Randomly-sized pegs and square holes.
When we decided to go ahead with And Now It’s In Print, our motivations were many. We wanted to promote some great talent. We wanted to design something interesting. We wanted to show that print is still amazing. We wanted to prove that gatekeeping matters. We wanted to have fun.
I don’t think any of us had “I want to learn something about the way people communicate today” on our lists.
I’m a former magazine art director and newspaper designer. I’m used to laying out dozens of pages a day, and hundreds of pages in a week. Yet there were spreads in And Now It’s In Print that took days each. That would be simply unacceptable in a newsroom or studio environment, and in a project where we were all volunteering our nights and weekends it was astounding.
But the reasons for it became rather obvious after a short time, and I believe they came down to two factors.
- We were unable to edit copy due to our respect for what people had graciously allowed us to reprint.
- Many articles were written using non-traditional structures.
The first factor is a designer’s nightmare. Without an editor who can cut a word here and a paragraph there, design for the printed page becomes less about aesthetics and more about physics. It becomes an exercise in working out how can you fit all of the elements neatly onto the page. That’s a recipe for aesthetic compromise, something designers working in their spare time simply don’t want to make room for.
We left widows and orphans all over the place in our columns, because we didn’t have any other options. Without editors and sub-editors who could make judgements on which words could be trimmed and which phrases could be subtly re-cast we had no other choice but to let the words fall where they did naturally. We tried to fix things as much as we could, but the fact is we are not as happy with the body typography as we thought we would be. I actually lost sleep over this.
The second factor was the big surprise. Not a lot of people realise that before I became a designer, I studied journalism. Since then, even as a designer, I have been surrounded by professional wordsmiths. I had forgotten that there are rules to professional writing because I had been around professional writers for so long.
The rules that mattered to us as designers were the unspoken rules about structure –– especially as it relates to illustration. In newspaper and magazine writing, the copy of an article might rarely refer to an included photograph or illustration, but more generally it will not. The image will be captioned, so as to give the reader an understanding of what the image is referring to, and the article will assume the reader has seen the image and the caption. For designers this means there’s a great deal of flexibility as to placement of those images.
Not so with blog posts, however.
Blog posts are written in a stream-of-thought manner, where words and images co-mingle in the same paragraph, and where the author knows exactly when the reader will see the images in relation to the words. (For an example, see the original articles in And Now It’s In Print by Luke Ryan, Andrew McDonald, and Dan Hill.)
They’re not structured like pieces that were written for print at all. They’re more like television scripts, or entertaining presentations where the speaker has prepared some expertly-timed slides. Timing and placement of images in reference to the idea they illustrate is everything.
This then, is why And Now It’s In Print has some unusual and rather convoluted design tropes. Lines and arrows run from words to images, scale is thrown out the window, and some pages are frankly hard work. It’s like David Carson’s Ray-Gun, except we weren’t trying to be wilfully annoying.
Knowing what we do now will mean that we’re likely to approach the next edition (should there be one) somewhat differently. Having a skilled editor on-board –– and permission from authors to edit their work –– is crucial.
So to all the editors and sub-editors I’ve ever rubbed the wrong way throughout my career, I wish to apologise. Unreservedly. I now realise how good you made my work look, rather than the other way around.