Blog: A redesign takes time, but it can revamp a newspaper’s image

Below is a blog I wrote about the newspaper redesign I did for the Daily Nebraskan in August 2012.  It was published on my advanced editing class’ blog, The Write Angle:

(At left is an example of a front page after the DN’s redesign in August 2012,
at right is an example of a front page from the year before the redesign.)


By now, many of you have probably noticed that the DN has been redesigned.  Well, at least I hope you have.

The DN you see on newsstands today is the result of a complicated redesign process I started in April as design editor of the DN, the student newspaper at the University of Nebraska Lincoln. The newspaper usually gets minor tweaks each year, but this year I felt it was time for a complete overhaul.

It’s no secret that newspaper readership is declining, even for our campus newspaper.  However, redesigns have the power to make readership grow, according to Jacek Utko, a Polish newspaper designer who has done many award-winning redesigns himself.  This was one of the main things I kept in mind while starting my redesign process.  I constantly asked myself: What will pull people in and make them pick up the paper?

I decided I needed to scrap most of the old design.  It had to be more modern and clean.  I also knew I needed to work in more big visuals because let’s face it: Appealing photos, art and well-designed packages are what pull readers in, not big blocks of text.

The first thing I did was change the flag from the Daily Nebraskan to the DN. It was just the drastic, modern change I felt the DN needed. I considered this change first when I was talking to a news editor who graduated last year.  She mentioned it briefly and it immediately seemed brilliant to me.  The whole staff, and a majority of the people we knew, called the Daily Nebraskan the DN, so why not make that its actual name in the flag?

I believe this set the vibe for my redesign.  It also started somewhat of a rebranding of the whole paper, which I felt was needed.  As Tim Harrower says at the beginning of his book “The Newspaper Designer’s Handbook,”  it is essential for newspapers to reinvent themselves every once in a while to remain fresh.

The project turned out to be much more complicated and time-consuming than I had imagined.  Harrower’s handbook became my best friend. I spent hours and hours deciding what new fonts to use, what looked modern, how we should place photos, how the teasers should look, what colors should be dominant in each section, etc.   I obsessed over examples of award-winning newspapers to see what looked good and what didn’t. I left for the summer and worked at a magazine. When I got back, I changed even more things because of that experience.

By the night the first issue was ready for publication this year, I was confident I had done my best to revamp the DN, but I was nervous how people would respond to it.  It was my baby: I had spent ridiculous amounts of time trying to perfect it.  What if people didn’t like it? What if some aspect of it looked horribly wrong?

Thankfully, I think it has gone over quite well.  By no means do I think that it is flawless.  But I’m proud of it.  I think it turned out modern-looking and clean just like I intended. More than a month into the redesign, I’m still making little tweaks.   It’s an ongoing process aimed at making the paper look the best it can.  I’m also still struggling to get all of the designers at the paper used to it.

I feel extremely lucky that I got to take part in the revamping and rebranding of a newspaper while I’m still a student.  I had basically no restrictions and was free to do whatever I felt would look best.  Harrower says at the beginning of his handbook that nobody likes change, but this year’s editors were open to the idea of a redesign and gave me a lot of freedom.  They were receptive to the changes I presented.  I think to have a successful redesign you need all of your paper’s editors on the same page. At the DN, they definitely were.

If my redesign has made at least a few more readers pick up the DN then all of the hours and stress I put into it are worth it.  I’m aware that the typical reader does not notice every change I spent time obsessing over.  I know they don’t turn to the inside pages and think about how the jumps or rules look different.  But, as Utko said in his TED talk in 2009, “Flipping through pages is an experience, and I’m responsible for that experience.”

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