As Art Director of the Boston Globe Calendar section, I designed the section covers and feature spreads, collaborated with editors, art directed photographers and illustrators, and supervised interior page layouts. During this time, I carried out a comprehensive redesign for the section. This redesign was the recipient of the Boston Globe Editor’s Prize and a Society of News Design Award of Excellence. Colleagues I regularly collaborated with on the section included Steve Maas (editor), John Tlumacki (photographer), and Pam Berry (photographer). An in-depth discussion of the Calendar section redesign process conducted can be found below.
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Redesign discussion, page-by-page
The Calendar redesign began as what I thought would be a fairly simple project: to improve the legibility of the section’s event listings. But quickly it became clear that simply changing the typography of the listings would not make a significant difference when the section as a whole needed revitalization. Steve Maas had taken the position of Calendar editor just a couple of months before I began as art director for the section, so it seemed fitting that together we launch a more comprehensive rethinking of the Calendar content and design. Shortly after the launch of the new design in November 1998, I received the Boston Globe Editor’s Award for the redesign project.
- Make the section more useful.
- Improve legibility, scan-ability, and organization of text and information.
- Give the section a feeling of urgency, authority.
- Re-brand the section to bring greater life and energy to the design and the editorial content; make it more youthful.
- Create a stronger structural foundation for the pages within the section.
- Bring the section in line with the rest of the paper typographically and with color palette.
- Revitalize the written content by adding new features.
- Identify the Calendar section more prominently as part of the Boston Globe.
- Prior to the redesign, the cover typography was outdated, the fonts no longer employed anywhere else in the paper.
- Stripping the Calendar logo across the top of the image, as the old format did, greatly limited the type of image that could be used; nothing of any importance in the photo could appear behind where the logo would fall.
- All the type that lay on top of the cover image in the old format — the teasers, the Calendar logo, the Boston Globe logo, the date, the volume and issue number, plus the headline and drophead for the cover story — served to push back the cover image, greatly weakening its impact.
- The majority of old Calendar covers used photos that approached the cover story subject descriptively rather than conceptually. Occasionally this worked, but often it resulted in busy images that failed to convey excitement or interest.
- Many of the old covers lacked the energy and presence they might have as the cover to an entertainment section.
- There were also a variety of usability issues. The publication date (one of the most important pieces of information for a section that lists weekly events) was often illegible because of its small size and often busy background. If the print registration was off, legibility was a sure miss. The Boston Globe logo was often illegible for similar reasons. And the story teasers didn’t indicate which column (e.g., Cheap Eats, Morse Code) they were associated with.
- I updated the typography, visually uniting the Calendar section with the rest of the paper.
- I created a black, vertical strip down the lefthand side of the cover for several purposes: to address legibility and registration problems; to get the Calendar logo off the image area; to create a more vertical design emphasis for the cover; and to more closely approximate the dimensions of a 35mm photograph (the old design was much closer to a square).
- As part of the redesign, I made a strong push for bold, simple cover designs. I began to use a mix of illustration, photo illustration, studio photography, and on-site photography to bring variety to the covers and offer an element of surprise.
- I highlighted the section date, placing it in a circle in the upper lefthand corner of the cover. I also changed the date format to clearly indicate that the section covered a week’s worth of events.
- Additionally, I enlarged the Boston Globe logo and revised the story teaser format to list the column the teaser was for.
Contents Page Redesign
- Prior to the redesign, the contents page was titled “FYI.” The name lacked any sense of urgency; it seemed to suggest that whatever was on the the page could be treated as a relatively unimportant aside (“oh by the way…”).
- The “Street Shot” photo — a random photo taken on a Boston area street — was unrelated to any of the stories on the page, and for all the reader knew, could have been taken months previously (not that it usually was). Using the space this way was a missed opportunity.
- In the prior design, the standard format dictated that three features and four department headings be listed in the contents. But there was a problem with this: the section had only one real feature (the cover story). This left layout editors in the position of having to duplicate headings (listing, for example, Cheap Eats under both “Features” and “Departments) in order to accommodate the fixed design format.
- And at the same time the contents list provided descriptions of only half the standard features; the rest had just the feature heading and page number listed — no headline to indicate what the feature might be covering in a given week.
- The page had gone a bit logo happy (logo count = 6) and the typography was outdated. The page felt both clunky and busy as a result.
- In addition, the staff box took up an unnecessary amount of space, and under the “Listings” heading, over half the event categories (theater, galleries, dance, etc.) were consequently left out.
- I removed the name “FYI” as a page heading and simply replaced it with the word “Calendar.”
- I eliminated the “Street Shot” feature and replaced it with a feature that had previously been located on the centerspread, “Advance Billing.” Because Advance Billing highlighted an upcoming event of some significance, there were nearly always good quality promotional photos available. This seemed like a good solution for several reasons. It lent a sense of timeliness and importance to the opening page of the section — it made it immediately useful! This change also freed up the photo department from a rather mundane obligation (never pass up an opportunity to make photographers happy).
- In the contents listing, I got rid of the distinction between “features” and “departments.” Then in the list of overall features, I placed the cover story headline first and set it out with oversized type. Below the cover story I listed the rest of the feature titles, plus their headlines and page numbers. This gave readers an at-a-glance overview of what the week’s section contained.
- I eliminated all the logos except for one, and updated the typography.
- By reducing the size of the feature listings and staff box size, I was able to accommodate nearly twice the number of event categories under the Listings heading, making it easier for readers to jump directly to the category of events that interested them.
Event listings page redesign
Redesigning the event listings was the most complex aspect of the Calendar redesign project. Addressing the range of issues raised involved editorial and production changes, as well as shifts in advertising policy. One of the most positive outcomes of the redesign project was the basis for collaboration that it helped establish.
- One of the most significant issues with Calendar’s event listings had to do not with the typography per se (although there were certainly issues there), but rather with the order and organization of the pages in the section. Let me explain: Prior to the redesign, the order of features was as follows: cover, FYI (the contents page), Dining, Cheap Eats, and cover story. Then the event listings would begin. A few pages in, they would be interrupted by The Week spread (a.k.a. Calendar Choice). The listings would continue for a couple more pages and then you would come to the Recordings (a.k.a. New on Disc) and Nightclubs pages right next to each other. The listings would jump again, but this time they would jump not just over two feature pages but would actually leap frog over other listings. Why, you ask? Because the prior redesign had dictated that music-related listings begin immediately after the Nightclubs page. So what would happen is that the museum listings would jump over as many as eight or nine pages, with Recordings, Nightclubs, and the music listings tucked in between. Worse yet, the listings would have to jump again — this time over four pages of personal ads — before they would finally come to an end. Needless to say, all these jumps made locating event information exceedingly difficult.
- Page toppers indicated what category of the listings you were in the midst of (“museums,” “music,” etc.), but when one category ended and another began, there was no adequate provision for dealing with that. Having a strip all the way across the top of the page also took up an unnecessary amount of space.
- The main category headings in the listings were named confusingly and the heirarchy of categories and subcategories was inconsistent. For example, there was a main category heading named “Classical,” but another named “Music.” Yet a third read “Concerts.” To make it more confusing, “Rock,” “Folk,” and “Jazz” were listed as subcategories of “Concerts.” Another case: There were two categories for dance: one named “Dance” and the other named “Dancing.” Another case: “Performance art” was listed as a subcategory of “Classical.” You get the picture. A clean-up was long overdue.
- Previously, museum and gallery openings were placed under a separate subcategory called “Openings.” This meant that if the Museum of Fine Arts had an exhibit opening that week, then it would be listed under “Openings,” but if it didn’t, it would be listed as usual under “Museums.” If a reader didn’t happen to know there was an opening at the museum, s/he might assume the listing had been omitted.
- The first order of business was to reorder the book so that the event listings could flow sequentially and relatively uninterrupted. Leapfrogging of event listings over other event listings was elminated; more flexible design rules were established; and the personal ads were moved all the way to the back of the section, where they benefited from better visibility.
- The hierarchical organization of the listings themselves was also addressed so that placement made more intuitive sense. Common topics were consolidated and the titles themselves were reviewed to make sure they were easy to understand. Major categories were broken down into smaller, more logical sections. This made the listings as a whole easier to scan.
Event listings typography
- In the old Calendar, even if you found the calendar event listing you were interested in, reading it was often difficult. This was especially true if the event were happening at an institution that had a lot of events or event venues, such as the Museum of Science. When an individual event listing was long, there were no typographical devices helping to organize or break up the text, and the organization of the information often seemed haphazard.
- An additional challenge in the old format was that the listings text had a small hanging indent at the start of each paragraph and the text was rag right. This meant that both sides of the column had a wavy edge. With five columns going across the page, this gave the text an uneven and unstable feeling. And it made the listings even harder to read.
- The body text was difficult to read and often fell apart on press. Nevertheless, the editor was hoping to be able to fit in more listings in the same amount of space. (Note: The text examples you see above are at 150% actual size.)
- How to address this myriad of difficulties? I spent a tremendous amount of time meeting with listings editors and understanding the wide variety of formatting challenges they faced when formatting event information. If a given event took place on one day, in one place and had just one price, the question was not so difficult. Even several events taking place on different days in one location did not pose too much of a problem (see “Phoenix Landing” example above). But how to handle a situation where one “location” had several internal venues, multiple dates and times, numerous programs and program descriptions, and different prices for each? In the old format, the typographical tools did not exist to address these challenges, but formatting guidelines were not there either. The overall system was somewhat adhoc.
- Developing a systematic approach to both the typography and the formatting and order of content emerged as a central focus of the project. To make the listings easier to scan, I introduced the dates in bold numerical format. This made them stand out from the rest of the descriptive text so that readers could easily jump to view a date they might be interested in.
- I also created typographic levels for locations with multiple venues. The guiding principle for the ordering of listings content was that the information that applied to the listing as a whole should come first, and then information that was venue- or date-specific should appear afterwards. In this way, the listing information was intended to be presented in a cascading sequence, starting with the most general and moving to the most specific. A detailed style guide was created outlining examples of both simple and complex listing formulations, and describing how to apply the typographic tools in various situations.
Dining and Cheap Eats page redesigns
- It is a popular practice for restaurants to clip and display the Calendar’s Dining and Cheap Eats reviews, but prior to the Calendar redesign, you couldn’t usually see that the review had come from the Boston Globe. Once the article had been cut out of the paper, the Globe name fell off the page. This was an important missed opportunity for the newspaper to make itself more visible in the community.
- A variety of other challenges faced these pages as well. As was the case throughout the old Calendar section, the typography was outdated and out-of-synch with the rest of the paper. The display quote style was particularly awkward. The two-line headline format was too long and cumbersome. The title “Dining” didn’t adequately distinguish that column as focusing on upscale dining (entrees over $10); the “Cheap Eats” titile seemed self-evident.
- I placed the Boston Globe logo above the column titles so that when the articles were clipped, the Globe logo would always be prominently displayed. I updated and simplified the typography. I changed the headline format from two lines to one line. The name of the “Dining” column was changed to “Dining Out” to reflect its upscale focus and to more clearly differentiate it from the “Cheap Eats” column.
Nightclubs page redesign
- One of the biggest issues with this page was not the design itself, though there were some problems to address there, but rather with the position of the page in the Calendar section. Prior to the redesign, both the Nightclubs and Recordings (aka New on Disc) pages were placed in the middle of the event listings just a few pages from the back of the book. Many readers simply didn’t know these pages were there.
- The lead photo was unrelated to any of the stories on the page. Having a lead photo in this position meant regularly hiring a freelance photographer. Both the editor and I felt those resources would be better used elsewhere.
- Also, the page had gone a little logo happy (logo count = 5) and the typography was outdated. The page was both clunky and busy as a result.
- The editor wanted additional space for the Scene column, and wanted to institute rotating authors and topics for it. The fixed column length and width seemed restrictive.
- It was not immediately apparent which clubs were being reviewed. To find complete information on the clubs (location, hours, etc.) a reader often would have to read to the end of an article.
- The headline for the scene column was scarcely larger than the body text.
- We moved the Nightclubs and New on Disc (a.k.a. Recordings) pages from the back of the book to the front, placing them right after the Dining Out and Cheap Eats pages and just before the cover story spreads. After the redesign many people thought pages of new features had been added. It made the section feel much more substantial as a whole.
- I redesigned Nightclubs so that the lead photo could accompany either of the two main columns on the page. Whichever column had the best photo to go with it would move to the top slot on the page. This gave us the flexibility to use publicity photos rather than hire freelance photographers. It also meant that the photo had more relevance to the page; it was adding a tangible value.
- Stacking the two columns on top of each other meant the editor had more flexibility in handling story length. If one was short, the other could be longer. If they were both short, the photo could be enlarged.
- I got rid of all the logos except for one, and updated the typography. In addition to cleaning up the page, this had the added benefit of eliminating the need for production involvement by a designer. The entire page could now be handled by the newspaper’s pagination system. This resulted in a big savings in time as well as cost.
- For each column, I set up a highlight box format so that important information (club name, address, and the like) would be immediately apparent. At a glance, readers would quickly know what was being reviewed.
- I enlarged the Scene column headline.
New On Disc page redesign
- Prior to the redesign, this page was titled “Recordings,” but the name felt old; it conveyed no urgency. Were the reviews from this year? last year? Why should a reader read this?
- The old design had built into its standard format a headline going across the top of all the reviews. The problem was you could never tell which review the headline was supposed to go with. The headline seemed to be an unnecessary and confusing element, but because it was part of the standard format, it was inserted there each week.
- The typography for the CD title and musical artist was especially clunky, unattractive and hard-to-read, particularly when the name of the recording was long.
- The multiple bold dropcaps (numbering as many as seven) often formed words when taken together and added a fussiness to the design.
- The body text in the CD pick column was set in Franklin Bold Condensed and was difficult to read at the full column length that it ran.
- The CD Pick logo was unappealing and often failed to reproduce well. This logo and the type styling that went with it also meant that production involvement by a designer was required.
- We changed the name of the page from “Recordings” to “New on Disc.” This felt more contemporary and it addressed the question of why readers should read the reviews: they’re what’s new.
- I eliminated the headline across the top of the page.
- I eliminated the bold dropcaps.
- I reworked the typography for the CD title and musical artist. In the proces, I tried out many different type lengths and configurations.
- I changed the Franklin body text in the CD Pick to a Century style I had established as a standard eslewhere in the section. I also got rid of the CD Pick logo. Doing these two things eliminated the need for production involvement by a designer. The entire page could now be handled by the newspaper’s pagination system.
Feature story spreads redesign
- Prior to the redesign, we weren’t taking advantage of the color positions we had available for the cover story pages.
- Photos were few in number and as a result represented only a small number of the locations discussed in the cover story. This meant we were missing out on telling the story at another level, with more depth.
- Charts and maps in the cover story were rare before the redesign. And the package as a whole was fairly flat visually. There were few entry points into the story.
- From a typographic standpoint, there was little to help a reader scan the text for key points or locations mentioned. Also, information such as addresses and phone numbers were not highlighted in a way that made them easy to find.
- We repositioned the cover story so it would begin on a page spread that nearly always had color.
- We requested a larger number of photographs be shot for the cover story, and I did my best to display strong photos prominently. Photographers became increasingly interested in shooting for the section because they knew that more of their photos would be used and that a good number of those would run in color.
- With better advance planning between editor and designer, we were able to incorporate more charts and maps into the cover story presentation. We began thinking and talking about possibilities for graphics when the story was first proposed. Take the top example on this page, the graphic showing what a man and woman were wearing and how much it cost. This would not have been possible without early planning to enlist the help of the reporter, the models, and the photographer. Creating graphics like this one gave readers a different entry point into the story.
- The editor and I worked closely to develop ways of breaking up the story using subheads and bolding key points in the text. I worked on standard styling of information such as address and phone number so that it could easily be found when a reader scanned the text.
Calendar Choice redesign
- Prior to the redesign, the Calendar centerspread was entitled “The Week.” I felt the name did little to convey the idea that the events listed were specially chosen as the week’s highlights.
- Nowhere on the spread were the week’s dates clearly indicated. In the text itself, dates were marked only by the day of the month and day of the week (“13 Monday, “14 Tuesday”) without indicating the month itself. This might have been okay if there were a date folio on the page, but due to the way in which the page was produced, the folio was always omitted. In another instance, looking for the date might just be an inconvenience, but what if a reader were to remove the Calendar centerspread to place it on his/her refrigerator? Crucial information (which month the events were taking place) would be missing.
- The “Picks” column on the lefthand side of the spread duplicated the “recommended events” concept for the spread. Was this column meant to be the “best of the best”? What was its purpose? Instead, the editor wanted to incorporate a column of special events for kids, a place where parents could regularly turn to find interesting children’s activities.
- From a design perspective, the Calendar centerspread felt like a big hodge podge. There was no focus to the page and it didn’t have much impact. This seemed like a missed opportunity, especially when many of the images we had to use for it were strong.
- The scattering of images throughout the main text often led to awkward line breaks and difficult-to-follow column jumps.
- The lefthand column and the Advance Billing box both changed color each week, adding to the mish mash feeling of the spread.
- Information on event location and price wasn’t highlighted and could be difficult to find in the text.
- The body text in the Pick column was set in Franklin Bold Condensed and was difficult to read at the length it ran.
- We renamed the spread “Calendar Choice.” This seemed a better way to convey the idea that the events listed were recommended by Globe.
- In the event listings I added the full date after each day of the week (e.g., “Thursday, 6/17”). Also, at the top of the page I built into the design a spot to list the span of dates covered in the spread (e.g., “June 17-23”).
- We eliminated the “Picks” column and replaced it with a column called “Kids Corner” which highlighted events for children.
- In order to create focus for the page and boost its visual impact, I designed a format where all but one of the photos would run at a smaller size and be stripped across the bottom. A large, silhouetted image would run in the middle of the listings and, by virtue of the scale change, give drama and focus to the page. In cases where a silhouette wasn’t available (this was rare), I specified that a large horizontal image take its place. This arrangement addressed a number of issues: the spread gained energy and impact, legibility was greatly improved, there was more space for event listings, and production time for the designer was cut in half.
- I specified that the Kids Corner column always have the same color background — a neutral tan. The Advance Billing column was moved to the Contents page (see Contents page discussion for reasons why).
- I suggested that the way in which the events listings were written be changed so that time, location and price were listed at the end of the description. This allowed us to place that information in italic and set it off with a bullet. This made the information easier to find.
- I created a “free” logo — the word “free” in a red burst — to be inserted in the text of events that had no charge. This provided a useful function — allowing readers to easily scan the page for free events — and also broke up the density of the text.
- I changed the body text in the Kids Corner column from Franklin to a Century style I had established as a standard eslewhere in the section.