manifesto pdf - Jeff Neumann


manifesto pdf - Jeff Neumann
“The quality
of newspaper
design is declining
P r i n t ’s R e g i o n a l D e s i g n A n n ua l 1 9 9 7
Most of today’s newspapers are devoid of inspiration.
Creativity is stifled by the facts-only bias of current
newspaper design philosophy. Vision is killed by dull
headlines, insipid photos, the deadline designers have to
meet and the deadlines no one meets for them.
Too much, designers abdicate to orthodoxy, defer to
the heavy harness and thick blinders of the newspaper
stylebook and do their design-by-the-numbers.
Micro-managing editors, immersed in word-centric
Journalism 101 dictates, mesmerized by their visually
crippled city-desk experience, and motivated by fear
of the phone call from boss or reader, force pages into
non-threatening creative wastelands, devoid of all but a
dispassionate regurgitation of factual information displayed
in pre-ordained structure and formatted solutions.
Everywhere, the technician is celebrated over the artist.
And designers are bored.
Bored, they design boring pages.
Design is more than creating throw-away textbooks of
last-second history or impotent newsletters of hints, lists
and briefs targeting the lowest common denominator.
Design is so much more.
In a world of textbooks, what of poetry?
The challenge
Get past words
Newspapers can do far more than inform.
They can excite, they can entertain, they can
communicate with emotion as well as fact.
That is the real challenge for features designers. Not to craft beautiful pages of information,
but to approach the viewer at a level separate
from mere words. To design poetry.
Creativity is a fragile bloom.
It is valued rarely. Rewarded less.
Approached too timidly.
But creating is what truly motivates me.
Not to make things clear. Not to uncover the
truth. But to create. To add something to the
newspaper no one else can.
For me (maybe for you), the creative
designer breaks rules, takes risks, practices
interpretive design, incorporates the visual
language, speaks with their voice, looks to the
world for inspiration and embraces change.
Break the rules
No innovation or improvement can come by
following the rules. Ever. Motivation enough.
Be skeptical
Journalism plays in the arena of skepticism.
We should be equally skeptical of newspaperdesign “facts.”
Contemporary graphic design outside the
newsprint forest is one of robust experimentation. Visual communication is a conversation
of many accents, not a monotonal monologue.
The stylebook of culture is variety.
“Typography in the 1990s
re-flects a deep skepticism about
received wisdom and a questioning of established authorities,
traditional practices and fixed
cultural identities …”
Rick Poyner
“Typography Now Two: Implosion”
the rules come from
Newspapers make rules from tradition and
opinion. The newspaper stylebook tries to
uphold old traditions or to institutionalize
“Under conditions that vary as
new ones. Opinions fall from the top office
much and as quickly as those in
jockey down.
which a newspaperman works,
there are no ‘standard’ solutions.
Question the stylebook
Each problem varies from previous
Rules can be truly arbitrary.
ones and the ‘right’ answer can be
A few years ago, The Seattle Times redesigned itself, not by casting an eye on its community, but be aping the Back-East sensibilities
(senseless-abilities) of the Toronto Globe and
one of many.”
Edmund C. Arnold
“Functional Newspaper Design,” 1956
Mail and the New York Times. The redesign
team clothed the Helvetica-bound old Times in
what they deemed “respectable.” The redesign
did look “better,” but what part of Seattle did
it represent? The stylebook could just as well
have mimicked the Washington Post.
Breaking the rules for the better
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During the redesign of the entertainment
tab, I adopted a multiple-scanning
philosophy for listings. Now events
can be scanned by reader preference
(location, type of music, day or price).
A bit longer, but a lot more usable.
Att a c k o p i n i o n s
Directives from “on high,” unfortunately, can’t
be ignored — although some of my favorite work
has run in the lull of managerial vacations. But
directives backed only by opinion without reason should be regarded with contempt; with diligence, they can be subjugated.
“I like Times New Roman.” “We’ve always used
“Under conditions that vary as
Times New Roman.” “Times New Roman con-
much and as quickly as those in
notes authority.” These are unjustified opinions.
which a newspaperman works,
Attack the x-height, that it looks really small
even at 10-point, that it was designed for English
values at a specific time in history, that “authority” can be imparted on hundreds of more interesting typefaces.
Force others to justify their decisions, support
there are no ‘standard’ solutions.
Each problem varies from previous
ones and the ‘right’ answer can be
one of many.”
Edmund C. Arnold
“Functional Newspaper Design,” 1956
yours with well-thought-out reason.
No new answers
Rules not only limit, but are limited. A stylebook
provides guidelines only to the already solved,
a static answer to whatever question has been
asked. False. False. False.
If lucky? False. True. False.
But a true/false answer in a multiple-choice
world is no answer at all.
Dissent opens avenues for creativity.
Remember, if you and an editor agree on
“Unexpected solutions tend to
have a much more effective impact
everything all the time, then one of you is
because they perturb or excite the
public. It is much more risky to per-
Nothing feels better than overturning a weak
rule, providing a new — and better — solution.
Oh, and that new “rule” you came up with,
don’t let it last forever.
form beyond the boundaries of what
is expected. Actions beyond limits
are creative, and creative ideas
shape society.”
Peter Bilak
Take risks
Sometimes failure is the best lesson.
Att e n t i o n d e f i c i t
The Society of News(paper) Design’s annual
over the last few years, instead of recognizing
the innovative and celebrating the distinctive,
has become a promotional campaign of simplistic
Look at the winners of the “Best Designed
Newspapers.” Can you tell them apart? In the
pursuit of “standards,” originality has been sacrificed to foist the newspaper “look.” Change those
heads to Helvetica and its back to the ’70s. Make a
switch to Bodoni — bingo!—it’s a European paper.
Like a seemingly petty backlash against
the visual ebb-and-flow of popular culture,
SND increasingly provides a puritanical and
incestuous model for newspaper designers. We
Risky behavior
pick ’em. You copy ’em.
But copy of a copy of a copy eventually decays
into a crude perversion of the original.
Creativity comes from going beyond copying.
Don’t get boxed in
Something new adds, it does not subtract.
“New” means you may have to push your skills
past the comfortable. Go ahead and do work that
may seem outlandish, niche-specific, hated by
management, even illegible.
If it fails, then fall back to the conservative.
Even if it fails, it can provide a spark for the
next solution. Untried, no spark.
If you don’t get outside your design box, you
will repeat an endless parade of sameness.
A monkey repetitively punching the button for
the feed pellet becomes fat and dull.
Make mistakes.
I’ve played plenty with partially out-offocus photos; they’ve always appealed
to my aesthetics. But while art directing
this pic, I thought going completely out
of focus perfectly summed up my reaction to someone smoking a cigar in my
face. I’m queasy. I’m passing out.
Practice interpretive design
Design is content.
A package, not a product
To increase creativity, disregard the newspaper
as the product.
I hear it all the time: “We don’t do that at the
“Since form cannot be separated
Newspaper.” “That’s not the way the Newspaper
from content and since form itself
looks.” “That doesn’t abide by the personality of
carries meaning, then the idea is,
the Newspaper.”
in fact, structured and informed by
That sounds more like corporate identity than
content-driven design.
Think of the newspaper as packaging, the content as product.
As packaging, most newspaper design hasn’t
its presentation. Just as the invisible
typeface is an impossibility, neither
can form be invisible.”
Louis Sandhaus
“Errant Bodies”
risen above old-fashioned generic-brand design.
Consistency is the prime concern for every can,
every box, every article, every page: A blue bar, the
contents (Peas, or Football) in 72-point Franklin
Gothic, some “facts” in 9/10 Times Roman.
That’s it.
Try finding creamed corn by title alone. Try
salivating over a simple 72-point “U.S. at war.”
The can (or page) should be a window to what
is contained, what is actually being bought.
Crotch rock
The cropping of the cover, the symbol-pics of hair and skull and the oily
trash-bag background on the inside
page, the medieval-feeling typography
on the cover and the Nazi-esque type
inside, the reversed text on thick
black bars…all was a decision made
to add visual content to an article on
heavy metal.
Let the content decide
Make a sports story look like defeat. Let viewers know its “punk” rock without having them
read a word. Make design about the content,
not about the newspaper.
Every story can be a creative launching pad.
As many articles. As many designs.
Use the visual language
Newspapers aren’t sold to readers, but to viewers.
T r a n s pa r e n t ly u n i n t e r e s t i n g
Newspapers believe that to communicate,
graphic design should be transparent (or rather,
fit the familiar).
Extreme value is placed on the words, supported by standard formats and “invisible” visuals.
But what is the service provided?
When designers ignore expressiveness and
simply select the information, hierarchize it,
underline it, and point out the key message in
a ritualistic way, they take away the reader’s
participation. The viewer becomes passive, his
own creativity unused, and bored.
A boring page unread communicates nothing.
Besides, invisibility is impossible. Viewers
will give every visual element meaning.
And in a multicultural society, there can be no
“Visual communication uses
emotions. Hence, it is quite unlikely
that an advertisement for a new car
will say ‘a device for transporting
men and goods.’—it will much
transparency because meaning isn’t universal.
more likely touch our emotions,
From viewer to viewer, previous experiences
experiences and lifestyle. The
and values are far from constant. The color
meaning of emotions is deeper
white has connotations of purity and bloom
to the Europe-descended, but to the AsianAmerican, it may symbolize death and mourning.
Whoever said “good design is transparent” is
an idiot.
No matter how transparent you try to make
design, it will visually communicate. It may
communicate stability, clarity, impersonality,
this is “news.” But it communicates.
than that of facts.”
Peter Bilak
Graphic design is a language
Just as Spanish or German are languages,
graphic design is a language. Visuals can be
used to increase understanding of a subject.
Replacing the missed
If you consider spoken language, psychologists
have proved that in common conversation only
“The Face had two narratives, the
writing and the design.”
Neville Brody
“The Graphic Language of Neville Brody”
20% of the information we receive is from spoken words.
Crucial information is derived from the tone
of voice, facial expressions, gestures and the
context of the conversation.
So an interview in a newspaper can give the
reader far less information than received by
the reporter. Even with enriched description of
place and mood and a few photos, the article
may not be sufficiently expressive.
A wordless language
Design can provide some of this lost tone,
gesture, emotion.
For example, tone of typography can mirror
the tone of voice. Without tone, the meaning of
words can be ambiguous.
Design shouldn’t just amplify the textual message through duplication. Design as subtitles
is weak; design that adds necessary, additional
information has greater value.
But don’t think visual language is a single
dialect, constrained to only a few “words.” It is
Curse of the average
More and more, the industry concentrates on
the ordinary and caters to the obvious.
In an unwavering pursuit of a mythical “everyreader,” the industry tries to capture a larger
audience by adapting to an “average” taste.
Their stunted visual language is adopted
in the mistaken belief that communication is
merely passing along facts.
I felt that an Old English letter with a
red halo, a voyeuristic keyhole photo
treatment, and the public hype was
enough to present an article on “The
Scarlet Letter.”
C o mm u n i c a t i o n i s f a r m o r e
We should engage, excite, at times offend.
Not just inform.
There are multiple levels of communication.
“Most of the time the message isn’t
worth saying. So when you get a
chance to say something yourself,
Design with your voice
Design you really care about is your own.
Indulge yourself
you might as well say something you
believe in …”
Jonathan Barnbrook
interviewed by Rick Poynor,
“Eye” no. 15 vol. 4, 1994
Why not be an artist?
Vibrancy in design comes from the individual voices of designers.
I do better work when I buy into a project.
“Yes, it can be deadly and boring if
I’d rather say what I want, rather than what
you don’t put yourself in it (design).
the editor wants.
The fact that many designers don’t is
Yeah, it’s selfish. So what.
This is not an everyday thing. But designing by your values, decisions and philosophy
why there are a lot of bored designers and boring design out there.
while presenting an otherwise weak, unsup-
Somebody said everything I designed
ported textual message, can produce a much
was self-indulgent, meaning it as an
more interesting page.
insult, but I would say ‘I hope it is
self-indulgent.’ That is when you are
going to get the best work.”
David Carson
interviewed by Lewis Blackwell, 1995
I added some of my own “voice” to
this typical puff piece our writers
reserve for the truly uninteresting.
I picked a photo of Prince “crucified” because I find him much too
self-righteous. I wrote a head—“You
can call him Prince (we do)”—that
is anti-idolizing. I chose Bodoni for
the headline font, because it always
reminds me of “Vogue” and fashion,
and that’s all I think this little twerp
is: Style, no substance.
S e r i o u s ly l a c k i n g
A singular corporate voice heightens the already
establishment nature of newspapers.
What The Seattle Times calls a design of “authority, sophistication and understatement” I call
“authoritarian, aloof, and condescending.”
Let me describe the visual message my way.
Look to the world
We can no longer be just designers. We need to by
psychologists, linguists, social scientists.
“Simple black and white dualisms
no longer work. Graphic design
that tries to make things simple
is not doing anybody any real
No easy answers
There are no black and whites in the world even
if the newspaper wants to turn them into gray and
lighter gray.
See what visually communicates to the world at
large. See what values are placed on typography, on
color, on legibility.
benefit. Society needs to understand how to deal with subtlety,
complexity and contradiction in
contemporary life…”
Katherine McCoy
interviewed by Rick Poynor,
“Eye” no. 16 vol. 4, 1995
Ideas galore
Beyond that, the world is conceptual fertilizer.
Stop xeroxing other papers. Go to the source.
Solutions from a few billion people are more eyeopening than those from a few hundred newspapers.
Design withers when feeding only upon itself.
The gifts of a horse’s mouth
Look around you, the world has
plenty of ideas. And we can read
both of these with absolutely no
trouble; we see them everyday.
Why not on a page?
Embrace change
“The medium, or process, of our
The status quo is not a creative force. Change
happens. So hang ten on the lip of a wave; don’t
futilely backpedal into a raging wall of water.
time—electric technology—is
reshaping and restructuring patterns
of social interdependence and every
The unsupported message
aspect of our personal life. It is forc-
We present newspapers (by their typical
ing us to reconsider and re-evaluate
design) as bastions of unwavering authority
when, most times, their content doesn’t even
last to the doorstep.
News is already “old” when delivered.
practically every thought, every
action and every institution taken for
granted. Everything is changing—
Our product is disposable.
you, your family, your neighbor-
Why not reflect the “fresh-now-but-thrown-
hood, your education, your job, your
away-tomorrow” nature of the content.
government, your relation to others.
Tie design style to current culture.
And they’re changing dramatically.”
Style is not false, shallow or meaningless. It is
Marshall McLuhan
surface. And surface is the first thing to
Love Change
Nothing has more built-in creativity than the
force of change.
Everything we do today will be obsolete.
Count on it! Hold out for a while, or surrender
“Like the arabesques of the 1880s
now, but there is no way, we won’t have to come
and the swashes of the 1970s, the
up with something new in the future.
contortions of the 1990s will fall out
of favor.”
Tobias Frer-Jones
Why fight it?
Some of the more than twodozen logos for the three-year
run of “Wild Life”
Mutterings of a madman?
OK, there’s my manifesto (at least what I could think of in
the last few weeks), cut and dried and delivered with arrogant tone. But if I believe something, I believe it strongly.
Does it translate into daily design?
Not always.
The hurdles are substantial. The creative atmosphere is
riddled with the cancers of repression, doubt, fatigue. High
ideas take a back seat when I need a job to feed my family
more than to feed my ego. Many times, I’m too frustrated
to fight, too tired to care. The limitations of my talent and
boundaries of skill always keep a design from reaching the
heights attempted.
And there is always the gap between intention and effect.
Viewers complete a design their way, analyzing it through
their values, changing the intended message with their interpretations. So every pursuit, no matter how carefully executed, will fail to some extent.
But as a priest once said, “We will never be perfect, but we
must always strive for perfection.”
So what of poetry?
Jeff Neumann