Designing for humans, not robots: How design will come of age

Leading publication designer Mario Garcia asks the question: Why don’t we break the template for breaking news?

In his this blog post, Garcia uses the example of how several Canadian newspapers broke a major news story across various platforms. Yet on mobile platforms, the story’s sense of importance is driven by its top position, or perhaps a latest news label.

Garcia, a long time news design consultant, notes “design exists to give stories a sense of hierarchy, importance”.

Much can be said of this. The concept of weighting content through design of photos, headlines and text is an art form in itself that has evolved over hundreds of years. The modern newspaper is a product of much experimentation, trial and error. The professionalism and expertise that has been brought to this field, especially within the last 50 years or so through designers like Edmund Arnold, Garcia and groups like SND, has almost perfected the newspaper.

Yet, digital is a different beast. Only now is online reaching a more visual state where these rules of hierarchy can be potentially implemented. The early days of the web were certainly not as sophisticated as today’s array of options.

In terms of design, though, we have skipped a generation. Usability, user experience, interfaces and web design as a whole has carved out its own separate field. And boy, it has come along in leaps and bounds at break-neck speed and potentially more aligned to advances in technology and statistics. This is in stark contrast to the trial, error and many gut-feelings along the way in print.

There is also a level of understanding that digital designers deeply understand that many from the old school do not. And that is that readers are not passing by a newsstand to pick up a copy of a website or app, they are finding their way to content through a wide range of interlinked networks, the latest shift being towards social media. This must change the way we treat homepages, mobile screens and news indexes as it may not be the first place a reader discovers news. However, as with much of media strategy, every audience needs to be catered for in some way.

We may be at a point of maturity where these two design worlds, new and old, can better work together. We shouldn’t ignore centuries of knowledge and expertise just as much as we shouldn’t try to design websites like newspapers or magazines. Design guru Roger Black notes in his set of work rules that may serve a new generation of publication designers:

4. History.
I wanted to know the history of newspapers, printing, type and graphic design. By standing on the shoulders of others you can see farther, and avoid starting over.

As much as old media needs to transition to this world, so does publication design or we will be worse off for it.

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