Chicago Tribune Has Designs On New Era

Today marks a new era for the Chicago Tribune, with a radically new layout and design.

I’m still wading through it, and it’s going to take some time to adjust to it and give this re-invention a full assessment. Clearly, the Internet has wielded a major influence on the design and sensibility of the latest incarnation. Its graphics, splashes of color and layout include a quasi-navigation bar to guide readers throughout the various sections, for example.

Years ago, as newspapers were taking baby steps online, they often limited their cyber-layout with the print-edition construct in mind. This new Trib reflects editors’ awareness that readers often are coming to their pages with a web-surfing mindset.

It’s no coincidence that Jane Hirt (right) was at the helm of the paper’s graphics-heavy, short-attention-span-friendly RedEye edition before her August appointment as the Tribune‘s managing editor.It’s easy to look at the Tribune today and dismiss it as a superficial and shallow product. But that would be a superficial, shallow judgment.

The truth as to the Trib‘s relative commitment to hard-hitting, public-service journalism lies in the content between and amidst the colorful layout. And if the layout can more effectively lure a new generation of readers to those stories, then the redesign will have been a success.

Full disclosure: I was a freelance writer for the Tribune most heavily from 1999 to 2005, largely covering local governments. I continue to maintain a freelance relationship with the paper, though I have not had a byline in the Trib this year.

Repeat After Me: Less. Is. More.

More and more lately, I’ve found myself saying a simple phrase, over and over again.

“Less is more. Less is more. Less is more.”

That’s why I try–all too often in vain–to keep my blog posts brief. To edit text, in whatever context, so that it gets closer to its absolute essence. And why, recently, I asked my web designer, Sherri Lasko to take a gander at a colleague’s website and offer feedback on what I perceived to be an all-too-cluttery design.

Her remarks were too insightful for me to relegate them solely to my e-mail “in” box. So, with Sherri’s permission, I share some relevant excerpts here:

“…if the design doesn’t make sense with the flow of copy, neither will the reader’s eye. White space & organizational rules exist to prioritize & thus help the reader visually sort and quickly find what they need. This page is kind of the equivalent of a restaurant menu that isn’t separated into categories.

One should always think of their marketing (video and print) with the underlying rule:
You have 3 seconds to visually convey your message – what’s the most important thing someone should remember?

As I see it, there are 3 headlines (or headline areas) – NONE of which have the person’s name or business. THAT is the first thing you want people to see when they land on your page.

If you really MUST have that much copy at the head of your web page, the menu needs to be pulled to the side — otherwise it’s lost.

Bottom line: one needs to respect the reader’s time and make it as clear, easy & quick as possible to find the info they are interested in. Readers are much more likely to click once or twice in a clear menu, than to scroll through lines of copy & elements that aren’t relevant to what they’re looking for…”

More or less, what Sherri is sharing so eloquently: less is more.