Design tips

Make your special sections special


All newspapers run special sections. It's part of our routine. For some, it seems, there's a special section every other week. For others, not so much. 

Most are tied in with community events. Question: What community newspaper doesn't do a high school football section? Answer: That newspaper in a town that doesn't have a high school football team (or teams).

Special sections let us give readers content that differs from the normal flow of news, features, sports, ads and other content in the newspaper.

But there are some key elements to remember when dealing with special sections. Following are 10 points I think are important:

1. BE PROACTIVE. Advertising, news and production departments all need to be part of the creative and planning process for special sections. It's a mistake for the newsroom and production personnel to sit and wait for advertising to come to them with the plan for a special section. Getting involved in the beginning, all departments can come up with a concept that's sure to be more appealing – and a plan to get it done by deadline.

2. CREATE A GREAT COVER. A compelling cover is critical to getting readers to check out the special section. If the cover is dull or poorly designed, odds are many readers won't even give it a second glance. You've only got a few seconds to grab their attention ... so make sure you do it with something unique and gripping.

3. TELL WHAT'S INSIDE. If your cover has grabbed your readers ... and they turn the page ... then let them know what's further inside. The more they know, the more inclined they'll be to go through the section.

4. CREATE AND USE A GRID. To create a uniform, clean look, decide early on a grid for your special section. Three columns? Four? Five? Different grids for some different pages, like calendars and lists? Decide early ... and make sure ad sizes will fit into the plan.

5. MAKE THE BEST USE OF TYPE. This is a place where you can break away from the look of the newspaper ... but don't overdo. Find some fonts that work well with the content. And keep the selection limited. Best to stay with one typeface family for text, another for headings and a third for labels and other standing elements.

6. GIVE LISTS A DIFFERENT LOOK. Are you including a calendar of events? Schedules? Standings? Rosters? Give these a different approach. Try some sans serif, maybe a bit larger than the text. Perhaps centered ... perhaps some even set flush right.

7. BE CONSISTENT. With good typography and a planned approach to handling photos and other visual elements, you'll have a design that looks organized and polished. Just what you want! The design should flow from page to page and have the same look throughout.

8. DECIDE AD SIZE AND PLACEMENT. Do ads go up the sides? Across the bottom? Both? What sizes are we selling into this section? Are they modular ad sizes? What are the rules ... and what are the exceptions? What pages will have limited ads on them? How about the back page? What about the spread? Make these decisions before selling and you'll create a better section.

9. GIVE THE SPREAD GREAT PLAY. If you can, keep the centerspread open. It's the one place in a tabloid special section where you can give your designers a larger canvas to work with. Sure, some advertisers may be willing to pay a markup for that space, and if that's the case then they'll get it. But if not, if you can give an open spread to your designers, you'll increase the odds that you'll get something compelling and memorable.

10. REMEMBER THE PURPOSE. Why are you doing a special section? In most cases, it's to add to your revenue stream. Sure, you want those sections to appeal to readers, and there's content that readers will dive into. But underlying all the content and all the design is the goal of building your bottom line. And that's always a worthy purpose.

Now, go do something special.

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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