Design: A hidden contradiction

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In a profession that is defined by words, design is one of the few facets of journalism that transcends the boundaries of language. A sprinkle of spacing, a pinch of type and a light drizzle of color — the ingredients we use to tell a story are often so subtle that their impact slips past conscious recognition. Working as designers trains us to be so comfortable with detail that eventually, noticing seemingly insignificant flaws becomes instinctive.

However, design is not always polished. If we take a step back from our screens and observe our surroundings, our workspace is a potpourri of ballpoint pens, messily scribbled notes on napkins, and the occasional half-finished cup of Menchie’s frozen yogurt. It isn’t apparent that we are organized thinkers from the mess that’s on our desk. Perhaps an explanation — or excuse — for the clutter is that it is a byproduct of a creative chaos.

This disheveled state also reflects the design process, which entails dealing with tight deadlines, sloppy errors, last-minute changes and toe-tapping impatience as the clock ticks down to 7:00 p.m. The time and flexibility that goes into our job can be draining, and at times it can feel like the only things that people notice are our mistakes.

So why do we do it?

Why do we pore over the screen to make sure captions are aligned to perfection? Why do we obsess over the color coordination of a feature photo and headline? Why do we fixate over every brushstroke and line weight in an illustration or infographic?

There is an indescribable satisfaction when we pick up a copy of the paper and see the physical manifestation of something that we’ve devoted so much attention to. It’s this feeling that makes it worthwhile. Our role in design is to elevate the words of others; we have a personal stake in the content not because our own thoughts are necessarily conveyed, but because we have a definitive role in how the pieces are visually portrayed. If someone decides to pick up a copy of the paper because of an interesting spread or click on an online article because of an eye-catching illustration, the reward is plenty. Maybe design falls under the radar, but we take pride in the paper because we had a say in it, even if it’s not obvious.

Within our paper, design has the unique position of being a convergence point for many departments. Once we complete the layouts, section editors place their articles and the night editors check the content for overlooked mistakes — but this is just a fraction of the process. A news publication thrives on collaboration, which forces us to adopt an appreciation for the breadth of skills required to get a single page into print. We draw from different kinds of stories and complement their meanings with layouts, infographics and illustrations, harnessing the raw first impression of readers by integrating text and image.

Ultimately, our job is more than making things look beautiful. Not only do we further facilitate cooperation, but we balance form and function to craft a practical yet poetic publication. As designers, the independence that stems from creating may be lonely, but it belies the joint effort that goes into the final product. For us, design is a creative paradox, and we find solidarity in our solitude.

Contact Kaitlan Tseng at 


JULY 30, 2018