Design tips

Taking a closer look at your design: Part 2


Last month's column focused on design critiques: working at improving your design by taking a look at what you've recently done.

I suggested then that those critiques be done every quarter ... at least every six months.

In that column, I offered a laundry list of those elements that need to be reviewed during the critiques. This column focuses on how to conduct the critiques. How do they work? Who's in charge?

Here are 10 recommendations:

1. FOR EACH CRITIQUE, solicit at least a couple dozen (total) PDFs from those who will attend the session. Those PDFs usually fall into three categories:

1. A page the designer created that he/she really liked.

2. A page the designer created that he/she did not like.

3. A page the designer created that gave him/her trouble.

Those attending may also include PDFs of pages they did not create, but which they believe deserve some review. These need not only be pages that weren't well done – a critique session is a good time to recognize those designers who did exemplary work.

I advise PDFs because you can combine them into one PDF file for projection with a video projector. If you don't have a video projector at your newspaper, perhaps you can gather around a larger-screen monitor and view the PDFs directly from your computer. 

2. SCHEDULE the critiques at set times. Perhaps it's 2 p.m. on the first Thursday of every quarter. Maybe 11 a.m. on the second Friday of every quarter. Set a time and place ... and then send out reminders to your staff.

3. INCLUDE ANYONE who is responsible for page design to be part of the session. Yes, that means the sports page editor or designer, too. 

4. INCLUDE OTHERS. Your designers aren't the only ones who have an interest in the way your paper looks. Perhaps the advertising director (or your one and only ad sales person!) should sit in. How about inviting the publisher? What about the ad designer(s)? Perhaps your front-desk person – you know, the one who hears and handles most complaints or requests from readers?

5. EXPECT staffers to be there. If you schedule far enough ahead, those who should attend have no excuse not to show up. If someone sets up an out-of-office interview that conflicts with the critique, remind them that the critique is an important effort to improve your newspaper, and that they are expected to attend. If you schedule far enough out (see item 2, above), they should know well enough to not set up something that will pull them out of the critique session. If there's a conflict, have them reschedule their out-of-office appointment.

6. KEEP IT to an hour if you can. The smaller your staff, the more valuable your time. Critiques are an important part of your design process, but just a part. Don't let them drag on too long.

7. SEE IF YOU can get the publisher to spring for some coffee and donuts. If it's a session later in the day, perhaps some pizza and soft drinks. Goodies always help to make such sessions more inviting and more informal. Remember, this is a dialogue – not a complaint session. 

8. KEEP YOUR STYLE GUIDE handy, just in case you need it for quick reference. You do have a style guide ... right?

9. REMEMBER that the purpose of a critique session is not to find fault. It's a search for solutions, not a complaint session. Keep it light ... keep it proactive ... keep it moving along. Look for ways to make it a session where everyone contributes. But remember: a committee can occasionally get out of hand. And a camel is a horse ... designed by committee.

10. PUT SOMEONE in charge. No scheduling will happen, no gathering of PDFs, no donuts, no pizza – unless someone is responsible for making the critiques a reality at your newspaper. If you have a lead designer, that person is the logical choice. Or maybe it's your managing editor. Whoever it is, he/she needs to be a person who takes charge of the critique process and makes it work well at your newspaper.

Design critiques are an excellent tool for bringing about better design. Do them regularly, do them well and you'll continue to improve your design –and your newspaper.

WANT A FREE evaluation of your newspaper's design? Just contact Ed Henninger: | (803) 327-3322

IF THIS COLUMN has been helpful, you may be interested in his books: "Henninger on Design" and "101 Henninger Helpful Hints." With the help of his books, you'll immediately have a better idea how to design for your readers. Find out more about "Henninger on Design" and "101 Henninger Helpful Hints" by visiting his website:

ED HENNINGER is an independent newspaper consultant and the director of Henninger Consulting. He offers comprehensive newspaper design services including redesigns, workshops, staff training and evaluations. E-mail: On the web: Phone: (803) 327-3322.

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