This fall, when I took the offer to be design director of the Daily Trojan, I looked forward to two things. The first was the increased exposure of my designs to a larger audience than my usual Facebook circle. Second, I saw ever-growing potential in the paper and was excited to see how the many new ideas I had could transform it.
My excitement, however, fizzled when multiple people asked me, “What do you even do there?” These six words called into question how much of an impact I could make with a skill that seemed so “easy,” while simultaneously extinguishing the tiny fire of passion in my heart. I stumbled back a few steps, questioning for the first time what design really meant to this generation and, personally, to me.
In this digital age of information overload, text presented on its own — be it in magazines, online articles, or textbooks — can no longer hold a reader’s attention for long. Most of us no longer process information when it’s presented in text-dense form. We scan and skim for key phrases that we’re on the lookout for. Name the last time you read an article of 1,000 words, every single word from top to bottom and fully understood what it was about without having been interrupted by a distracting sidebar or another headline. What about the last time you clicked on a link because the picture attached was intriguing? Or the time you gave up reading a long essay because you scrolled all the way down and couldn’t find one single picture that made you stay.
With this evolution in the way we read, it only seems natural that there should be an increase in appreciation for design.
Design is not easy. It has never been easy. It is a time-consuming process full of trials and errors with infinite room for improvement. I hear the statement, “That looks about right” pretty often, but it breaks my heart every the time. The end product might look easy and put together, but what isn’t seen are countless decisions regarding balance, contrast, color, composition, scale and organization.
Each decision is crucial because it dictates the next decision we make. If anything is missing at one point, we fall back a few steps. Each rule we follow dictates the next rule we make, and most, if not all, elements have to follow that rule. But, of course, there are times when you have to break your own set of rules and start over — especially when clients have so many requests.
“It looks so empty. Can you fill it up by stretching it?”
“It needs to be more lively and fun.”
“Can you fit more text onto this page?”
“Make it bigger.”
In these adjustment calls, one thing has been forgotten — great design provides comfort in a subtle manner. Designers filter information for the audience and connect the subject matter in the most direct manner,but seamlessly and naturally. So, no, we refuse to enlarge any elements because white space is crucial. It allows one to focus the most important message being delivered and yields room for the overall artwork to “breathe.” No, we refuse to fit more text into this page to reduce cost because it will become difficult to read when you have to squint your eyes in order to read the next line. And, no, we are not filling up the empty space by simply stretching our text.
We have already considered all aspects when thinking of how to make this product the best it can be. We think about how your eyes will move from one element to the next. We think about the associated emotions that will come along with the presented information. We think about how our work will affect you. We design for you.
With that goal in mind, my design team and I want to help define the Daily Trojan by offering you an enjoyable reading experience. We want to create designs that are simple, clean and straightforward. We make graphics that captures the essence of an article. We collaborate with multimedia to give you options. We want you to remember us and appreciate the thought that went into the simple beauty of a layout.
With that said, I want to thank my fellow editors for their continuous support and appreciation of my team. I also would like to thank you for stopping by and reading about design from an insider’s perspective. I hope sharing my thoughts will inspire you to see and appreciate design from another perspective.
Samantha Lee is a junior majoring in architecture. She is also the design director of the Daily Trojan.