Design Critique: From India, in living colour


First up in our offer for free critiques for newspapers from India (limited time only!) comes this submission from Arindam Biswas, of Anandabazar Patrika newspaper in Kolkata, circulation “more than 10 lacs. It’s the No.1 regional daily in Kolkata.” Describing the page, Arindam tells me: “It’s a page on Holi. Holi is a festival of colours. People have fun with colours on this day. And later they wash their face as well as their body to remove the colours as much they can. On this day everybody is so happy and enjoying the day very much, from kid to old. The headline says: ‘Holi comes and fish also found in the pond.’ The illustration is reflecting the same.”

Here are my comments:

First, I imagine this page as folded, in broadsheet form. The reader is greeted by that wonderful explosion of pink/magenta in the upper corner, and of course, the lettering of the section and of the headline. Terrific way to provoke the readers into wanting to learn more, enticing them into the page! Then, the reader is treated to something fun and perhaps a bit surprising, with the illustration under the fold of the page. From what I am told of the topic of the story, this cartoonish illustration seems appropriate – perhaps even a way to get younger readers involved in the page.

Now, I ask myself: if I were art directing in this newsroom, what would I suggest to the designer or artist or editor?

First, the elements seem a bit separated. There is not much of an integration of text and visuals. Beyond the headline, there is only ONE level of text – the story text – and no other choices for the reader, say for example, the reader who is more of a scanner. Perhaps a glance box (text only) of “fun facts about Holi,” something you didn’t know – maybe the story of how it originated? Or, quotes from people about what the day means to them. That might be a bit generic, and maybe not so useful.

In that case, how about, a small glance box that asks: “What is your favorite colour, and why?” Interviewing people at the festival, perhaps with small head shots. This could have been a good way to involve kids – take small photos of their faces or even parts of their body that may be painted with their favourite colour, and ask them to tell why they like that colour, what it makes them feel like. Adults and young alike would enjoy reading a feature like this; perhaps the main illustration could have been sized a bit smaller, and these head shots and small quotes could go down the side of the page — or even placed along the very top of the page, even above the nameplate of the section? Why not?

Also, in these days we must think of ways to make our online presence as strong as possible. Depending on the extent of internet usage in your market, and your newspaper’s investment in the same, you could have a promotion (teaser) on this page, leading to related content on the web – quick, colorful videos; a photo gallery (always a hit with readers); maybe even a simple way for the readers to upload a normal photo of themselves, and colourize it in the computer, for posting in a gallery on your site! If as you say, people really enjoy being immersed in the colours, they would probably enjoy this digital experience as well.

This leads us to a detail that nowadays, we must really start all our conversations with: how to think about revenue generation! (If in your newsroom, you are not regularly asked to consider this question, you should.) This is so we ensure the future of the newspaper, so that all can obtain generous salary increases, and more people can be hired so we don’t have to work so hard. Imagine the “Digital Holi Experience” that I describe above. This would generate a lot of traffic to your website, maybe in the weeks leading up to the festival, and who knows, perhaps year round – people enjoying all the various features, looking at themselves colourized, maybe even voting on “who is the most colourful” – maybe even award a prize?

And imagine – if such a destination on your website were to become very popular, why not sell a sponsorship for it. Which advertiser would be interested in this – a paint store? An art supply company? A university that specializes in creative training? Why not? Of course, this conversation begins weeks before Holi, and must involve the advertising, technical, marketing, and editorial departments, all working together. (Feel free to pass this idea around  your newsroom, and let me know what they think – is it feasible? Is it something that would appeal to advertisers? Or maybe someone else is already doing it – if so, copy it – that is the name of the game these days!)

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Just for fun, I asked random friends on a social networking site, what they thought of this page. Only a couple of these people were journalists, the rest were “just readers” (albeit with a Western perspective!), so make of these comments whatever you will:

  • “Is that Shrek washing under his arm?
  • “Illustration reminds me of Ren and Stimpy. And the color type is a bit Carmen Miranda. But, nice balance and strong use of magenta!
  • “Bold colors. Clean design. Wonderful illustration. I think it’s swell, Ron.
  • “I love it. Very pretty and a good sense of humor.
  • “Pink is KEWL. In my professional opinion.
  • “In my professional opinion great use of color and white space. 🙂 Hope I learned a thing or two after all the years of watching your work!
  • “I think the pink is amazing. I might like to see the same amount of blur/fading/ghostly fall-off that appears at the top applied to the edges of the cartoon if possible, to tie them together a bit more.

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Watch for a few more critiques of India pages in the coming days! For information on how I can provide a formal critique for your newspaper, similar to the above, at a modest cost, please email It’s easy – you send me pages via PDF, submit nominal payment via PayPal, and I produce a written analysis, which you can then share with your newsroom (and advertising and marketing as well!) perhaps bringing people together for a lively discussion for a training session that you direct. I also provide talking points for leading your training conversation. Until then … happy newspapering!

Just for fun: my photos from travels to the north of India – such a wonderful and surprising nation!

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