to advise our visual reporting for our coverage of the Games.

During this period, the consultant worked with us deep into the night. In addition to steering our photography, he gave us some good advice about how to use photos in layout.

Before the Beijing Olympics, we used cutout photos frequently in the sports pages. However, we were given good examples of visual reporting from some international newspapers and learned more about photographic ethics. We learned to be cautious about cutouts and keep backgrounds intact in sports photography.

With some direction, our page designer advanced in editing photo pages, both in understanding and practice.

 

The long paper—smart and informed

By Qingjun Zhang,  Director of Visual Design Center, Liaoning News Media Group

The back page of the Liaoshen Evening News was made of Olympic historical records, and it was extremely difficult to finish. We had two visual strategies: One was that we needed to have a creative breakthrough, and the other was that a big difference was necessary for the whole typeset.

The original idea for the frame of this special edition was based on historical records, which were basic annuals — ranks of family — and column books that form five sections. Historical records were the first historical books presented in a series of biographies in ancient China. As the original thought for the Olympic edition page, it not only showed the Chinese culture but also presented the human spirit  of the Olympics and enhanced the newspaper’s thick sense.

In style, it was designed to reference ancient civilization. In content, there were comments with characters done freehand and fantastic pictures presented on the page.

In the performance of creation, we chose inscribed bamboo-slips, which stand for ancient Chinese culture. The first problem to solve was how to deal with the image quality from the original work. The staff did the research on where to find second hand markets to buy inscribed bamboo-slips. Finally, we found out a very small bamboo slip in Huaiyuanmen Market, which was for sale for RMB 180 (about $28). We bought it for RMB 100 (about $15).

For design, we had two goals: to keep it bold and simple, and to add modern elements to keep the design fresh. The original shape of inscribed bamboo-slips is different than you would think. In order to enlarge the inscribed bamboo-slips, the designer had to skillfully combine the Olympic elements with the inscribed bamboo-slips in Photoshop. To keep with the old, simple style, the character portraits were detailed by bamboo carving. Detail is the key to success. The artist had to be very careful in dealing with the veins of long papers and the connections among lines.

For the words, the designer searched for many of the historical words on the inscribed bamboo-slips. On the back of 16 continuous pages, we integrated Apsaras (female spirit) with the Olympic rings, which showed the elegant demeanor of athletes from around the world.

This paper was a big challenge for our visuals team, but it was also an important creation to achieve success.

Wang Daokun, CEO of Guangzhou papers, and one of the earliest designers of Chinese papers said, “One (characteristic) for modern papers is the capacity and efficiency to face big events. It means teamwork, creativity and original thought. This work has shown all of these capacities. The Olympic (edition) of Liaoshen Evening did an amazing (job) in direction, organization and the form where 16 continuous pages formed a very big (presentation)…. The arrangement of words was ordered and the integration of the inscribed bamboo-slips and Apsars was just right.”

Most importantly, the paper was full of culture. The pictures and the words together formed a perfect whole piece.