1 October 2014

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Dyson at Large: Irritating JP design mars decent content

Design gremlins threatened to disturb decent content in the Mansfield Chad on Wednesday December 12.

The weekly was apparently presented with its new templates after Johnston Press brought in Barcelona-based Cases i Associates to revamp all its titles last year.

But if this is typical of the Spanish efforts, there will be many readers, especially old-fashioned ones, scratching their heads around the Johnston empire.

Let’s start on the front, where Chad readers have to struggle with no fewer than 12 lines of copy crammed into the top right-hand corner of the page.

In case you can’t see this clearly on the above image, try reading this in one take: ‘chad.co.uk WEDNESDAY December 12, 2012 85p SUBSCRIBERS PAY 64p TALK TO US @chadnews facebook.com/ mansfieldchad Telephone: 01623 456789 P60′.

Why, oh why, inflict all this detail in a globule that is difficult to separate and read in such an important position on the most crucial page?

A dateline strap underneath the masthead could easily have contained the date, website and price elements – with the Twitter, Facebook and phone details all surely belonging inside.

Readers are supposed to be gripped by either the splash or the boosts, not distracted by a dozen decks of minutiae.

Talking of which, the information overload reached carsick proportions on page two with at least 20 panels of disparate information in black, three shades of red and white-on-red.

The most important bits on this page, the weather and late chemists listings, were crunched into a half-column on the right, the latter in barely-readable white-on-red four-point.

I say the ’most important’ because this was the only place in the paper where the weather and chemists appeared, whereas the vast majority of the rest of the page was made up of pretty meaningless boosts to content further inside.

Well, ’Christmas countdown’, ’Housing boost’, ‘Fiesta’s facelift’ and ‘They’re behind you’ certainly struck me as meaningless page two blurbs.

I also disliked the use of double red blobs as indents for every paragraph on certain briefs and picture stories, a dotty idea that was not even consistent, with some shorts attracting blobs and others not.

And circular white-on-black labels to signal ‘THE IMAGE’ for pictures and ‘IN BRIEF’ for briefs looked amateurish, a random use meaning the dullest cheque presentations were flagged but many better snaps weren’t, while some were used in the wrong place.

Good design is where readers are clearly guided by clean text and grammar; bad design is where they are sidetracked by meaningless hieroglyphics.

In the Chad’s case, I can only describe the fussy design as an obsessive compulsive disorder gone wrong.

Design aside, Chad editor Tracy Powell and her team provided readers with good stories throughout, with the highlights including:

  • ‘When will I see my daddy again?’ leading the front, reporting on a local family torn apart because of Cuban passport bureaucracy;
  • ‘I was 30 minutes away from death’ leading page three, describing how a hospital and a GP missed a patient’s brain tumour;
  • a court report headlined ‘Firearm robbery terrified shop staff’ leading page five’; and
  • ‘Pet cat is beaten by heartless thugs’ leading page 15.

Obvious efforts were also put into various sections including ‘Reports from the courts’ which had 21 magistrate’s hearings on page 16, ‘Community news’ which had 88 shorts on pages 50 to 53, and editorial obituaries which had 23 detailed tributes on pages 56 to 58.

On December 12, the Chad contained a healthy count of 250+ stories on 49 news and features pages, with another 58 reports on eight sports pages.

Its cover price of 85p, reducing to 64p for annual subscribers, is not bad for a 96-page paper that sells 31,049 copies a week according to the latest ABCs.

The unusual Chad title, by the way, is derived from the paper’s former name – Chronicle Advertiser.

17 Comments

  1. Rhitch

    I feel a bit sorry for our Spanish friends.
    I sat in a meeting where it was revealed that JP basically rushed them and hadn’t given them anywhere near enough details about how things work in JP. They were also shocked JP wanted front pages templated too.
    And as predicted, design leading content simply doesn’t work.

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  2. ahoy

    Looks good to me. Better than the job the subs in regional offices used to produce

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  3. Bluestringer

    That page 2 is a migraine-inducing mess.

    Is this really what all JP papers are going to be like?

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  4. Billy Bewildered

    “And as predicted, design leading content simply doesn’t work.”

    Nail on the head. Once you’re dictated to by design it’s a recipe for disaster, regardless where in the paper it is. You can’t leave stuff out just because the new designs dictate there’s no fiddly little box for it.

    Templating is not the answer and whilst the concepts of the some of the designs look OK, and that often the pages look better than when some old-school subs used to get their hands on them, spending a fortune on the Spaniards really wasn’t the way forward.

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  5. Questioning old hack

    Ahoy there!
    Now open your eyes and look!!

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  6. Sub Mariner, The North

    It looks like a kids’ magazine

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  7. Mighty Mariner, Lincolnshire

    I teach Editorial Production to HE students (Level 2) and despite the fact none of them have any experience of Quark, InDesign or Photoshop when they begin a number would produce a better looking Chad 2
    Added to which they have a shoe-horned 11 week course and (often) produce some great newspapers and magazines
    At best, it’s a 2:2 (50-59%)…in other words, average
    It’s a mess – no clear focus, elements competing against each other, very small type…the list goes on
    So JP, save yourself millions and give me a call…oh yeah, I forgot, you got rid of me and 6 other page designers in 2009!

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  8. Spanner

    Oh Steve you be lamenting the loss of editionising next , welcome to 2013

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  9. Old Hack

    This ‘design over content’ nonsense started in the eighties, when readers were considered too dim to concentrate for more than about 300 words.
    We’ve all seen slickly-designed evenings lose readers by the lorry-load – while stodgy old weeklies continue to enjoy relative prosperity in a difficult market. And as far as design is concerned, most of them observe the old axiom of keeping it tidy and keeping it consistent.
    I’ve been in this business for 46 years – and I’ve yet to hear a reader say: ‘I buy my newspaper because I like the way it looks.’

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  10. Spanner

    Well said OHack

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  11. Steve Hutchings, Exeter

    I have to disagree with Old Hack. Design works on a subliminal level and it has been proven time and time again (particularly by the food retail industry) that design determines the perception of content. Readers ‘switch off’ newspapers without articulating the reason why – often just a ‘dislike’, simply expressed. But again and again this comes down to design – if it looks a mess then the perception is that it is a mess and the content is perceived in the same way. Clean and smart should be every sub’s axiom but intuitive layout seems to be a rare skill now, partly because templates make page designers lazy and they stop thinking about what the reader wants and how the reader perceives the information being conveyed on the page.

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  12. Old Hack

    Steve makes some good points, but let’s look at his reference to the food retail industry. You don’t always have to ‘improve’ the design to maintain sales. Take Lea and Perrins, for example. Their Worcester sauce bottles look the same now as they did when I was a kid – it’s the content of the bottles which makes people keep coming back. Take ‘own brand’ packaging by supermarkets. It’s nothing special – but presumably people buy the goods because they offer value for money. I go back to my original point. I have never known a reader stop buying a newspaper because ‘I don’t like the look of it.’ But I’ve heard plenty cite ‘there’s nothing in it worth reading’ as their primary reason.

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  13. Not so old hack

    Old Hack…. I have. I’ve been at papers which have redesigned – and readers have left. They said they didn’t like the new look and that it didn’t feel like ‘their paper’ any more. The local content was the same – in fact, there was more of it. But it didn’t wash. Readers don’t like change. Just listen to the moans when Tesco moves the position of baked beans to another aisle. No wonder some readers don’t like it when ‘their’ local paper changes headline fonts, text fonts, the whole design, the running order of stories and features…..

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  14. Steve Hutchings, Exeter

    Yes, Not so Old is spot on there and it follows on from my previous comment. I have also been in precisely the same situation where a redesign has resulted in a loss of readers as a direct consequence of a change of perception on their part. Clean and smart has to be the order of the day.

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  15. Robert Cullen, Sligo, Ireland.

    No comment about the use of a different colour in the front page headline? Our rival does it regularly, as do several free-sheets in Ireland. Looks terrible. (Although I did use it once)

    I’m an editor of a weekly paper BTW.

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  16. Kendo Nagasaki

    Redesigns are usually a case of putting lipstick on a pig. It is displacement activity. Companies are not prepared to employ more staff in an effort to improve content so instead give readers some funky new fonts to look at.

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  17. Fencehopper

    I’m more concerned by the incomplete cutout on the front page.

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