J-POD || Podcast || “Phone is king. Less is best. Follow stories, not editions. Newsrooms must be a zoo of different animals” || Life-lessons from news design guru Mario Garcia

At a time when consumers are exposed to beautifully crafted products from around the world, the first object Indians pick up every morning is The Daily Shame.

Barring the odd exception, most Indian newspapers in every language look like a dog’s meal—a mishmash of leftovers of all colours, shapes and sizes with barely any clarity or cohesion.

Ugly ads on clumsy pages. Stories which end before they begin. Subheads, blurbs, tiny pictures, fact boxes, graphics all vying for your attention.

The general look and feel of India’s morning newspapers is no different from last night’s noisy TV news channels. And it is a user experience carried on to websites and phone apps where sly intrusion is the name of the game.

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Publishers and editors compare this approach to the ‘thali’: giving time-starved readers a bit of everything to taste on their plate. Some even justify it, arguing that the Indian reader is used to visual chaos.

But the same media outlets present their audience to advertisers as “aspirational”—as if clean aesthetics is not one of the aspirations of a reader looking at an iPhone or BMW ad.

It is not that some newspapers and magazines haven’t attempted professional design, but it usually meets a quick death at the hands of PhotoShop and InDesign.

For half a century, Dr Mario R. Garcia has been involved in the design and redesign, refresh and rethink of 729 newspapers and magazines in 121 countries across the world.

He has designed The Wall Street Journal and The Hindu, The Washington Post and The South China Morning Post, Malayala Manorama and Sakshi.

He has authored 14 books on journalism, storytelling and design.

In 1993, he was the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Society for News Design (SND).

“for his outstanding contributions to the newspaper design and graphics profession worldwide. Through his work as an educator, researcher, author, lecturer and designer, he has elevated the entire graphics and design field around the globe.”

On the last day of August, Dr Garcia unveiled the new look of the Delhi newspaper Hindustan Times, a paper he had designed earlier.

In this episode of J-POD, Dr Mario Garcia discusses his latest project, the challenges of designing in the mobile phone era, and why the front page of The Times of India resembles the window of a hardware shop to him. 

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THE NEW HINDUSTAN TIMES DESIGN: “The global reaction has been, ‘What a wonderful thing. It looks elegant and classy.’ The Indian reaction is: ‘Why would you do this? Why would you go back to a retro period and go back to letters which are classic but so much a part of another century.’ The new branding has been more questioned in India than outside.”

DESIGNING FOR AN INDIAN AUDIENCE: “Indians still read their printed newspaper with gusto. They wait for their printed newspaper. Every time I have worked in India, I have come away thinking, ‘My god, the people here have an appreciation for print. They enjoy reading their newspaper.” And the circulations are incredible, the envy of many other markets.

THE HINDU EXPERIENCE: “The Hindu was a wonderful breakthrough. I realised this was a regional newspaper of consequence, like Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, or Kansas City Star. The Hindu was always one of the most internationally driven newspapers in India. Even when I did The Hindu, it did not have the usual visual congestion that you see in newspapers in India.

THE TIMES OF INDIA DESIGN: “It has so many stories all over the place. I call it the window of a hardware store. When people come to a newspaper today, they would not like to see the window of a hardware store, but the window of Tiffany where you have just a few gems. Readers don’t come to see 25 hammers and a 1,000 nails.”

WHAT READERS LOOK FOR IN A NEWSPAPER: “People are not coming to a printed newspaper for breaking news any more. It is a more a lean-back experience. Why should you have a agitated, congested look? You need to dance the reader into a publication that will help him relax, to make the journey pleasant. Less is best.”

PHONE IS KING: “Print is important but print is no longer the protagonist. Today you have to follow stories, not editions. We need to become more digital. We need to become more of a mobile-first operation without abandoning print.”

LESSONS FOR JOURNALISTS: “Today’s journalist needs to learn that the average reader leans forward all day, comes to a phone 114 times in a day to order food, to see the map, but also to read the news. One day in the life of a phone is 114 calendar days of a daily newspaper that appears at your doorstep. Editors need to adapt to that challenge.”

HOW THE PHONE HAS CHANGED DESIGN: “In a printed newspaper you no longer have to have columns of briefs. You have to accept that a lot of that information has come to the reader through the phone. By the time people come to a printed newspaper, they want to sink their teeth into longer stories and have a more relaxing environment.”

WHERE A NEWSPAPER SCORES OVER THE PHONE: “The main advantage of a printed newspaper is you can do longer pieces, larger photos, big illustrations, which you cannot on a phone screen. On a mobile, you can have a video, an animated graphic.”

THE PRINTED WORD VS THE PHONE: “In print people want visual surprises. In the mobile world, aesthetics are secondary to the user experience. Phone readers don’t want a lot of surprises that will derail their navigation through the system.That’s why the designer of today has to be well versed in how to make the UX very functional.”

WHAT NEWSPAPERS ARE DOING WRONG: “65% of newsrooms in the world still come to work everyday to plan a printed edition, but 80% of the people are reading content on other platforms. It’s like, you own a restaurant, and you lay out the table cloth, the flowers, and candles every evening, and everybody comes to pick up the food in takeaway.”

ONE SIZE DOESN’T FIT ALL: 20 years ago when we were doing The Wall Street Journal, I asked the Editors and Managers what kind of animal they visualised WSJ as. We were thinking one animal for the entire operation. Today, you need to have a mini zoo in the newsroom. One size doesn’t fit all, one animal should not describe who you are.”

INDIAN NEWSPAPERS AS ANIMALS: “The Times of India is more like a squirrel, jumpy and always running. Hindustan Times is a lap cat. It purrs, it is not making noises. The journalism of HT should be like a horse, the digital part of the operation should be a fast animal like a cougar or a panther.”

TIMES HAVE CHANGED: “I don’t think many Indian titles have had their day of reckoning to ask, ‘Are we doing the same type of journalism that we did in the 1980s or the 1970s or the 1950s?’ You have a very young country. All of these youngsters have a phone in their hand. Are media companies aware of these changes in lifestyles and communications?

HOW THE WORLD READS: “The optical part of reading newspapers is the same regardless of characters. You may read it from the left, or read it from the right. The principles of design are the same in any language of the world: make it easy to read, make it easy to find, and make it attractive.

THE INDIAN AESTHETIC: “The colour palette of India is mesmerising. When Editors have insisted on making a more international colour palette, I have always regressed a bit. This is not Scandinavia or Germany. You cannot put a very soft colour palette in an Indian newspaper when the colour is different outside.”

WHY PAPERS GO FOR FOREIGN CONSULTANTS: “If you are day in and day out only looking at what your colleagues do, it could become a vicious circle. The consultant brings in experience, the cache. We add perspectives from the outside that are not easy to see if you are seeing the same type of design on a daily basis.”

WHAT INDIAN DESIGNERS LACK: “I am surprised how little Indian designers use journalism as the basis of their work. American designers have mastered the fact that design is there to promote content, to make content accessible. The only thing that hasn’t changed in my 50 years is, if you have a good story, everything else comes easy.

ASIAN VS WESTERN JOURNALISM: “Photo editing is done superbly well in the US, maybe in the UK, and some Scandinavian nations. Indian newspapers may have seven photos on a page, some of them passport size. It’s better to have one big photo than five small photos. It is the biggest difference between Asian and western journalism.”

WEKKLY NEWSPAPERS WILL SURVIVE: “In Latin America and India, printed newspapers will survive. In western countries, the Monday-Friday papers will not exist. But a weekend newspaper in print will be there for a long time to come. People will want to disconnect.”

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THE PROUST QUESTIONNAIRE

My greatest achievement: Die Ziet of Germany

My favourite journalism personality: Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham for her courage during the Watergate scandal

My favourite journalism film: The Philadelphia Story

My favourite publisher: Die Ziet owner Dieter von Holtzbrinck

My greatest design extravagance: Use of white space

My greatest fear: That the people at the top will not have the courage to transform

My biggest weakness: I let the emotions of the people i am working with to slow me down

The most overrated virtue in journalism: Total objectivity.

My biggest regret: Turning down spectacularly important and meaningful projects because I was involved with a competiting title

How I would like to be remembered: As a man with passion who was on a mission to make newspapers read better, and to make journalism stand out.

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Also readGood heavens, yet another Mario Garcia redesign

Yet another paper redesigned by Mario Garcia

Finally, a redesign not done by Mario Garcia

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