The nature of the newspaper business means we design a new product every day - therefore no matter how bad or how good you crafted those pages yesterday, itís in the recycle bin today.
Special sections have a different shelf life, however.
You are producing pages that ideally will sit in the readerís home for weeks, if not months or years.
They are resources - memory canvasses, even.
From a design perspective, special sections also offer you the chance to break the mold. The section should feel familiar, but itís a mistake not to expand your style when such a prime opportunity is there.
ē Designers need to be part of the content process.
This means the designers should take part in the story meetings, the editing meetings, the photo and illustration planning. Be proactive. Donít let the section fall into your lap.
ē Try writing a piece in the section!
Canít get the editor and reporters to try a chart-style story? Canít get the photographers to consider helping you with cutout-ready shots?
Report and write your own sidebar. Research statistics. Take a few photos if you can. The more you know about all the elements - writing, photography, editing - the better a designer you will be.
ē Bend the style book.
Hereís one that can cause waves. Newspapers need to evolve, stay fresh. Even the best ones change and grow.
One of my favorite things in designing a special section is taking the style book and making some slight changes.
Donít install new fonts - just use the ones you have in different ways. Add labels. Add a wider gutter between stories. Use san-serif headlines. Center the headlines, whatever.
Be creative and make the special section SPECIAL.
Just be sure that whatever you change, you are consistent and you have a reason for it.
Where Iím at, I design a weekly basketball section. This year, I tried taking the borders off the photos. Then draw a hairline just under the bottom. It was a taste of East Cost style with a twist. A simple touch. We also use our bolder headline font - Interstate
Black. I also took the underline on our labels and made them solid instead of dashed. It tied in with the photo treatment. The whole effect is mighty subtle. But itís refreshing. The section as a whole this year is more ďairy.Ē
ē Have a theme and have fun with it.
This applies especially to sports. The best special sections realize they are about more than just previewing your local team and offering the roster.
Let me give you some examples:
ē The Orlando Sentinel designed its football section around famous album covers.
ē The Houston Chronicle went with a comic book theme for its 2004 football sections.
ē The San Jose Mercury News crafted its Ronald Reagan memorial section with a front and back page that illustrated the President seemingly introducing himself and then walking away with a wave.
ē Todd Bayha at the Columbus Dispatch is renowned for his use of magazine-style sports covers.
And donít think a theme is just stuck to the splashy cover - keep it going in small ways through the section. The Palm Beach Post used a prediction theme in its 2004 football sections, with everything from eight-ball sidebars to crystal ball analyses.
ē When in doubt, keep it simple.
The hardest thing for a young designer to learn is when to stop. Donít add more Photoshop tricks just because you like to play; donít make text complicated; donít downplay traditional photos in favor of cutouts.
Create a bold keepsake, for yourself and the readers.