‘What’s the biggest mistake designers make?’

The design mailbag weekly seems to offer up an inquiry such as this one, from Lucija Šilić, studying at Faculty of Graphic Arts, in Zagreb, Croatia:

“I am writing a thesis about evaluation criteria in newspaper and magazine design. I would appreciate if you can recommend some books, papers or web sites. (Of course, I always recommend my own website, www.ronreason.com, as a starting place.) and answer a few questions:
“What are your criteria when you evaluate newspaper or magazine design?
“What is, for you, the biggest mistake designers make?

My response to the two questions: As for the criteria for evaluating a design, one must look at the local marketplace, to see what is the position of the title in that community. Is it upscale? Downmarket? Serious? Playful? Understanding the mission and strategy of the publication, in its appeal to both readers AND advertisers, is essential. I usually ask to see recent and historical copies of the periodical I am evaluating, as well as current competitors in the marketplace.

The most common mistake I see in newspaper design is diving too soon into design solutions without understanding the above. (Both of these questions are addressed to some extent by various postings on my website.) Too often I see a designer quickly come up with something new, fresh or even trendy, without really considering, how is this better? How does this serve readers or advertisers more effectively than what has come before? Just because it seems “different” is not necessarily a good way to go. There needs to be a thoughtful argument behind it that readers will find this more appealing (easier to navigate, easier to read, more lively or thorough or whatever) and in our current economy, that advertisers will truly find this more appealing.

Increasingly, I start my evaluations with those sort of bottom-line questions. When a client may be considering their own survival, it is not a question to be taken lightly.

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  1. GilbertHeffernanNYC

     /  February 28, 2010

    Biggest mistake of designers – having no clue about journalistic principles. Nothing worse than having to work with a “designer” who only has training in advertising, the “give ’em what they want” mentality, dress it up and go home. Every news designer needs to have a sound understanding of publishing values – content must drive design.

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