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Can design save the newspaper?

Or is that the wrong question to ask?

Author: Johannes Schardt
Date: 8. April 2009

At the moment a lot of design-related blogs rave about this TED talk of Polish art director Jacek Utko. I can’t really share this enthusiasm.

The message of his presentation is: Design can improve your product, it can drive sales, it’s a business strategy. Well, of course I agree with that. It’s old news (just look at Apple as the poster child), but it’s certainly good to have another example that clearly proves the correlation between design and business success.

Utko recommends to give more power to designers. To involve designers early on in the strategic development, rather than being the last link in the chain. Again, I agree.

But the presentation fails to impress me, because it only shows nicely designed newspaper covers and spreads. You know, on paper.

Shouldn’t the holistic design strategy, which Utko advocates, look beyond paper and ink? News printed on paper will be a niche in a couple of years. No matter how well-designed those papers are, it’s only a question of time till they disappear. Increasing their circulation now by a redesign may delay their death, but it won’t save them. It just buys them time to make the changes they really need in order to survive.

I’m not saying that redesigns of newspapers are pointless. Companies should always think about how they can improve their product. But before trying to improve their product, they must ask what their product is.

The newspaper is not the product, it’s just the distribution method for the content. It’s of course still part of the whole customer experience and therefore important, but the core product is the content.

So if we are really talking about design as a business strategy, if we consider design as more than just choosing the right colors, fonts and images, if we really had the chance to sit in a meeting with the board of directors of a news publishing company, would we just suggest to redesign the newspaper?

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Oh, there are 40 comments so far

  1. From my understanding, I don’t think Utko was saying that we can save the newspapers only through redesigning the paper product. I think Utko was just saying it was a way to temporarily keep the newspapers alive while they try to find a product and/or outlet that will work for the next phase.

    Nina on 8. April 2009
  2. nina, you are probably right. but that’s exactly why i wasn’t impressed by the talk. he definitely did some impressive graphic design work, but i always thought that TED was about innovative concepts. redesigning a newspaper – no matter how good or courageous it is – is not really what this industry needs in the long run. it’s not an innovative idea.

    maybe i was just expecting to much, because they are so many other TED presentations that are really forward-thinking.

    Johannes Schardt on 9. April 2009
  3. [...] Can design save the newspaper? This is a pretty good response to the TED video of the same name. It doesn’t really surprise me that a lot of designers think this, but seriously get an idea of the economics and understand the experience that people are interacting with to get their news. Showing a portfolio of pretty pictures for five minutes isn’t going to help and it just brings down the design profession. [...]

    DesignNotes by Michael Surtees » Blog Archive » Link Drop (4·10·09) on 10. April 2009
  4. Johannes,

    I am an American/Spanish newspaper designer. A paper I designed and art directed won the same award won by Utko.

    I agree completely with your sentiments about newspapers as one vehicle for distribution and also think they will become extremely niche in the next 3 years. I see even papers like the NY Times struggling to survive in their current form (and I just helped the Times redesign the International Herald Tribune).

    The context though in Eastern Europe and other “emerging economies” is different though than in Western Europe and the US. In these young democracies, physical newspapers are associated with newfound freedoms so it is more than likely that Utko’s strong design work piggbacked on a social-political trend. Newspapers are indeed booming in places like India.

    Miguel Buckenmeyer on 15. April 2009
  5. miguel, thanks for your comment. as much as i like to see just the design being responsible for a 100% growth in sales, it has probably pretty much to do with the facts you mentioned. there’s likely to be a correlation between the growth of a business paper and bulgaria becoming part of the european union… like winston churchill said: “never trust a statistic unless you forged it yourself”

    Johannes Schardt on 15. April 2009
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