I’m in the process of redesigning my old website, Grosse Pointe Today. Erase and correct: I am a spectator and occasional consultant at the redesign of my old website, etc. It reminds me once again that nothing is more confusing, unrewarding and otherwise maddening than design in general and web design in particular.
This is no knock against designers. Some of my best friends, etc. But designing for the web is sort of like being asked to design a tire that will work on every vehicle now on the road, some of which are pulled by horses. There are standards, yes, but there are many more conflicts. What works on this version of Firefox will not work on that version of Explorer, vice versa and double on Wednesdays. Don’t even get me started on the users, who range from bleeding-edge early adopters who won’t use the site until we roll our own iPhone app to those who believe Google is the portal to the entire web.
Add to this the cacophony of expert opinion weighing in on what is and isn’t correct/respectful/smart, and you can see why I sometimes lie awake nights staring at the ceiling. I’m a content person. I respect design, even love it (see above, best friends, etc.), but I have firm opinions about its place in the world, cultivated after years in the newspaper business, years that coincided with the rise of design. Over the past couple of decades in ink-on-paper, there have been many versions of The Thing That Will Save Us, and for a while it was design.
I should pause here to state my prejudices: Design is a package. The package must be attractive or no one will pick it up and unwrap it. But equal attention must be paid to the contents of the package, and that got pushed aside during this era. I tell people I knew things were different when I noticed what would happen when a big story was breaking on deadline. In olden times, the top editors would come out to the city desk and stand behind the editor as the story was written and polished, reading and making suggestions. Then one day I looked up and they were all standing behind the design editor, watching the page being laid out. Their main interest in the story was how long it would be, if we could break out the background grafs into a sidebar and whether we had a locator map.
As the physical size of newspapers shrank, designers were really in their ascendancy, because every reduction required a redesign. God, top editors loved redesigns. It was good for months and months of their favorite activities — having meetings and offering opinions. It would be rolled out with everything from free doughnuts on the copy desk to a front-page column by the editor in chief, touting how the new design would make the newspaper so much easier to “use.” I don’t use newspapers, I read them, so you can see why I remained cool to these events.
It’s not unusual today to pick up a major metropolitan newspaper and find no more than three stories on Page One, especially if a new Spider-Man movie is opening that weekend, because the flag will have been pushed down three inches by a giant Spider-Man who’s hooked a line to the T in “Times,” promoting the six-inch “review” inside. That page will win a design award. The movie critic will be furloughed.
But that’s yesterday. Today it’s all online. Websites are both read and used, and so things get really complicated. What we’re striving to put together at Grosse Pointe Today v.2 is — will be — a community news and information website, and I’ve already accepted it’s the “information” that people really want, not the city council coverage. Fitting it all into one easy-to-navigate package is proving to be a huge job, and I don’t envy our designer one little bit, although she has her own things she likes about it, i.e., “the pictures don’t have to be high-res.” But putting together a one-stop shop for All Things GP is not easy.
Of course, as the saying goes, nothing worth doing, is. And, truth be told, it’s fun to make it up as you go. For all the civilization out there, the web is still a lawless place, and that’s what makes it interesting.
Anyway, this is one reason I’m so distracted of late, as our launch date draws closer and I plow my way through copy, photos, coding and more e-mails than you can possibly imagine. I look forward to throwing chunks of the AP stylebook out the window, however. I plan to utterly ignore the difference between “convince” and “persuade.” (You watch, though — I’ll be lecturing contributors about less and fewer before the first week is out.)
When we get the site all the way up and running, I will invite your opinions, especially from you journalists. We’re told there must be mad experimentation in our field, and that’s what we’re doing. Emphasis on “mad.” So I’m off to plow through that 39-page bolus of copy once again.
MichaelG said on March 26, 2009 at 10:14 am
Sell the sizzle, not the steak.
“I will invite your opinions, especially from you journalists”. Why is that? Is the site intended for journos only? If it’s intended for GP folks in general, maybe the opinions of average users might be of some value. So much of our software is crap because the developers and code writers and so on write it for themselves instead of users. My (free and probably flawed) advice? Check out your peers’ opinions of course but don’t ignore the thoughts of the users.
jeff borden said on March 26, 2009 at 10:16 am
Amen to the designers’ rise in power. We had a situation like that at my last newspaper, where a new editor was convinced our very wealthy, very powerful, very educated readership would be better served by more charts, photos, graphics, etc. than by the in-depth analysis for which we were known. This reached its nadir in what became known as the “pigeon page,” when a story filed by one of his pets about the problems these rats with feathers cause –pigeons in a big city? wow, go figure– with a huge photo of a pigeon. The page designers were involved in every editorial decision and their opinions frequently outweighed those of the journalists and other editors.
Maybe I’m a Luddite or becoming a cranky old man, but I dropped our Chicago Tribune subscription after its gawdawful redesign. We gave it three or four weeks to win us over, but it only made us madder and more frustrated. As you point out, Nancy, the front page had evolved into a giant billboard for what was inside the paper. So, design changes have ramifications. I’ve yet to see a shred of evidence the Trib has captured any massive amount of “younger readers,” which is what the effort was allegedly all about, but three other guys on my block put a bullet in the Trib and started the daily NYT.
Joe Kobiela said on March 26, 2009 at 10:56 am
I had read about sparky in the past, sorry for your family’s loss. I wonder if he got distracted taking pictures. The other thing is the problems he had a few days before, could be a health related issue. Ernie Gann wrote a great book that is a must read for pilots. Fate is the hunter. Perhaps Sparky met his fate on that flight.
LA Mary said on March 26, 2009 at 11:01 am
The bean counter who sits two desks behind me, creating spreadsheets to show how long, in decimals of workdays, it took for a recruiter to open an application, review it, screen the person then forward them(or not) to a department manager, showed his greatest display of emotion the other day when he got a report from our big boss. He stood up at his desk, said, “Tom, you’re killing me.” None of really cared in what way he was being killed, but out of general politeness, one of the recruiters asked what Tom had done. His reply? “No one uses Times New Roman anymore.”
del said on March 26, 2009 at 11:12 am
Confession — I use Times New Roman. And I sorta consider Google the portal to the internet. And I even have a lamb-skin barca lounger (Nancy). Oh the shame.
jeff borden said on March 26, 2009 at 11:18 am
I loves me some Times New Roman. I use 20-point arial for my lectures because it pops off the page, but for personal use, its the old school all the way.
nancy said on March 26, 2009 at 11:18 am
I love Times New Roman, and I’ll go 15 rounds with anyone who doesn’t. As far as Google, I’d be willing to bet, Del, that you know it’s possible to get to a website by typing its address in the browser window. Whereas, I’m told, there are many out there who believe it only happens via the G.
Anyway, Del, as a GP rez, you’re one of the opinions I’m most interested in. So stay tuned.
Joe Kobiela said on March 26, 2009 at 11:21 am
Go over to the Chicago Trib sight and read up on your buddy Rahm Emanuel.
I’m telling you, Dems or Rep They are ALL corrupt.
Dorothy said on March 26, 2009 at 11:28 am
I’m bored by Times New Roman – I’m always looking for something “new and different” so I must be an anomaly ’round these parts. My daughter’s boyfriend is a designer at the paper where they both work and he freelances in web design. He has a tee shirt that says “Ban Comic Sans”.
LA Mary said on March 26, 2009 at 11:30 am
One of the other recruiters here suggested we use the font Halloween for our reports these days.
nancy said on March 26, 2009 at 11:31 am
Oh, Borden neglects to tell you his best writers-vs.-designers story, about the day the page designer came to him and said, “When you write your Sunday story, please have it start with the letter ‘I.’ It looks best in drop cap.”
Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 26, 2009 at 11:36 am
There is no “I” in team.
Sue said on March 26, 2009 at 12:07 pm
Blackadder for me, because nothing says “professional document” like fake-fancy handwriting that’s hard to read. (Actually, I have a secret crush on Papyrus.)
Bill said on March 26, 2009 at 12:16 pm
“There is no “I” in team.”
But there is “me.”
Jolene said on March 26, 2009 at 12:17 pm
Joel Achenbach has a brief comment on the design vs. content issue on his WaPo blog. In short, he’s a word guy.
moe99 said on March 26, 2009 at 12:20 pm
Sue, I received an email yesterday from a colleague that I could barely read. I enquired back as to what font she was using, and she replied: “Papyrus.”
You’ll have to put me in the camp of Times New Roman. It just looks right.
Danny said on March 26, 2009 at 12:23 pm
MichaelG, I LOVE asparagus. I am jealous. My fix usually comes from the frozen, Trader Joe’s bags, but I’ve often wondered what “fresh from the field” would be like.
Cooz, is it that some people can’t smell asparagus laced pee or is it that some peoples’ bodies don’t metabolize the asparagus fully? A few years back, a coworker claimed he had read somewhere that if your urine did not take on that characteristic smell after ingestion of asparagus, that that meant you did not have the gene that produced an enzyme for metabolization of the asparagus for optimum nutritional value.
Is there a gastro-intestinal biologist in the room?
beb said on March 26, 2009 at 12:26 pm
Design is something that works best when it’s not visible.
nancy said on March 26, 2009 at 12:30 pm
Or, Beb, to put it another way: Content is the reason a beautiful girl looks as good in plain white cotton panties as she does in a black lace thong.
Sue said on March 26, 2009 at 12:34 pm
I wonder if there’s any truth in that story about Babe Ruth at the fancy society dinner, being offered asparagus and politely saying “No thanks, Madam, it makes my piss stink”.
You have no idea how hard it was to type those last two words! I’m out of your league, people.
Now I’ll segue from Babe Ruth misbehaving at a fancy dinner party to the overlooked story of the day: Jim Carrey as Curly, Benecio del Toro as Moe, and Sean Penn as Larry? Seriously? Actually Sean as Larry works for me, Larry being the most cerebral of the three and having a lot of the best overlooked lines. I’ll see it right after I catch the remake of Slap Shot.
John said on March 26, 2009 at 12:38 pm
It’s worth mentioning that nn.com looks pretty good. Very clean and crisp. Like white cotton.
Sue said on March 26, 2009 at 12:44 pm
John wins. He has achieved comment perfection.
coozledad said on March 26, 2009 at 12:49 pm
Danny: I don’t know for certain. My source is a Spy Magazine article from years back.
nancy said on March 26, 2009 at 12:51 pm
John: Indeed, and seconded. I owe J.C. pretty much everything re this site. (Someday he will present a bill, and I’ll have to sign over my house.)
LA Mary said on March 26, 2009 at 1:12 pm
I was told by a nutritionist that one third of the population has the asparagus stinky pee gene. Danny, there is a lot of gorgeous asparagus in the farmers markets right now. Pencil thin and tender and nothing like frozen stuff.
Dorothy said on March 26, 2009 at 1:20 pm
Oh I’ve never tried frozen asparagus – probably because I’ve only had the fresh variety from the farmer’s market or Kroger (I know they’re not the same, but what I get at Kroger is not frozen).
Connie said on March 26, 2009 at 1:20 pm
When I lived in southern Indiana one of my girlfriends had a huge asparagus patch. She drove by my house early in the a.m. on her way to work and often dropped off a bucket (OK an empty gallon ice cream container) on my porch. Mmmm. Brenda, you know I am only 200 miles straight north, please stop by with some.
Saw an ad today (back cover of EW) for the Stella Artois short film contest. Somehow that all seemed connected to various discussions so thought I would share it with you all.
I wonder if that asparagus gene has any relationship to the cilantro tastes like bad lawn grass gene.
alex said on March 26, 2009 at 1:22 pm
Asparagus makes my pee stink, but I’m glad I don’t have the gene that makes cilantro taste bad. Hadn’t heard it described as bad lawn grass, but rather like a urinal cake.
Catherine said on March 26, 2009 at 1:25 pm
My Pasadena Saturday morning farmer’s market. There is a stand which has amazing fresh asparagus about 6 months/year. They say it’s from a little speck of a microclimate near Lompoc that is perfect for asparagus. Y’all are making my weekend plans for me — asparagus, a flat of strawberries and some cheap flowers.
Re the design and font commentary above, I am nearly done with a 30-page document that the client insisted be entirely in Arial. I married into a family of printers, and can I just say? I hate that frakkin’ font. It makes the page look clean but it’s not readable. Serif font for text blocks, people!
Sue said on March 26, 2009 at 1:28 pm
I’ve always wondered about these “taste like” statements. I mean, who chews on a urinal cake? I read a column by Miss Manners where she compared eating some shellfish thing to biting “fingernail parings”. I thought, AHA Miss Manners, gotcha! How would YOU know what it’s like to bite your nails, hmmm? How the mighty fall…
MichaelG said on March 26, 2009 at 1:29 pm
I saw a sign in a john once that said “Please don’t eat the urinal cakes.”
I like Nancy 19 (sounds like some kind of biblical quote). It does nicely demonstrate content and package.
Scout said on March 26, 2009 at 1:36 pm
Sue, that’s why I always qualify by saying, “Wintergreen gum tastes like toilet bowl cleaner smells.”
I second the clean, crisp linen comment about this site. I especially like how huge the TR font is on my screen as I am typing this.
LA Mary said on March 26, 2009 at 2:11 pm
In an Indian restaurant I was unfamiliar with, I had some chutney that tasted like a cleaning product. It did not taste like something you should eat. It was a funny shade of green.
Dorothy said on March 26, 2009 at 2:18 pm
Doesn’t pee smell anyway??
LA Mary said on March 26, 2009 at 2:22 pm
Yes, Dorothy, but asaparagus makes it worse.
Gasman said on March 26, 2009 at 2:31 pm
I’ll not defend Emanuel, but I don’t accept the “they’re all corrupt” charge either. There are plenty of folks in government who are not. I happen to think that both of our NM senators, Bingaman and Udall, are pretty damn good. So far, I have no complaints about our reps. either.
The “they’re all crooks” mantra is really an indictment of all of us and of our Constitution, for it is that document which defines government as being “the people,” not some disembodied thing separate from the citizenry. Anytime the Rs have been criticized in the last 3 decades, they trot out “they’re all thieves; they’re all partisan” argument to deflect attention from their own despicable behavior.
Your list for political schlubs has two, mine a couple of dozen without even trying. The conservative record still is an embarrassment.
Are there Dem crooks, liars, incompetents, and horndogs? Yep. They have just have been more numerous on the Republican side for at least 30 years.
Richard said on March 26, 2009 at 3:28 pm
I’m with the guy who wants to ban comic sans. Yeck!
For the record:
I have not eaten urinal cakes.
I have never worn a black lace thong. Yet.
I have the asparagus stinky pee gene.
I love Georgia, the font, not the state.
Nothing kills good content like crummy design.
I’m sick of Times New Roman.
It’s sunny in Portland today.
coozledad said on March 26, 2009 at 3:28 pm
LA Mary: That may have been a coriander chutney. Some of the prepackaged versions may taste a little like Pine-Sol. The fresh stuff is pretty good. Better still is the hot onion chutney.
My wife and I go through lots of green chili pickle. It’s good on toast with peanut butter. I’m still trying to figure out what the label means by “edible oil” though. Why in the hell wouldn’t it be?
Dorothy said on March 26, 2009 at 3:41 pm
Thx Mary but that was my (lame) attempt at being sarcastic. I’m aware of the effects asparagus has on liquid waste!
LA Mary said on March 26, 2009 at 3:43 pm
I like fresh chutneys and the Indian places I usually patronize make their own. This stuff was vile. I have lime pickle in my kitchen and branson pickle. The in house Brit buys this stuff. I’ve got a good Indian grocery with vegetarian take out situated half way between work and home, so I pick up stuff there all the time.
BRIAN STOUDER said on March 26, 2009 at 4:53 pm
So I was all set with a Fort Wayne riff about Fort Wayne/South Bend’s own anti-Obama Bishop (who, on the national news stories gets identified as the “Bishop from Fort Wayne”) and his silly boycott of the commencement ceremonies at Notre Dame, beacause of the inclusion of President Obama in the proceedings…..
but then I thought “to hell with that” – and instead thought I’d share the really cool news hereabouts, which is that Phil* will be stopping here in Fort Wayne on his cross-country bike ride.
“Details when available” they say, but whatever they are, Pam and I will go see him.
*Ohhhh – YOU know who he is…’Amazing Race’ Phil (I don’t remember his last name) – [Australian accent ON] “I am sorry to tell you – you HAVE bean eeliminated” [Australian accent OFF]
nancy said on March 26, 2009 at 4:55 pm
Welcome. I like Garamond, too. My web guru is always finding these great serif alternatives to TNR, like Caslon and Jenson. I’m such a font moron that I don’t even try to keep up. Once I designed my own letterhead using Copperplate and was totally pleased with it. J.C. told me to step away from it, please. Just put it right out of my head.
What’s wrong with Copperplate?
Oh, and he would want it stated somewhere: He hates Optima.
LA Mary said on March 26, 2009 at 5:10 pm
Garamond is a nice airy font.
Sue said on March 26, 2009 at 5:21 pm
On April 1 Nancy’s going to change the font in the comment section to wingdings, I just know it.
Jean S said on March 26, 2009 at 5:25 pm
oh thanks people, I just wasted 10 minutes playing with fonts.
Times New Roman rules. Easy on the eyes when you’re plowing through a lot of stuff. I wish designers would ponder what happens when I’m faced with their “hot” page designs. Reverse type? too much crap on the page? Oh, go away. I won’t even bother to read the article.
Jolene said on March 26, 2009 at 5:29 pm
I like Garamond, too. There is, as many of you probably already know, a lot of research (actually, there’s a lot of discussion and some research) about the readability of different fonts in different formats (print vs. web) and for different purposes (body text vs. headings).
More generally, there are texts on writing for the web. Probably mostly a combination of common sense and stuff people think they know, but the new text by Ginny Redish is as likely to have a real empirical foundation as anything.
nancy said on March 26, 2009 at 5:30 pm
Remember Wired magazine, back in the day? Stories that began with no headlines, orange ink, lines drawn all over the place. (They were pioneers of the avant-garde cutline technique of slapping a picture on the page, then running a slashing yellow line from the photo to wherever the person in the picture’s name appeared in the story text, circled. It was simultaneously confusing and insulting: “This is Bob, you idiot!”)
I didn’t renew my subscription.
Catherine said on March 26, 2009 at 7:43 pm
Another vote for Garamond — used it on my wedding invitations. And Georgia (mentioned above) and Palatino and Book Antiqua, and all the lovely serif fonts. Had a former boss who was obsessed with having everything in Futura. Can’t even look at that font anymore without my stomach churning.
whitebeard said on March 26, 2009 at 8:32 pm
I had one newspaper boss, who boxed one story on Page One with two-column wide type, had reverse white on black type for another story, had centered type in a brief note pointing to something inside, ran four airy columns of type on a six-column space (remember those wide broadsheet pages) and mistakenly asked me how to make his fifth story stand out and I suggested, in a serious tone, to make it regular-width type, because nothing else on the page was normal.
He was the same boss, who, as the first edition was being printed with a lead story about a man who died after hanging himself in a jail cell, let the presses keep rolling full-tilt after I told him that my mother, who worked at the hospital, said the “dead” man ate a hearty lunch under her supervision. He took the time to find the police reporter to find the police chief who repeated his earlier statement that the man hanged himself, “we never said he died,” added the chief.
beb said on March 26, 2009 at 9:38 pm
Americablog just redesigned its pages. On dial-up it takes forever for the blue background to be replaced by a white background. Until it does you can’t read the fricking page. That’s the kind of over-design that should be resisted.
I like Garamond and Palintino.
I try not to smell my own piss so I don’t know whether asparagus makes it stink.
How does one know that something tastes like a urinal cake? I suppose it has something to do with smell, since taste turns out to heavily dependent on smell.
Jean S said on March 26, 2009 at 10:26 pm
Nancy, re: Wired…yep yep yep. I just sent those issues right to recycling, do not pass go.
Rana said on March 26, 2009 at 10:50 pm
I’m a Palatino woman myself.
I think I’ll have to check out Garamond.
I’m also rather fond of Zapf Chancery – but only as an accent!
Dexter said on March 26, 2009 at 11:00 pm
WJR had people from the Detroit dailies on tonight. Monday both dailies switch to a “more modern format”.
Papers will be free Monday, with editors and managers and columnists passing out free papers.
“Just buy a paper…it’s only 50 cents, and we can’t make any money from our online edition”, said the Freep dude.
Newsboxes are free Monday—Nance let us know how that works out, because I don’t believe they will change every coin-box to “free”for just one edition!
Dexter said on March 26, 2009 at 11:03 pm
So — I finally found out what happened to Susan Watson, the courageous former columnist at the Freep, fired for sticking with the strikers….
MarkH said on March 26, 2009 at 11:33 pm
Jeff(tmmo), Brian(?), other Purdue fans, my sympathies.
brian stouder said on March 26, 2009 at 11:58 pm
Well, Grant and I spent a few hours at a Mad Ants basketball game, where they gave us NCAA updates…the Ants put a whippin’ on the team from Los Angeles –
but what caught my ear was that ol’ Dorothy is probably a pretty happy camper right about now (if her heart isn’t still in her throat!)
CrazyCatLady said on March 27, 2009 at 12:25 am
moe99 said on March 27, 2009 at 12:42 am
Aw, c’mon brian, don’t let those of us out of the know stay that way. What happened to Dorothy?
Jolene said on March 27, 2009 at 1:54 am
Dorothy’s team, University of Pittsburgh, won its game.
Dexter said on March 27, 2009 at 2:05 am
The above link is to Susan Ager’s homepage. She wrote a column in the Freep for years , taking a buyout last August. The past years her dateline was her Northport, Michigan home.
I had gotten a bit nostalgic for the old days at the Freep when we could read Fitz, Talbert, Ager, Watson, Neil Shine, and good old Mitch, the scourge of NN.C. Fitz still lives as far as I know, Bob Talbert and Neil Shine left us, Mr. Shine just last year. Another great writer was News sports writer Shelby Strother, dead way too young of liver cancer.
Eighteen years ago he had a collection of his columns published:
Dexter said on March 27, 2009 at 2:17 am
Talkin’ sports: Who in the h-e-double hockey sticks ever thought Mizzou would take out Memphis? And Duke really sucked, and Philly’s got a winner in ‘Nova.
Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 27, 2009 at 8:25 am
What a night — Purdue loses and they toss the smiling oil rig worker from Idol, then Cat Cora lost on the replayed Iron Chef from Sunday, which i already knew, but i only saw the end of “Battle Coffee” Sunday, so it was a trifecta of failure. Coffee braised fennel? Wonder what that makes one’s excreta smell like . . . which was the defense Purdue used against UConn.
By the way, i just went and looked at the front page of Nancy’s GPT website, and was somewhat startled to find she’s an outlet of FoxNews. Who would have known? Never, never judge too hastily, i have to keep reminding myself. It must be kind of like a Juan Williams thing. Looking forward to reading Karl Rove’s take on Pointe-d Disputes.
brian stouder said on March 27, 2009 at 9:08 am
Jeff’s Fox reference intrigued me, so I clicked on the GP2day site, and immediately got a chuckle! – and indeed – quite a lovely site; crisp and clean, pleasing to the eye and and inviting.
Makes me wish I was one of the elect
Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on March 27, 2009 at 9:16 am
She’s fair and balanced, you’ll have to concede that.
brian stouder said on March 27, 2009 at 9:23 am
I have decided – she reports
Jolene said on March 27, 2009 at 9:32 am
There’s a right paren missing in Ben Burns’s bio.
Connie said on March 27, 2009 at 9:50 am
Wish my byline were Northport. Of course one of these days I am going to inherit a little cottage some miles south of there, for which I will probably not be able to afford the property tax bill. Mario Batali and family live in Northport in the summer.
Hey Sue, looks like last week in July for us. And you?
ejohnson said on March 30, 2009 at 11:54 am
I’ll be watching the evolution of GPT with great interest. I’m two years in to my own hyperlocal blogging experiment and have yet to figure out the design challengers or even to find someone who can help poor techno-feeble me. (My husband tries but it’s not his first line, either.)
Looking forward to more on this topic. I’ve got enough for a book, let me tell you.
Your Uncle Ben said on May 18, 2009 at 1:13 am
Wait a fuckin’ minute !
I’m 70 yrs. old and I was tired of listening to this tired shit when I was 20. Get some enthusiasm ; Find the positive vibe ; move forward.
All I heard in your first paragraphs was the negative. That has been done. So done . So 40’s . 50’s. 60’s. …………70’s …etc.
Do you get it ? What is new to you ….. ain’t New !
Why do you think that the owner put blinders on race horses. ???
ANS: So they don’t see and care about what is around them !
Do your thing without regard . WITHOUT REGARD !!!
your Uncle Ben