‘Felt right’ is not newspaper design

November 2, 2015

By Ed Henninger
Design Elements

“So, why’d you put that gradient screen behind your nameplate?”

“I’m not sure. It just felt right.”

Uh … sorry … no. “Felt right” is not design. It’s just an easy out. When I do a redesign, I tell my clients that it’s part of my job to defend everything I want to do with the look of their paper.


If I can’t defend it—if I can’t make it clear to them what its purpose is and why I’m using it—then I need to take it out.

“Felt right” is not design because I can’t argue with the way you “feel.” Your “feelings” are yours and only you know how you “feel” at any given moment.

But I can argue that inconsistent design elements make readers “feel” confused. Or that text type that’s too small makes them “feel” that your paper is hard to read. Or that gratuitous use of color makes them “feel” that your paper is gaudy.

Designers need to avoid the “feel” trap. We need to think—not feel—about what we’re doing on a page. And we need to be able to articulate our thoughts when others ask.

To do that, we need to understand that there are some basic rules for news page design. And we need to know what those rules are.

• We need to know that every page has to have an underlying grid—a structure that holds the page together.

• We need to know the value of negative space and how to use it.

• We need to understand the importance of a dominant visual element.

• We need to comprehend the value of proper color use.

• We need to know how headline hierarchy works.

• We need to appreciate the beauty of consistency.

• And, we need to have a plan for the page. If there’s a plan, then you can do design. If you have no plan, odds are you’ll just throw elements on the page and hope for the best.

Ah, but “hope” is feeling. You can “hope” it “felt right” when it’s done. You can’t know that it is right, but perhaps you can hope so. The problem is, “felt right” is not design.

Want a free evaluation of your newspaper’s design? Just contact me at edh@henningerconsulting.com or at 803-327-3322.

If this column has been helpful, you may be interested in my books, “Henninger on Design” and “101 Henninger Helpful Hints.” With the help of my books, you’ll have a better idea how to design for your readers. Find out more at www.henningerconsulting.com. © Ed Henninger 2015


ED HENNINGER is an independent newspaper consultant and the director of Henninger Consulting. On the Web: henningerconsulting.com. Phone: 803-327-3322.


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