20 august 2011

One idea is better than two

IN THE VERY SAME WEEK as TIME Magazine announced ”THE DECLINE AND FALL OF EUROPE” on their cover, the Danish newspaper Information ran this article about everything going wrong in the USA. The headline says ”United States of America – a failed state”.
Are western media playing some variety of ”pass the monkey” these critical days?
Anyway, what caught my attention was the page design. It exemplifies a mistake often made by creative people working in the communication business: Instead of trying to control their own creativity with a specific purpose, they seem to allow it to flow freely, letting everything out.

I DON’T KNOW how many people were involved in this page design. Maybe just one person. Most likely, one individual got the idea of using the photo of a poor, lonesome, frightened New Orleans kid in the aftermaths of the 2005 Katrina hurricane as a metaphor for the overall situation of the United States of America. Rather tendentious, you might say, but not a bad idea, and quite a strong photograph.

BUT THEN a second idea enters the stage. You can almost hear someone suggesting, enthusiastically: ”Now what if we wrote UNITED STATES OF AMERICA with stars-and-stripes-letters?”. Yeah, great thinking, let’s do it, the whole newsdesk responds.
Consequently, a lot of effort has been put into designing a stars-and-stripes headline. And this is where it all went wrong.
Because now when I – the reader – open the centrefold, my attention gets divided. Half of me wants to look at the colorful headline and the other half tries to concentrate on the photo – which, thereby, loses just about half of its impact.
The final result is a story that works OK, but no more than that. And that is a shame, as considerable resources were obviously devoted to both contents and presentation.

SEE HOW MUCH MORE POWERFUL this spread could have been if only the editor/designer had managed to restrain his/her creativity and trust the photograph to do the job of grabbing the reader’s attention and visualizing the essence of the story:

IN OTHER WORDS: One idea is better than two!

(and of course, the second idea – the stars-and-stripes-headline – ought to be memorized and eventually used for another story. Because, even though it may seem – is, in fact – a bit obvious, this is a trick that has worked before and will no doubt do it again …)

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