Syracuse student Lizzie Hart chats upcoming Daily Orange print redesign

[Editor’s note: Lizzie Hart — a junior at Syracuse University and presentation director of its student newspaper, The Daily Orange — is leading the paper through a redesign of its print edition. In this periodic series, she’ll chat about the successes and challenges she runs into along the way.]

The Daily Orange, the independent student-run newspaper of Syracuse University, goes through a redesign about every eight years or so. Coming up on its 110th anniversary, the D.O. is one of the oldest independent student-run papers in the country.

I’m currently the presentation director of The Daily Orange and am in charge of the redesign. I started off at The Daily Orange  my freshman year as a design editor. I am now a junior and in my second semester as presentation director. I’m studying graphic design in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. This summer I interned in the art department at WIRED magazine. I tend to lean more toward a feature-like style in my designs, which is being translated into the Daily Orange redesign.

The Daily Orange's flag, designed by Jim Parkinson. (Chase Gaewski/The Daily Orange)
The Daily Orange’s flag, designed by Jim Parkinson. (Chase Gaewski/The Daily Orange)

With the upcoming redesign, we hope to give the paper a more modern look, add more entry points and improve certain sections of the paper. We decided that we liked the old school, classic feel of our current flag designed by Jim Parkinson and want to keep it. This helped to shape our overall aesthetic. The Daily Orange’s current design is clean and sharp. We don’t want to lose this classic look, but we do want the paper to appeal to our audience of college-aged readers.

We began our discussions about the redesign last year and are still figuring out the best workflow for designing. We started with a committee of designers and representatives from each section, but found there were too many opinions and we couldn’t move forward. This semester we created a new committee, which includes a former presentation director, the editor-in-chief, Casey, the managing editor, Maddy, two alumni representatives, Katie and Lesley, both former Presentation Directors. It is hard finding a balance between involving the staff too little and too much, but so far, a more intimate group has led to more productive conversations.

Our photo team did a review of the paper and analyzed which they thought were most eye catching and successful above the fold. (Sam Maller/The Daily Orange)
Our photo team did a review of the paper and analyzed which they thought were most eye catching and successful above the fold. (Sam Maller/The Daily Orange)

I am now trying to delegate tasks to my six designers. The first assignment I gave them was to identify their favorite typefaces they would use to replace our current ones. As our drafts become more complete I hope to show them to the staff and get their feedback as well.

It is very important to me that our decisions are backed up through polling, as we can’t lose sight of the fact that we are doing this for our readers. Our former management team met with student groups and worked with a group on campus to conduct a non-readership survey we are using to guide some of our decisions. We also plan to post an online survey for our student body to fill out and hold focus groups to get more feedback in-person.

The most challenging thing for me has been sticking to a timeline and resisting my desire to start from scratch whenever I get a new idea.

The redesign is scheduled to debut in the spring semester.

About Lizzie Hart

is a student at Syracuse University and the presentation director at the Daily Orange.

3 comments

This effort, like all redesigns, seems to have some problems built in. First, a panel consisting mainly of current and former presentation directors is not going to come up with something geared to readers.

Next: “to conduct a non-readership survey” — So, does this mean what it seems? You are going to rely on the thoughts of non-readers to determine what your readers get? Seriously? You already have the non-reader angle covered with the presentation directors on your panel.

So, right now, your decisions are being guided by non-readers and designers. Probably not a good way to get a publication that people will read.

Just picking “favorite” typefaces is not a great way to identify the best typefaces. It’s clear your redesign is going to fall into the same trap that many college redesigns do. You will spend so much time obsessing over tiny details that when the plan finally is implemented, there will be little time for the current staff to fix the myriad, inevitable problems resulting from (1) obsessing over tiny details; and (2) listening only to designers and other non-readers.

Finally, your existing front pages seem to have too many design taboos. Far too much unreadable reverse type. One page even has white type on bright tiles. Seriously? Someone thought this would be read? You should have a large pool of non-readers!

Advice: Get some input from some actual readers and some text-oriented people. Just focusing on typefaces is silly. Wrap up your process — it seems to be taking way too long, and you will need time to make repairs.

Scrap the non-reader survey. I am still smiling about that one. A “non-reader” survey! That one has to be among the “better” ideas of non-reading designers.

Robert,

Although I seldom agree with your opinions on design and the role of designers in newsrooms, I do believe that it is healthy to have opposing viewpoints and healthy debate.

That said, I find the tone of your comment on this blog completely out of line. Lizzie is a design student who is still learning as she guides her college newsroom through the redesign process. It isn’t going to be perfect, and it’s going to be an evolving process, and that’s exactly what it should be.

Some of your feedback is actually constructive, but it gets completely lost in the editorialization and snark. You don’t like designers, fine, we get it. Come after me, come after other professionals whose work is mentioned on this site, but please don’t go after students.

Thanks,

Kyle Ellis
Digital Director

Interesting. I would counter with this:

(1) The habits people develop at that stage are generally the ones they take with them to the next level. Relying on non-readers and favorite typefaces is part of a trend that newspapers can’t afford to continue. More on that later.

(2) Lengthy, time-consuming redesigns are unfair to the other students trying to get experience at the college paper. I saw this happen at my own paper, and that was before I saw the light on how utterly destructive the design-based approach can be to a newsroom. If you are constantly locked in meetings on typefaces or with non-reader focus groups, you should think seriously about whether you’re in journalism for the best reasons. Otherwise you’re just planning on taking the same baggage to the next level. (See #1.)

(3) As generally happens, you personalize the criticism of bad ideas. Sorry, but I burned the “nice” gloves after the 256th time of hearing a designer spend half a shift complaining about how “no one” would read the articles. I also have witnessed a lot of pointed criticism emerging from the design arena. You get what you give. Don’t like it? Change. Express better ideas. A panel of non-readers is an awful idea. It’s simply a way to justify more design-based nonsense.

(4) It’d be easier for the design side to make an argument if all the evidence weren’t against you. Circulation decline — against. Credibility surveys — against. Studies show it’s far harder to read white type on a colored background, but yet here it is yet again in multiple editions. The list goes on.

(5) Newspapers don’t have the resources for this kind of thing. They never did. For example, I saw at the pretend journo site where someone spent 70 hours on a graphic. One graphic — almost two work weeks. James Franco probably cut through his arm in less time. That stuff can’t continue to happen. The people who signed off on that should be pink-slipped today, and the pretend journo praising it should be ridiculed.

I get it — some designers decided back in the 1970s they didn’t like the way newspapers did things, so they came up with ways to marginalize the things they didn’t like. They got newsrooms to buy into it. The appearance improved, but that was like black tar heroin to newsroom execs. They kept going for the rush while they were destroying their long-term functionality. Decades later, we see the results: Readers left in droves. Credibility plummeted. Who knows how many issues are no longer covered. The list goes on. Can’t continue. Sensible organizations don’t operate like that.

(6) The “way this is expressed” stuff passed the deflection stage a long time ago. It also smacks of projection. (See #3.) There are some things right about design, but all of that gets lost in the constant bid to add more doodads (as one paper called it) and to do anything that means less editing, but never actually defined as less editing. That’s a chicken—- approach.

Anyway, we’re getting away from the point, which is usually the goal with these “way it is expressed” deflection tactics. The points of my initial post remain the same: Focusing on tiny details is not going to be a long-term solution. The span at a student paper is finite; spending months on a redesign process is a poor use of time. Identify some typefaces. Make them readable — even “real” papers have trouble with this. Don’t reduce the size or do things that make the type seem smaller and then blame the readers. Real papers have trouble with that, too. Do a test edition. Fix the problems. Implement the plan. Move on to actual journalism.

In short, do something that focuses on readers.

P.S.: Let me know when readers start rushing to the aisles for the pretty designs.

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