• Byshyp.com
  • Blog, pix, and interactive Choose Your Own Adventure!
  • The Sneeze
  • Half zine. Half blog. Half not good with fractions.
  • Oddio Overplay
  • A great compendium of strange and wonderful music sites all over the Web... also offers a few free MP3s.
  • Fingertips
  • The intelligent guide to free & legal music on the Web.
  • Fa La La La La
  • Preserving memories of Christmas vinyl past. They post a new seasonal song every day from Dec. 1 until Xmas Day.
  • WMFU's Beware of the Blog
  • The blog of the freeform radio station of the nation. Amazing MP3s & videos to be had here.
  • E.C. Brown MP3 Links Archive
  • A comprehensive guide to sites which offer free & legal audio for download.
  • Music You (Possibly) Won't Hear Anyplace Else
  • Lotsa great old blues and big band MP3s here, plus a few surprises.
  • Spoilt Victorian Child
  • Interesting indie bands featured here.
  • Bubblegum Machine
  • If it features hand claps, cow bells, syrupy orchestration, walls of sound, wrecking crews, sha-la-las, toothy teen idols, candy-based metaphors for carnal acts or lyrics about hugging, squeezing and rocking all night long, it's in.
  • Talking History
  • A weekly broadcast/internet radio program that focuses on all aspects of history.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Real-World Graphic Design Tips

As a mild-mannered designer for a major metropolitan newspaper, I am often asked, "So, what does it take to break into the glamorous field of newspaper graphic design? Do I need a college degree?" I always chuckle at the naƮvete of these folks. I went that route. I took classes at a respected university, where I studied stuff like color theory, principles of design, and typography. Turns out, those things almost never come up in my day-to-day job. They might be handy if you plan on working at some high-toned magazine like "Newsweek," "Wired," or "High Times." But here in the trenches, struggling with the grind of churning out a medium-sized daily rag, printed on paper that's just one step away from Charmin, you need to learn different skills. So here are my pointers, based on ten years of hard-won experience. If someone had told me this years ago, I could have saved a lot of tuition. Or, better yet, changed my major.

First and foremost, always please the advertiser, not the consumer. Subscribers be damned; this is an advertiser-driven business, and the advertiser is paying your salary. Of course, the consumer is paying his, but let's not quibble. So what if the ad is confusing, misleading, or just plain fraudulent? Every advertiser secretly (or not so secretly) believes that he is a much better designer than you are. He made flyers for his niece's 10th birthday party last year, and everyone agreed that they were wonderfully done. Pick a few cool fonts, steal some photos from the Internet, slap on a funny clip art cartoon of an anthropomorphic... well, anything, and you're done. What's so hard about that? All you have to do is take that fax of a photocopy of a layout he'd scribbled on a dirty napkin, and reproduce it. Sure, he made it a completely different size and shape that the actual ad will be, and he didn't include all of the information that he wants to fit in it (that's on a separate five-page fax that he plans to send you an hour before deadline), but otherwise, it's pretty close. Most of that information will be of great importance to the advertiser, yet precious little of it will be anything that a likely consumer would care a flying fig about. That is not your concern -- just make sure you squeeze in that cute photo of the advertiser's grandkids.

White space is the ENEMY. I cannot stress this enough. If you don't fill every square micron of the ad with photos, clip art, copy, or exclamation points, then the advertiser is not getting his money's worth. That's like stealing, you know. For instance, far too often I see ads in which the spaces in the O's and zeroes are completely wasted. Fill them with tiny starbursts that contain the words "NEW," "REAL CHEAP," or something to that effect. Some designers worry that this will make the ad hard to read, and the consumer will therefore skip it and read "Funky Winkerbean" instead. Nonsense. For one thing, "Funky" has sucked for years. For another, every advertiser knows that consumers live to read densely-packed newspaper ads full of useless misinformation. That is, until their bill comes due, at which point the advertiser will protest that no one ever reads the ads at all, which is entirely the newspaper's fault. Anyway, the upshot is that if the ad doesn't come off the press dripping wet, oversaturated with ink, you haven't done your job.

You can't have too much color. A typical four-color press can print something like, oh, I don't know, 18,000 distinct color variations. Use all of them. If you don't, then, again, the advertiser is getting ripped off. Well, on second thought, don't use ALL of the colors. Pastels show weakness. The colors ought to be as bright as can be -- fluorescent, if possible. True story: an advertiser once complained that the background color in his ad wasn't bright enough. It was 100% yellow. Apparently, he wanted something that would cause readers permanent retinal damage. I hear that scientists are working on a method to embed tiny LEDs into the newsprint. Until that plan comes to fruition, just be sure not to skimp on the ink.

Mix many different fonts in each ad; it gives it a classy look. I like fonts as much as the next designer... why be tied down to Helvetica and Times New Roman when Berthold City and Minion Expert beckon from the font manager? However, I used to make the mistake of using only two or three font families per ad. What a fool I was. Now I happily use six, seven, even eight -- within a single sentence! Much better. Occasionally, the advertiser will helpfully supply his own preferred fonts, which are always A.) unreadable; and B.) incompatible with your RIP software. No problem. Replace them with Courier. Actually there are some fonts that you can do without -- anything that contains the words Light, Regular, Book, or Demi. It's Bold, Heavy, Black, or Extra Black, pal... and make sure that's in all caps, too. The exception to this rule is when you're typesetting disclaimers. There, I recommend Wispy Ultra Ultra Ultra Thin, set at 3 points.

A basic understanding of the rules of English spelling, grammar, and punctuation is unnecessary. Consumers don't care about such things... we're grateful that they can read at all! You could rely on spell check, but why bother? It won't pick up on misused homophones, anyway. If you don't know how to use apostrophes, just sprinkle them randomly through the copy. One of them's (or is it thems' ?) bound to be right. Grammar won't be needed, either, since advertisers prefer to use Tarzan-like fragments and run-ons, as in: "RUNS GOOD, NO $$$ DWN. MAKE BEST OFFER." This way, they can fit in more exclamation points and balloon clip art. For these reasons, today's budget-conscious newspapers have eliminated proofreaders from the advertising departments. Harried salespeople, semi-literate advertisers, and apathetic designers ought to be able to catch any mistakes that may creep in. (Be sure to end sentences with prepositions, too.)

Those are the main points, but let me add a just a few more golden nuggets of advice. Beware the phrase "camera-ready." This is a cruel lie. Deadlines are merely helpful suggestions; don't take them too seriously. The advertiser doesn't. When presented with several ad designs, the advertiser will always choose the most hideous. When the advertiser supplies a logo, it will be on a poorly-printed business card or taken from a low-resolution GIF on their Web site. It will be ugly and it will be a weird shape that resists all attempts to fit it nicely into the ad. If an advertiser supplies a printed piece from another company and says that he wants his ad to look "just like this," he is lying. What he really means is that there is some intangible "vibe" about it that he likes, but can in no way express. All attempts to discover just what it is that the advertiser likes about it will fail.

That should about cover it for now. Don't be discouraged, my paduwans. Newspaper graphic design is a richly rewarding profession that in no way leaves you bitter, wondering why you squandered your talent and precious youth in exchange for a 401(k) plan. Not at all.

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