A picture is worth 1,001 words

NationalComposite“Arabian Nights” (Arabic: كتاب ألف ليلة وليلة‎ Kitāb alf laylah wa-laylah), is a large collection of West and South Asian folk stories from the Islamic Golden Era (8th-13th centuries). Every evening, a beautiful bride called Scheherazade begins to tell a tale to her husband, the king, but does not end it in order to hold his attention and prevent him from killing her and replacing her with another woman the next day. She only tells the end at the beginning of the following night, but immediately begins a new story. So it goes for 1,001 nights.

Just like Scheherezade tried to captivate her husband’s attention for 1,001 nights and beyond, a recent special edition from The National, an English-language newspaper based in Abu Dhabi, UAE, aimed to surprise readers on every page. Imagine a newspaper edition with only images: that’s what The National just pulled off.

To celebrate its sixth anniversary (April 17, 2014), The National offered a completely visual edition: only photos, graphics, illustrations and headlines captured the news in a one-off collector’s edition. The entire edition was printed in glossy newsprint to highlight the visuals. The only words used with the images were made available through QR codes at the top of every page that readers could scan with their smartphones.

laurakootArt director and managing editor Laura Koot spoke to SND about the work that went into this challenging project:

How was the idea born?
Our new editor-in-chief, Mohammed Al Otaiba, had a vision. He wanted to prove that old adage “A picture is worth 1,000 words.”

How far in advance was planning started?
We worked on it in earnest for about one month. The planning was the biggest part. We had to identify all the challenges and address them. We wanted to make sure the paper was still informative, educational and entertaining – all the things we strive for every day. But in this case there still had to be some hierarchy, some flow, and navigation. It took some trial and error to find solutions that now seem very obvious. But that’s the mark of a success, I think.

There are a plenty of graphics. How many infographic artists were assigned to do the graphics?
That was the work of two — count ’em two(!) — infographic artists. But several editors really stepped up to ensure we had all the data we needed to do the work which really helped us keep to our deadlines.

How did the design and photo desks work together?
We work great together -– we would never have been able to do this project otherwise! We operate with a designer and a photo editor dedicated to each section of the paper. Obviously the interests of design and photo often align. Our photo editor, Brian Kerrigan, and his deputy, Mark Asquith, deserve serious praise for their commitment to this project.

Some design departments in newspapers still struggle to have their voices heard in the newsroom. How strong is the design department’s voice at The National?
I think as long as we continue to offer solutions and present ideas that get people excited we will always have a strong voice.

What is this project’s lesson?
It forced every single person in the newsroom to think visually for a whole day. It is easy for us designy-types to forget that not everyone sees things through the same lens we do. And we get frustrated. But during this project all the editors wanted to succeed and they were much more open to understanding our ideas and processes. I think we will see these lessons pay off in daily production for the days and weeks to come. Plus it was a ton of fun!

Click here for the explanation of QR codes

City: Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Format: Daily broadsheet
Founded: April 17, 2008
Language: English
Editor-in-chief: Mohammed Al Otaiba
Art Director and Managing editor: Laura Koot
Graphic project: Lucie Lacava

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